TODAY'S PAPER
Good Morning
Good Morning
OpinionEditorial

Move quickly on AirTrain

A rendering of the proposed AirTrain system at

A rendering of the proposed AirTrain system at LaGuardia Airport.  Credit: The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey

Perhaps it shouldn't be a surprise that a project involving LaGuardia Airport is delayed before takeoff.

The wait must not last long.

A rail link is a critical piece of the broader LaGuardia makeover and a key way to provide reliable transportation options for New York City and Long Island residents, while getting them out of their cars.

The current LaGuardia AirTrain proposal would connect the airport to the Mets-Willets Point subway and Long Island Rail Road stops. But politicians and advocates seem to be using the AirTrain as a pawn, picking it as the Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo-era project they want to stop. Gov. Kathy Hochul, already on the road to a 2022 campaign, is following their lead, asking the Port Authority to "thoroughly examine alternative mass transit solutions" for the airport. She also suggested the state needs to make sure "we have the resources" — even though the Port Authority, a bistate agency, has allocated the funds.

Hochul's request ignores years of work and review already completed by multiple government agencies, including the Port Authority. Cuomo announced the AirTrain proposal in 2015. The State Legislature moved it forward in 2018. The Federal Aviation Administration did its environmental review. Preliminary construction has started. The AirTrain was on target for a 2024 completion.

Now, it seems state and local officials want to take a step back and re-review already-rejected options. Some, like Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, previously had supported the project only to turn against it post-Cuomo. Others have pie-in-the-sky notions that extending the Astoria subway line to the airport would be better — not considering the community response, the potential cost to the already-strapped Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the need to connect with the LIRR, or the potential for years of ugly battles with little likelihood of success.

The Willets Point connection, meanwhile, avoids taking private property or going through residential communities. It meets both the 7 subway line and the LIRR's Port Washington branch. And it could boost redeveloping long-ignored property near Citi Field.

A fresh look could be helpful. But any Hochul examination must be expeditious, recognizing the past reviews, the real concerns and questions attached to other options, and the possibility Willets Point remains the best choice. The only other alternative that could be viable is a connection from the airport to the Woodside subway and LIRR stations. One advantage: It would include a Main Line link. The significant disadvantage: It would require tunneling under bedrock and building a longer, more expensive AirTrain track.

Hochul may want to evaluate other options just to appease political voices but she must do it quickly. If she comes back to the same answer that Cuomo, the Port Authority and the FAA did, then she should let the existing AirTrain proposal prepare for its departure.

MEMBERS OF THE EDITORIAL BOARD are experienced journalists who offer reasoned opinions, based on facts, to encourage informed debate about the issues facing our community.

Columns