June 10, 2020 By Allie Griffin
Governor Andrew Cuomo hosted his daily coronavirus briefing in Queens today to celebrate the opening of LaGuardia Airport’s new arrivals and departures hall.
The state-of-the-art 840,000-square-foot facility in Terminal B opens Saturday and is just one part of the airport’s $8 billion revamp Cuomo announced in 2015.
Cuomo said major infrastructure projects, like the new LaGuardia Airport, will “energize” the state’s reopening from the coronavirus pandemic shutdown.
“Our goal is not to just reopen, our goal is to stimulate this economy, to take this moment of pause as a moment to pivot and stimulate and regrow better than before,” he said.
“LaGuardia Airport — now is the time to actually double down on our commitment and on our effort.”
The governor said the state will capitalize the moment of reduced activity as less people are traveling and commuting and less people will be affected by service reductions due to construction.
“Now is the time to do large scale development projects,” Cuomo said. “Now is the time you want to see government investing, the private sector investing in building large scale developments that you know can help drive economic growth.”
Rick Cotton, the executive director of the Port Authority, said the new hall is the biggest milestone of the new airport construction since workers broke ground four years ago.
“Today we celebrate the opening of this new arrivals and departures hall, the most significant milestone to date towards the realization toward Governor Cuomo’s vision,” he said.
The four-story facility is 50 percent larger than the old one it replaces. It features gift shops and concession stands from iconic New York brands like F.A.O. Schwarz, Junior’s and Eli Zabar.
Once completed, LaGuardia Airport will be the first new airport in the U.S. in more than 25 years, Cotton said.
Cuomo never tells the whole story concerning taxpayer funding for his $2 billion LaGuardia Air Train.
The MTA has programmed significant capital dollars within the $51 billion 2020 – 2024 Five Year Capital Plan for improvements to both the LIRR and NYC Transit Willets Point Stations to connect with the future LaGuardia Air Train station. There is also funding to support the purchase of new subway and commuter rail cars for service on the Port Washington LIRR and NYC Transit #7 subway lines. All of these investments are paid for by taxpayers which will be need for future Air Train riders.
The LIRR will require six trains per hour in each direction to support ten minute head ways. This is necessary to fulfill Cuomo’s promised 30 minute travel time from LaGaurdia Airport to midtown Manhattan. Even with implementation of Positive Train Control, it may not be possible for the Port Washington LIRR branch to accommodate these additional trains during rush hour. Off peak service between rush hours, evenings and weekends, Port Washington LIRR Branch service is once every thirty minutes. The LIRR would have to add four additional trains per hour in order to meet promised thirty minute travel time. Neither Cuomo, Port Authority Chairman Cotton, MTA Chairman Foye or LIRR President Eng has ever revealed what the additional operating costs would be. No one has identified the funding sources to pay for all this extra service. It will easily be in the millions. Are these funds included in the MTA LIRR operating budget in future years to pay for this cost?
Since the Jamaica Air Train cost $7.50 each way, you have to assume it would be the same price for the LaGuardia Air Train. LIRR peak tickets cost $10.75 and off peak $7.75 off peak. Will the LIRR offer $4.50 same day City Zone tickets on the weekend for Air Train riders as well? The real cost per ride is far higher with subsidies coming from taxpayer generated revenues.
Only Cuomo, the Port Authority, their consultants along with labor unions and construction contractors who would benefit by this project, refuse to acknowledge the real full costs. This should include all the capital and operating funding MTA has to contribute to provide connections between the Willets Point Air Train Station and Manhattan. The LaGuardia Air Train remains a $2 billion plus boondoggle.
(Larry Penner is a transportation advocate, historian and advocate who previously worked 31 years for the Federal Transit Administration Region 2 New York Office. This included the development, review, approval and oversight for billions in capital projects and programs for the MTA, NYC Transit, Long Island Rail Road, Metro North Rail Road, MTA Bus, NYC Department of Transportation along with 30 other transit agencies in NY & NJ)..