Mayor Proposes Financing for LaGuardia Rail Link

As the Port Authority´s proposal for a Kennedy Airport rail link winds its way through a series of public hearings, Mayor Giuliani is promoting a plan to extend the subway system to LaGuardia Airport. In the preliminary budget for fiscal year 2000 presented last month, the Mayor proposed spending $1.3 billion on the LaGuardia link, to be funded as follows: $345 million from the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA), the money that the agency will receive from the sale of the New York Coliseum; $600 million from the city´s capital budget; and $100 million each from the Port Authority, New York State, and the federal government. While the proposed link to LaGuardia clearly has merits, in the coming months there will need to be public debate as to whether it would be the best use of scarce transportation monies.

The current proposal has developed out of more than two years of study by the city and the MTA. In July 1998, a memorandum of agreement regarding improved access to LaGuardia was signed by the MTA, the Port Authority, Mayor Giuliani, Governor Pataki, and Queens Borough President Shulman. The agreement led to an August public meeting at which the MTA and Port Authority presented four alternative routes for the Queens portion of the rail link, with additional alternatives suggested by the public.

Under the preliminary budget proposal, the LaGuardia link would provide a one-seat ride (no transfer) to the airport from Manhattan. The train would begin at City Hall, travel express along the N line to the Ditmars Boulevard station, and then continue either under Ditmars itself or along an elevated route above 31st Street and 19th Avenue.

There is general agreement that better public transportation access to LaGuardia is needed. According to the Port Authority, 93 percent of LaGuardia´s 69,000 daily passengers use private automobiles, taxis, or limousines to reach the airport. The main public transportation alternatives from Manhattan at present are the M60 bus and a limited amount of ferry service. Community groups generally support the project but have concerns about the impact of construction and operation of the link on the neighborhood of Astoria.

Unlike the Kennedy Airport rail link, which is to be funded by the Port Authority, the LaGuardia proposal represents a major financial commitment for New York City and the MTA. The project would account for almost all of the city´s contribution to the MTA capital budget during the 2000-2005 period, and the MTA itself would use all of the one-shot revenue it receives from the Coliseum sale for the LaGuardia extension. At least in the short run, building the subway extension to LaGuardia would reduce the likelihood of constructing the Second Avenue subway or other elements of the Regional Plan Association's $13 billion Metrolink program for rail transit improvements.