There will be no AirTrain to La Guardia Airport.
Gov. Kathy Hochul has abandoned plans to build a light-rail link to La Guardia after a review found that the project’s cost had ballooned to $2.4 billion, more than five times initial estimates.
When Ms. Hochul’s predecessor, Andrew M. Cuomo, first announced the pet project in 2015, he placed the cost at $450 million. After Mr. Cuomo resigned in disgrace in 2021, the plan faced mounting opposition from elected officials and community groups. Ms. Hochul halted the project and ordered the review several months after taking office.
Releasing the results of the assessment on Monday, a panel of transportation experts is recommending the less-expensive option of increasing public bus service to La Guardia and the addition of a shuttle between the airport and subway stations in northern Queens to reduce air travelers’ dependence on taxis and private cars.
“I accept the recommendations of this report, and I look forward to its immediate implementation by the Port Authority in close coordination with our partners in the M.T.A., city and federal government,” Ms. Hochul said in a statement on Monday.
The addition of an AirTrain, similar to one that has served Kennedy International Airport for almost 20 years, was intended to be the finishing touch on an $8 billion renovation of La Guardia. The two massive terminals that opened at the airport in the last few years as part of the overhaul were designed to have AirTrain stations built into them.
Mr. Cuomo and his allies often complained that La Guardia was the only major East Coast airport without a rail link. Even Ms. Hochul, as lieutenant governor in 2018, said an AirTrain would provide “easy access and options for travel for people in Manhattan and on Long Island.”
The agency that operates La Guardia, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, had received expedited federal approval of its plan to build the AirTrain between La Guardia and Willets Point, where it could have connected with the No. 7 subway line and the Long Island Rail Road. Port Authority officials initially promised that the link could get travelers from Midtown Manhattan to the airport in less than 30 minutes.
Transportation in New York City
Riverkeeper, an environmental advocacy group, and two community organizations in Queens, sued the Port Authority and the Federal Aviation Administration in 2021 to block the AirTrain project, arguing that it would take parkland along Flushing Bay away from the historically Black neighborhood of East Elmhurst.
The soaring cost of building the project was one reason the Port Authority endorsed the panel’s recommendation to abandon it, Rick Cotton, the agency’s executive director, said.
“If you bring in outside experts to make recommendations, you should accept their recommendations,” Mr. Cotton said in an interview. He said he would take the panel’s recommendation to the Port Authority’s board of commissioners within three months.
The panel’s three members — Janette Sadik-Khan, Mike Brown and Phillip A. Washington — said in a statement that they were unanimous in recommending that instead of building an AirTrain or extending a subway line to the airport, the Port Authority and the transportation authority should enhance existing Q70 bus service to the airport and add a dedicated shuttle between La Guardia and the last stop on the N/W subway line in Astoria.
The panel agreed that extending the subway to provide a “one-seat ride” from Midtown was “the optimal way to achieve the best mass transportation connection.” But they added that the engineers that reviewed the options could not find a viable way to build a subway extension to the cramped airport, which is hemmed in by the Grand Central Parkway and the East River.
Even if a way could be found to extend the subway that would not interfere with flight operations at La Guardia, the analysis concluded, it would take at least 12 years and cost as much as $7 billion to build.
Improving and speeding up the Q70 bus and creating an all-electric shuttle service would cost a fraction of that amount, only about $500 million, said Ms. Sadik-Khan, former New York City transportation commissioner. She said the bus service would carry nearly twice as many passengers annually as the Willets Point AirTrain was projected to handle.
The estimated $500 million in capital spending would also go toward creating dedicated bus lanes along 31st Street and 19th Avenue in Queens and making the Astoria-Ditmars Blvd. station on the N and W lines accessible to people with disabilities, the Port Authority said. Some of that money could also be spent to create a mile-long lane exclusive to buses on the northbound Brooklyn-Queens Expressway between Northern Boulevard and Astoria Boulevard, the Port Authority said.
Among the criticisms of the AirTrain plan was its indirect route. Arriving passengers bound for Manhattan would have had to travel in the opposite direction to catch a subway or L.I.R.R. train at Willets Point. The Port Authority chose that route, alongside the parkway, to minimize the need to acquire private property. Community groups were also concerned about the impact on property values in the neighborhoods near La Guardia in northern Queens.
“Steering the ship of state away from the rocky shoals of Willets Point is no small thing,” said Ms. Sadik-Khan, who is a principal at Bloomberg Associates. “Saving $1.5 billion while moving almost twice as many riders quickly and efficiently is pretty good.”
She was joined on the panel by Mr. Brown, former commissioner of Transport for London, and Mr. Washington, former chief executive of the Los Angles Metro.
Thomas K. Wright, president of the Regional Plan Association, a transportation research group, praised the Port Authority for managing a “transparent” process of reviewing the alternatives. “Nobody should think a fix was in,” he said.
But Mr. Wright added that the chosen solution would have only a modest effect on the decades-old problem of beating airport traffic in New York City.
“Improved bus service is not a game-changer,” Mr. Wright said. “The majority of people flying into and out of LaGuardia will continue to use private automobiles and taxis,” he said.
Mr. Cotton, who serves at the behest of Ms. Hochul, said he had accepted that “circumstances have changed” since he campaigned for the AirTrain in the face of opposition from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other officials representing Queens. The agency could redirect the balance of the money it would have spent on the AirTrain to other planned projects, he said.
A spokesman for the transportation authority, John J. McCarthy, said in a statement that the agency looked forward to continuing to work with the Port Authority “as it rolls out its new direct airport shuttle service” and would work cooperatively on the improvements to the Q70 service that the panel recommended.