LaGuardia Train Project Called World’s Costliest, $345,900 Per Rider

NEW YORK (Bloomberg News/TNS) —
A rendering of the AirTrain at LaGuardia Airport in New York City. (Office of Governor Andrew Cuomo/TNS)

The AirTrain project to LaGuardia Airport is set to become the world’s most costly transit project per daily rider, according to a new report by government watchdog group Reinvent Albany. The report quickly drew the ire of Port Authority officials.

The LaGuardia AirTrain project that was championed by former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo will cost at least $2 billion, the group said in the report. Reinvent Albany concluded that the train line would cost about $345,900 per daily rider and would represent almost double the transit construction costs of the Second Avenue Subway build-out, the group said.

“That is a ridiculous calculation,” Rick Cotton, executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, said in an interview Saturday. “That calculation is applying the full cost of the AirTrain, which will be operating for 50 years, to one day’s ridership.”

The Port Authority refuted the data that the report relied on and said the ridership levels the group used were one-fifth of the 10 million annual riders projected based on passenger surveys. Over the 50-year expected life span of AirTrain, the capital cost per rider would be $5 or less, the agency said in an emailed statement on Friday.

“The ridership numbers presented by Reinvent NY are breathtakingly wrong,” The Authority said. “They have taken a 50-year capital investment and divided it by just one year of their underestimated ridership.”

The Second Avenue Subway line across Manhattan’s Upper East Side from 63rd to 96th street brought in 30,847 new daily riders — net 2016-2019 declines at nearby stations. Reinvent Albany said it expects that the AirTrain project will carry fewer than 6,000 net transit trips a day.

The project is meant to provide a faster link between Midtown Manhattan and the airport and allow travelers to avoid traffic that leads to and from the airport. Instead, the planned project is likely to result in an “extremely expensive shuttle service” for employees, long-term parkers, rental car customers and taxi drop-offs, making it easier to drive and park at LaGuardia rather than creating a better public transit option, the group said.

“The LaGuardia AirTrain will stand alone as the world’s most expensive transit project per rider if Governor Hochul allows the Port Authority to proceed with the Cuomo-era project,” the group said in the report, referring to Gov. Kathy Hochul, who took over when Cuomo stepped down in August. “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.”

Last month, the Port Authority told Bloomberg News it was committed to building the LaGuardia AirTrain after some staff members urged officials to put the brakes on the project.

“AirTrain to LaGuardia will create far-reaching benefits and will attract robust ridership, just as AirTrain JFK has done in the 17 years since it was launched,” the Port Authority said. “AirTrain JFK has exhibited steady annual ridership growth that exceeded our projections by 50% in 2019.”

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