A rendering of the proposed AirTrain system at LaGuardia Airport. 

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

As a gleaming, modern LaGuardia Airport takes shape, the notion of taking the train to its planes remains crucial, but elusive.

In some ways, it seems we're back at the beginning of what's already been a yearslong process.

Gov. Kathy Hochul's call in October for a new analysis of the airport's public transit options made sense — politically. And if it uncovers new choices, or leads to a better result, that's worth applause. But when a good plan already was in place, the potential for lengthy delays to study new options, when infrastructure is a priority and federal dollars are available, is worrisome.

To handle Hochul's request, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is analyzing 14 public transit options, many not new, and last week held the last of its workshop meetings to gather community input. This time, the Port is using outside experts to guide the process. Perhaps such independent voices will help.

But if one thing's clear from the 14 designs, it's this: There's no simple, perfect answer.

Under former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, the Port had moved forward with an AirTrain that traveled from Willets Point to the airport, providing connections to the Long Island Rail Road's Port Washington line and to the 7 subway train. It was approved by the Federal Aviation Administration and wouldn't have required taking any private land, but critics wanted an alternative.

Enter Hochul, who sought to put her stamp on the effort. None of the options in the Port's new materials include the term "AirTrain." Instead, there are five "fixed guideway with light-rail" choices, including Willets Point. Additional options include two possible N subway line extensions from Astoria, which would require significant involvement and funds from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the greater use of buses, or new ferry service.

There are a host of factors to consider, including ridership, community and environmental impact, what's involved in constructing new infrastructure, and of course, the cost. Some potentially more complicated options would require burrowing underground, while some would have to take private property or navigate around existing highways, ramps, or even the Hell Gate trestle overpass that extends over the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.

Critically, the Port and its experts must consider the importance of a true regional transit alternative that connects to subways, buses, and the LIRR. The Willets Point option should remain on the table. But there are others deserving of consideration, including the "fixed guideway" path that would start at Woodside and connect with the subway and multiple LIRR lines, including those that soon will travel to Grand Central Terminal. Another choice even uses Jamaica, the site of the JFK AirTrain, as the starting point.

For Hochul, or whomever is the next governor, getting this right means accepting public input, finding the best option quickly, and moving forward without further delays and political maneuvering.

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.

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