An AirTrain to LaGuardia Airport still seems like an elusive destination, but it doesn’t have to be so far away. The Federal Aviation Administration began an environmental study on the LaGuardia AirTrain proposal in May. There have been two public meetings this month, and a public comment period will end on Monday.
Despite that quick start, the FAA has said that its review is expected to take two years. For a project this urgently needed, that’s too long. Other similar projects have proceeded more quickly.
The LaGuardia AirTrain is critical to remaking the airport, improving public transportation and alleviating congestion. It would boost economic development, especially at Willets Point in Queens, where the AirTrain will originate alongside remodeled subway and Long Island Rail Road stops. For those on the Port Washington line, it would be a quick trip to Willets Point to get the AirTrain. Riders of other lines would make the same connections as they do to get to Citi Field.
Eventually, the AirTrain could provide 23,000 rides daily and more than 8 million a year, taking people out of their cars and for-hire vehicles.
The AirTrain as now proposed would not touch any private property or go through residential areas. It would take a 1.5-mile path that could rise above the Grand Central Parkway or the Flushing Bay Promenade. For comparison, the environmental study for the 9.8-mile LIRR third-track project, which goes through residential neighborhoods in Nassau County and includes private land, lasted just over a year.
The FAA should get its review done more quickly while providing opportunity for public comment and addressing concerns. Some issues, like the cleanliness and future use of the Flushing Bay waterfront and possible crowding on the 7 subway line, are legitimate. Others, like construction noise and vibrations, are manageable. But more cosmetic issues, like worries about views of Flushing Bay, should not take priority over the project’s economic and transit benefits.
Critics have noted that travelers from Manhattan would have to go east to Willets Point before heading west to the airport. Some of them suggest extending the N or W trains from Astoria as an alternative. That’s not workable; the community impact would be too severe.
The FAA should expedite its review. Then, perhaps, LaGuardia passengers will have easier travels ahead.