Could the subway be extended to LaGuardia Airport? It's an option on the table as the Port Authority kicks off a review of better options for mass transit to the airport.
The agency said Tuesday it was appointing a blue-ribbon panel to consider a list of options for better access to the airport. "At a minimum," it said, the panel would consider:
- improved and expanded bus service, including potential for dedicated lanes
- ferry service
- one-system rides, including subway extension options
- elevated guideway options including light rail from various LIRR and subway stops
- "other new and emerging technologies that can be pursued and implemented in the near-term"
The expert panel will include former NYC transportation commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, Denver International Airport CEO and former CEO of Los Angeles Metro Philip Washington and Mike Brown, the former managing director of London's Heathrow Airport.
Get Tri-state area news and weather forecasts to your inbox. Sign up for NBC New York newsletters.
The Port Authority said the MTA would participate in the process as well, and that the report would be completed "as expeditiously as possible."
Tom Wright, president and CEO of the Regional Plan Association, a New York-based think tank, called the formation of the panel “the right move at a critical time for our region.”
Last month, the agency officially put on hold a $2 billion project to build a 1.5-mile elevated AirTrain near CitiField to LaGuardia. The FAA had previously concluded that was the best option to bring mass transit to the airport.
The AirTrain, announced in 2015, had been a pet project of former governor Andrew Cuomo, but his successor Gov. Kathy Hochul has been critical of the idea. Critics said the rail link would harm the Queens neighborhoods it traverses and wouldn’t be appreciably faster than driving, since it would involve taking a train or subway from points east or west and then switching to the rail link.
The lawsuit filed in September by Riverkeeper Inc. and community groups alleged the project was pushed through too fast by Cuomo and the Port Authority and used arbitrary screening criteria to exclude numerous worthy alternatives to the rail link.
Before settling on the rail link as the preferred alternative, the Port Authority had reviewed dozens of options. These ran the gamut from diverting air traffic to other airports, to using helicopters, ferries, expanded bus routes, an elevated busway or extending any of three existing subway lines.
The challenge of extending subways to the airport from points in Queens — an option mentioned often by critics of the rail link — was detailed in a report the Port Authority submitted to the FAA early last year.
Subway lines could start aboveground but would have to go underground, potentially affecting major utilities, as they approach the airport to avoid coming too close to a buffer zone around one of the airport's runways. The cost of extending any of the three subway lines was estimated at $2.5 billion to more than $4 billion.
Mike Dulong, an attorney for Riverkeeper Inc., said if the new alternative selected by the Port Authority is substantially different from the rail link, it will require a new environmental approval process. Those can take 18 months or more.