NY/NJ Port Authority Needs to Figure out How to Spend $2B After Rail Project Put on Hold

After a $2 billion rail link project for LaGuardia Airport was put on hold, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey must figure how to spend the money, as well as find a new mass-transit solution for the airport.

The project was paused because of criticism from public officials and a lawsuit from neighborhood and environment groups, NBC New York reported. Democratic New York Governor Kathy Hochul, Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who represents part of the area the rail link would go through, and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio have all spoken against the project.

In addition, the Federal Aviation Administration, which issued environmental approval in July, asked the Port Authority to reconsider after the lawsuit was filed.

"At Governor Hochul's request, the Port Authority is undertaking a thorough review of potential alternative mass transit options to LaGuardia Airport," the Port Authority said in a news release.

The Port Authority, which runs the airport, announced Tuesday that it commissioned a panel to review alternatives for LaGuardia, including a ferry service, dedicated bus lanes, and a subway extension. LaGuardia remains one of the few major airports without a rail link.

The panel is comprised of Mike Brown, former London transportation commissioner and managing director of Heathrow Airport, Philip Washington, the CEO of Denver International Airport and former CEO of Los Angeles Metro, and Janette Sadik-Khan, former New York City transportation commissioner.

Tom Wright, president and CEO of the Regional Plan Association, a New York-based think tank, called the inception of the panel "the right move at a critical time for our region."

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

LaGuardia Airport, $2 billion, Transit, Rail Link
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey must decide how to use $2 billion for a mass-transit solution for LaGuardia Airport after a rail link project was put on hold. People walk through New York’s LaGuardia Airport on November 24, 2020 in New York City. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

A 1.5-mile (2.4-kilometer) elevated railway linking the airport to a rail station near CitiField in Queens was given environmental approval by federal regulators in July, but the plan prompted criticism from Governor Hochul and other officials, as well as a lawsuit from an environmental group.

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 former Governor Andrew 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.

Port Authority, LaGuardia Airport, Rail Link
After a $2 billion rail link project was put on hold, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey must decide how to use the money, as well as find a new mass-transit solution for LaGuardia Airport. Returning holiday travelers queue up for cabs November 27, 2005 at LaGuardia Airport in New York City. Stephen Chernin/Getty Images