Port Authority Pauses LaGuardia AirTrain After Gov Put Brakes on Plan

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The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is putting plans for the $2.1 billion LaGuardia AirTrain project, which would connect Flushing, Queens, to LaGuardia Airport, on hold after New York Gov. Kathy Hochul asked the organization to examine alternative options and a group of environmental organizations filed a lawsuit against the proposal.

The controversial train was chugging along during the end of then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration, and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approved the environmental review for the 1.5-mile mass transit project in July. But Hochul put the AirTrain on ice on Oct. 4, asking the Port Authority to review other options to ensure transportation “serve[s] the needs of New Yorkers.” 

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“At Governor Hochul’s request, the Port Authority is undertaking a thorough review of potential alternative mass transit options to LaGuardia Airport,” a spokesperson for the Port Authority said in a statement. “During the review, the Port Authority will pause further action with respect to the LaGuardia AirTrain project.”

The Port Authority promised to work “as expeditiously as possible” towards a thorough review, and to work with independent experts and stakeholders in looking at the project and its alternatives.

A pause represents a victory for environmental groups and Queens legislators, who have strongly opposed the AirTrain. A trio of community and environmental organizations filed a lawsuit in late September alleging that the FAA sped through its environmental impact study, under pressure from Cuomo and the Port Authority. 

The three groups — Riverkeeper, the Guardians of Flushing Bay and the Ditmars Boulevard Block Association — argued the FAA ignored potential alternatives like extending existing subway service, restarting ferry service to the airport and improving bus transport. The suit further alleges that the AirTrain would harm parts of Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Queens. 

“Riverkeeper thanks Governor Hochul for her leadership in creating the opportunity to meaningfully evaluate LaGuardia Airport transit options to best serve New York City,” Michael Dulong, senior attorney for Riverkeeper, said in a statement. “We look forward to working with the governor to ensure a credible and transparent review of transit alternatives.”

Local legislators have said that less expensive transit options — like express busways and subway extensions — would serve larger portions of residents than the AirTrain, and transit advocates have argued that the train would not be faster than existing routes for most riders. 

Queens State Sen. Jessica Ramos said the Airtrain pause was welcome news in a tweet on Wednesday. State leaders, including U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, opposed the plan, arguing it would divert much-needed federal funding from the surrounding neighborhoods in central Queens. 

Ramos and Ocasio-Cortez did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Celia Young can be reached at cyoung@commercialobserver.com.