By: Veronica Kordmany
It’s a well-known fact that New York traffic is, and always will be, painstakingly slow. It’s made painfully clear as someone watches their flight depart from LaGuardia Airport, while they’re stuck in a cab only ten minutes from the airport’s gates. Many can share their frustrating experiences with each other, as missing a flight has, over time, become as common as being stuck in traffic. Alas, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has recently announced a potential solution: a 1.5-mile tram, running from the Willets Point stop on the 7 line, and from the Long Island Rail Road. The $2 billion dollar project, entitled the LaGuardia AirTrain, would provide travelers a 30-minute, traffic-free, ride from Midtown Manhattan to the airport.
A large portion of critics have identified as residents, who are still coming to terms with the airport’s $8 billion dollar reconstruction plan. The plan was enacted after years of raised eyebrows at LaGuardia’s appearance. Former Vice President Joe Biden once compared it to a third-world country. A spokesman for LaGuardia reported, “We are building an entirely new LaGuardia Airport from the ground up and experiencing some growing pains”. The ‘growing pains’ in question are the traffic lanes: the taxi lines are almost always endlessly long, which has contributed to traffic forming at the entrances and exits.
Despite its seemingly stellar potential, critics have pointed out that the routes to an overcrowded subway line, and an isolated LIRR branch line, are unnecessary. Instead, they argue that a bus lane would be much cheaper and just as effective. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) began an environmental impact study, promising to make the results of the analysis public. The study is estimated to be complete by spring of 2021, Port Authority verified. Port Authority also estimated that construction will begin later that year and should be finished by 2024. The FAA’s environmental impact study will be preceded with a chance for the residents to chime in: formal public hearings are expected to begin once the study concludes.
Coming to the defense of Gov. Cuomo’s solution, the Port Authority says that service on the 7 line has been improved, thanks to its new signal system. In addition, the LIRR is expected to increase service once the East Side Access project – whose aim is to connect the railroad to Grand Central Station – commences in 2022. Local politicians tried to dismantle the AirTrain project by calling upon a uniform land-use review procedure known as ‘ULURP’. While it was ascertained that this bill would kill the project, Cuomo managed to side-step at the right moment, by bringing in reinforcements. In 2018, a bill that passed in the Legislature gave New York State the authority to seize the land for the project. The bill garnered a lot of support from Queens officials; the AirTrain would completely sidestep Flushing Bay, avoiding the possibility of knocking down the home of any Queens resident.
The defense line draws there, however, as Port Authority and Cuomo must dismantle the idea that the AirTrain is a bad idea.