The Worst Transit Project in the U.S. Is Officially Dead

The LaGuardia AirTrain, which would have cost more than $2 billion to make getting to the airport worse for everyone, will not be built because its main booster got kicked out of office.
Credit: Andrew Cuomo Office of the Governor
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The LaGuardia AirTrain, the worst proposed transit project in the U.S. amidst a crowded field of competitors, is officially dead, according to the New York Times, ending an eight-year saga for the train known as the “backwards AirTrain” due to its senseless route. It is a feel-good moment for those who have been opposed to the senseless train from the very beginning, but leaves little optimism that common sense will prevail on other problematic projects or that other, better projects will succeed.


The LaGuardia AirTrain was (God does it feel good to refer to it in the past tense) a pet project of former New York governor Andrew Cuomo to connect the formerly-beleaguered airport—that is actually pretty good now following an $8 billion renovation—to mass transit via a people mover a la the JFK AirTrain. An AirTrain is a type of train-to-the-train-to-the-airport that only exists in the U.S. due to an obscure Federal Aviation Administration rule that no longer exists. But, unlike the JFK AirTrain which connects to three subway lines and a major Long Island Rail Road station, the LaGuardia version would travel away from Manhattan—hence the “backwards AirTrain” refrain—and connect to only one subway line and a spur on the LIRR with infrequent service. 

LaGuardia is also well-served by the bus system with connections to virtually every subway line, most notably the Q70 to Jackson Heights with five subway connections. Multiple independent analyses have consistently found the LGA AirTrain to be worse than all potential alternatives like extending the N train from Astoria or creating bus-only lanes. They have also found that the AirTrain would have been slower than the existing travel options. A Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by environmental groups opposed to the project unearthed all kinds of funny business relating to how the environmental review was conducted that violated the spirit and possibly even the letter of the law so as to make the AirTrain seem less ridiculous than it actually is. All the while, the cost of the project skyrocketed to more than $2 billion.


Despite all this, the project won final approval from the FAA in July 2021, clearing the way for it to be built, which everyone expected to happen. But, just two weeks later, the attorney general of New York released a report into allegations of sexual harassment against Cuomo that backed the accusers. Cuomo resigned on August 10. Suddenly, seemingly the only person who truly wanted the AirTrain built no longer had the power to see it done.

The very day Cuomo resigned, the Daily News reported dozens of Port Authority staffers—the agency that governs the airports and would have built and owned the AirTrain—sent a letter to executive director Rick Cotton demanding the agency no longer waste time and money on the boondoggle. “For too long, Gov. Cuomo and his staff have repeatedly pushed the agency to make non-transparent, politically motivated decisions, including decisions that squander the trust and money of our bondholders, customers, and the general public,” the letter stated. 

Two months later, Cuomo’s successor, Kathy Hochul, ordered the Port Authority to pause and review the project. An independent panel was created to review the project and issue recommendations. And, as the Times reports, that panel has unanimously recommended the AirTrain not be built, and has instead suggested beefing up Q70 and other bus services. The Times reports that Hochul “accept[s] the recommendations.” The report has not yet been released and the Governor’s office didn’t immediately respond to a Motherboard email asking when that will happen.

The death of the LaGuardia AirTrain is a victory for New York City and anyone flying into or out of LaGuardia. On the one hand, beefed up bus service is a better transit solution for LaGuardia in every way. It is faster, cheaper, will move more people, and is easier for travelers providing connections to more destinations across the city than the AirTrain. It is, at least on the surface, the triumph of common sense over grandiose transit quackery.

However, in examining the wreckage of the non-existent AirTrain and the eight years wasted arguing over its merits, it is impossible to feel satisfied about any of it. Common sense only triumphed due to an unrelated scandal, not through the workings of a sensible bureaucracy or a motivated electorate. While Cuomo is out of office, none of his enablers—the Port Authority or the FAA—have re-examined their practices to prevent such a bad idea from moving forward again, or even faced any consequences whatsoever for conducting an environmental review that was so problematic it eliminated from consideration what New York City is now going to do. Instead, it feels more like one of the two times in a day in which a broken clock happens to be correct. It feels good at the moment, but it quickly passes.