Well, looks like it might happen after all.
The Port Authority of New York & New Jersey has issued a request for proposals for an engineering firm that will lead preliminary work on an AirTrain leading to LaGuardia Airport in western Queens. A selected engineer would be responsible for early work on a new station at Willets Point in Flushing, two at the new $8 billion airport as well as figure out the line’s path, according to a press release from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office.
Details on the plan are still being worked out, and a full dollar amount has not been attached to the AirTrain. But transportation advocates pushed the Port Authority and the governor to include a rail link as part of the new incarnation of LaGuardia. State officials estimate that by 2030 LaGuardia will handle 6 million more passengers annually—the hub handled 27.4 million passengers between January and November 2016, according to Port Authority data.
“The millions of passengers who travel through LaGuardia each year deserve a convenient and reliable mass transit option that connects this key transportation hub to the heart of Manhattan,” Cuomo, who oversees the Port Authority with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, said in prepared remarks. “We are transforming LaGuardia into a world-class transportation gateway, and an essential piece of the puzzle is ensuring rail mass transit access to the airport. With this action, we’re taking the next major step toward making this a reality.”
Whoever is selected will be responsible for an engineering plan on two stations at LaGuardia, where the Port Authority owns the land and new terminals are being constructed by private companies. Terminal B, a $4.2 billion project slated to finish in 2022, is being developed by a consortium of six companies, while a new Terminal C will replace two separated facilities owned and managed by Delta Air Lines.
Financing the construction of the line—including the option of a public-private partnership—will be examined by the selected engineering firm, the release indicates. In its 10-year capital plan, which is set to be voted on next week, the Port Authority has dedicated $1 billion to constructing the AirTrain. The agency expects construction of the line to start in 2019 and for it to begin serving passengers by 2023.
The firm will also lead engineering work on a new AirTrain station at Willets Point, which sits between the Flushing and Corona sections of Queens. The hub will go in tandem with a new 7 line and new Long Island Railroad station. Construction of the $46.9 million project is supposed to start next year and will be spearheaded by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, as DNAinfo reported in February 2016. Last summer, Cuomo said that the MTA would also operate the elevated AirTrain.
The potential engineer will also be responsible for a study on how many people are expected to ride the AirTrain as well as parking options at Willets Point, according to the release. The governor’s office estimates that 86 percent of LaGuardia’s passengers travel to the airport by car, as do more than half of the 12,000 airport workers—creating a traffic nightmare. Recent construction at the airport has slowed down roadways even more, as has the demolition of several parking lots.
In order to address the immediate crisis, the governor announced in June 2016 that the Q70 bus line would be revived as an express means to get to the airport. But infrastructure advocates have urged the state and the Port Authority to hammer out a rolling plan for a rail link.
By having the LIRR connect with the AirTrain at Willets Point, the ride from Midtown Manhattan to LaGuardia will take about 21 minutes—15 minutes from Pennsylvania Station to Flushing and another six minutes to the airport.
“The governor and Port Authority’s announcement today turns words into action and brings LaGuardia one step closer to having a direct rail connection to the region’s core,” Sitt said. “For too long, millions of passengers have relied on private cars to get to and from the airport, costing them extra dollars and clogging up the roadways.”