How Is It Possible That LaGuardia Doesn’t Have Rail Access?


What do Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, D.C. and Atlanta all have in common? They’re each home to one of the many airports on the eastern seaboard with a direct rail link into their city centers.

Unfortunately for New York’s residents and visitors, LaGuardia Airport is the only major airport on the East Coast without this critical infrastructure.

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We know traffic congestion is crippling our commercial districts and now impacts every corner of the city. Congestion, as it turns out, is the great equalizer—no one is safe from its grip. New Yorkers need new and better options for public transportation, particularly given the rapid pace of development and the negative impact poor transportation options are having on our economy.

As one indicator of how bad our traffic situation has become, average Midtown speeds have dropped 28 percent over the last five years. According to the Wall Street Journal, the average weekday rush hour taxi trip from LaGuardia to Manhattan rose to 50 minutes in 2017, 15 minutes longer than in 2013. And “worst-case” travel times are spiking, too: in 2016, the worst travel time from the Midtown Tunnel to the airport was 62 minutes; in 2017, the worst trip took a full 91 minutes, with 10 days clocking in above 62 minutes. If current trends hold, by 2045, passengers traveling between Midtown Manhattan and LaGuardia will need to budget two hours or more to avoid the risk of missing their flights.

Despite all of this, one of our city’s most immediate and obvious needs—a direct rail link to LaGuardia Airport—has been perennially overlooked. Astonishingly, several bus routes are currently the only public transit option with service to the airport. This is a problem contributing to congestion throughout Brooklyn and Queens and one that our elected officials must prioritize immediately.

A recent report from the New York Building Congress demonstrates that while the number of tourists visiting New York City swelled to 62.8 million in 2017, investments in New York City’s infrastructure have failed to keep pace. That’s why one of our key recommendations—to improve access to the airports— includes building a rail link to LaGuardia. Dedicated airport rail service has worked at Newark Liberty International Airport and John F. Kennedy International Airport and has shifted millions of travelers and employees off our roadways and onto trains that deliver them directly to their terminals.

The proposed AirTrain—which Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced in 2015—would bring rail service to LaGuardia by way of Willets Point, providing the reliable and predictable transit alternative that New Yorkers have been lacking for decades. A recent analysis conducted on behalf of the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey projected that, by the year 2025, AirTrain LGA would provide up to 10 million annual rides, rising to 12 million by 2045. The AirTrain model is proven in New York, and the demand for AirTrain service at LaGuardia is evident.

Using AirTrain LGA, commuters will be able to catch the Long Island Railroad from Penn Station and, once East Side Access is completed, from Grand Central Terminal and be at their terminal in 30 minutes flat. The AirTrain LGA would also create more connections to the Long Island Railroad and subway, with convenient transfers between the 7 Line and Long Island Railroad’s Port Washington branch. In Queens, the AirTrain amounts to less traffic inundating the Grand Central Parkway and other main arteries in and around the airport.

We all remember when Former Vice President Joe Biden likened LaGuardia to something out of a third-world country in 2014. Since he made that famous statement, we have seen a massive wave of investment from the Port Authority, New York State and various private partners to reimagine LaGuardia—from LaGuardia Gateway Partners’ ongoing $4 billion redevelopment of Terminal B, to Delta Air Line’s more recent groundbreaking on a new $4 billion terminal. AirTrain LGA needs to be part of this transformation.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s vision for AirTrain LGA to transform LaGuardia will have minimal disruption to our communities, reduce traffic on our roads and allow everyone who travels to and from New York to have a better experience. The time to act is now.

Carlo A. Scissura is the president and CEO of the New York Building Congress.