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LGA AirTrain plan from Willets Point won't help Long Islanders

The AirTrain terminal in Willets Point, Queen, as

The AirTrain terminal in Willets Point, Queen, as shown in a rendering. Credit: Port Authority of New York and New Jersey

The Port Authority board has approved a rail link to LaGuardia Airport that would be useless for most Long Islanders — and not even very good for Manhattanites, either.

As approved, the link would connect with the Long Island Rail Road and the 7 subway at Willets Point. Instead, it should connect with them at Woodside station because on the LIRR, only the Port Washington Branch serves Willets Point. All branches serve Woodside. Expecting railroad riders to transfer at Woodside to an eastbound Port Washington train to Willets Point to then board an AirTrain would result in almost no ridership. A single transfer to the AirTrain at Woodside would be far more attractive — and faster. Having to transfer again at Willets Point would make LaGuardia as attractive for Long Islanders as Newark Airport.

The problem is that the Port Authority is focused more on travel from Manhattan than from Long Island, and should recognize that there are more LIRR trains from Penn Station to Woodside (about seven each hour during off hours)  versus two an hour at Willets Point. Two an hour would be unattractive and ineffective. In addition, three other LIRR trains from Penn pass Woodside without stopping; they could easily stop there to increase the service and make it even more attractive.

Consider the Kennedy Airport AirTrain: What most Long Islanders probably don't know is that the AirTrain station at Jamaica station is part of the airport. Indeed, the adjacent subway station is called "Sutphin Boulevard-JFK Airport." Likewise, if the LGA AirTrain were to serve Woodside, then the LIRR should add "LaGuardia Airport" to the Woodside name. 

At Kennedy, rather than extend one or another subway or any one of several LIRR branches into the airport, the airport was extended to two rail hubs, Jamaica and Howard Beach, a really smart decision. Likewise, at LaGuardia, the airport should be extended to two rail hubs, Woodside and Jackson Heights. Extending it to Willets Point would produce a useless project, especially for Long Islanders, and be a waste of capital and operating resources.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo recommended Willets Point  because that route would use an existing right of way, the Grand Central Parkway, and not impact residential neighborhoods. Both Woodside and Jackson Heights could be reached by using the right of way of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. Just as the Kennedy AirTrain was built above the Van Wyck Expressway, the LGA AirTrain to Woodside and Jackson Heights could be built above the BQE, as well as over the 7 subway along Roosevelt Avenue.

Let's advance an attractive and useful LaGuardia AirTrain to the Woodside and Jackson Heights rail hubs. It's now up to state legislators, and especially Long Island lawmakers, to convince the governor to ensure that their constituents benefit from the LGA AirTrain project. 

Mayer Horn is an engineer and certified professional traffic operations engineer and transportation planner. Previously, he worked on airport access for the Port Authority and operated the airport bus service.