LGA AirTrain could be the most expensive subway line ever

Disgraced ex-Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s $2.1 billion pet project to build an “AirTrain” between LaGuardia Airport and eastern Queens is set to be the most expensive project per-rider in history, according to a new report.

The project and its questionable route — away from Manhattan — would attract just 6,000 new daily transit riders, government watchdog Reinvent Albany and former city DOT official Jon Orcutt found in the report released on Friday.

That comes out to a whopping $350,000 per rider, the report said — nearly twice the $180,500 New York spent on the 2nd Avenue subway, the reigning “most expensive subway ever.”

“Experts believe the current Second Avenue Subway was the most costly transit project ever built, but the LaGuardia AirTrain will be about twice as expensive, when comparing construction costs to daily ridership,” the report said. “The LGA project is more about making it easier to drive and park at LaGuardia than creating a superior transit option.”

air traffic control tower at LaGuardia Airport in New York.
The AirTrain is set to be the most expensive project per-rider in history.
AP Photo/Julio Cortez, File

Reinvent Albany’s 6,000 “new” rider figure is based on the Port Authority’ of New York and New Jerseys official expectation of 13,117 AirTrain trips per day, minus the 3,547 riders it expects will drive and another 3,645 who would have otherwise taken the regular bus or train.

“You dig deeper and you see a lot of the people coming are basically car trips,” Orcutt said. “They’re just moving the parking lot to a neighborhood over.”

The group wants Gov. Kathy Hochul to cancel the project — which was ready for a groundbreaking before her disgraced predecessor resigned last month.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo
The AirTrain was ex-Governor Andrew Cuomo’s $2.1 billion pet project.
EPA/ALBA VIGARAY

Critics question the logic of the route, which would require Manhattan-bound riders to first travel east — away from the island — before connecting to the subway and heading back west. A federal review uncovered by environmental group Riverkeeper argued that LaGuardia passengers would get to the airport faster if they took a cab or drive.

“This route was chosen because it doesn’t anger neighbors. That’s basically why it was chosen,” said MTA board member Andrew Albert. “I just don’t see people using it unless they’re coming from the east.”

LaGuardia Airport is typically over-run with car traffic. Albert said officials could lure more of those people onto transit with an extension of the N train from Astoria or a shorter AirTrain from 61st Street-Woodside.

Restoration continues, Wednesday, March 24, 2021, on one of two hangars, at New York's LaGuardia Airport dating back to the airport's opening in 1939 and operated by American Airlines.
The project comes out to $350,000 per rider.
AP Photo/Craig Ruttle

Hochul has not said whether she plans to advance the project, but on Wednesday said she was “very familiar” with Cuomo’s various mega-projects, and added, “I believe in big projects.”

She also said she had “confidence” in Port Authority Executive Director Rick Cotton, a Cuomo appointee who has defended the AirTrain project.

“Governor Hochul is committed to a world-class airport and transportation network, and she is working with the Port Authority, community members, elected officials, and advocates to ensure fiscal transparency and robust engagement,” a spokesperson said on Thursday.

The Port Authority called the numbers from Reinvent NY “breathtakingly wrong.”

“They use a ridership level that is literally one-fifth of the 10 million annual riders projected based on passenger surveys,” the PA said in a statement.

“And further, they have taken a 40-year capital investment and divided it by just one year of their underestimated ridership. The life of the AirTrain will be 40 years. Over that period the capital cost per rider would be $5 or less. At this time of climate crisis, rail mass transit access is an essential 21st century component of a 21st century airport.”

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