AIRTRAIN LGA: BRILLIANT OR BOONDOGGLE?

The proposed LaGuardia Air Train could change the way you get to your next flight out of town. But, critics say the plan is a boondoggle and a waste of money. Rick Cotton, the head of the Port Authority, is here with details on the project.

Aired on November 1, 2018. 

TRANSCRIPT

IT HAS NOT BEEN A SMOOTH RIDE SO FAR FOR ONE OF GOVERNOR CUOMO'S FAVORITE INFRASTRUCTURE PROJECTS, A PROPOSED AIR TRAIN TO LaGUARDIA.

THE $4.5 BILLION PLAN HAS BEEN UNDER CRIT SEARCH SINCE HE MOVED IT FORWARD OVER THE SUMMER PROMISING A 30-MINUTE RIDE FROM MID TOWN MANHATTAN TO LaGUARDIA.

AS THE NEW YORK DAILY NEWS PUT IT, IT IS CIRCUITOUS, EXPENSIVE AND MAKES ZERO SENSE TO TRAVELERS, UNQUOTE.

IN ONE OF THE FINAL ACTS OF DEFIANCE, WENT AS FAR AS TO CALL THE AIR TRAIN BOONDOGGLE IN PROGRESS.

THE GOVERNOR HAS STAUNCHLY DEFENDED THE PROJECT SAYING LaGUARDIA IS THE ONLY MAJOR EAST COAST AIRPORT WITHOUT A RAIL LINK.

IS LaGUARDIA THE ONLY SOLUTION WITHOUT A PROBLEM OR IS IT AN ESSENTIAL TRANSPORTATION PROJECT LONG OVERDUE?

HERE TO MAKE THE CASE FOR THE AIR TRAIN IS RICK COTTON, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF THE PORT OF AUTHORITY OF NEW YORK AND NEW JERSEY, THE AGENCY THAT WOULD OPERATE THE TRAIN IF IT IS BUILT.

MR. COTTON, THANKS SO MUCH FOR JOINING US TODAY.

GOOD TO BE WITH YOU.

MR. COTTON, WHY IS LaGUARDIA AIR TRAIN NECESSARY?

HERE'S THE HEADLINE.

IT WOULD BE ABSOLUTELY IRRESPONSIBLE NOT TO BUILD A MASS TRANSIT RAIL LINK TO LaGUARDIA.

RIGHT NOW THERE ARE 30 MILLION PASSENGERS A YEAR THAT PASS THROUGH LaGUARDIA.

ALL BUT A TINY, TINY PERCENTAGE USE PRIVATE VEHICLES COMING OFF OUR CONGESTED ROADWAYS TO TRAVEL TO THEIR DESTINATION.

SO THE CURRENT SITUATION IS TERRIBLE FOR NONAIRPORT TRAVELERS WHO HAVE TO DEAL WITH THE TRAFFIC CONGESTION.

SURE.

IT'S TERRIBLE FOR AIRPORT TRAVELERS WHO ARE TRYING TO GET SMOOTHLY FROM NEW YORK -- FROM LaGUARDIA TO MID TOWN OR TO THEIR OTHER DESTINATION, LONG ISLAND, WESTCHESTER, WHEREVER.

AND IT'S TERRIBLE FOR THE ENVIRONMENT BECAUSE WE SIMPLY CONTINUE TO DUMP CARS, MORE CARS AND MORE CARS ONTO OUR CONGESTED ROADWAYS.

OKAY.

SO, LET ME GO THROUGH SOME OF THE PRINCIPAL CRITICISMS THAT HAVE BEEN LEVELED AT THE AIR TRAIN.

I'M HAPPY TO RESPOND.

CAN I MAKE ONE PROCESS POINT?

ABSOLUTELY.

WHERE ARE WE?

WE ARE JUST STARTING UP THE ENVIRONMENTAL REVIEW PROCESS, SO THERE ARE ACTUALLY 20 ALTERNATIVES IN TERMS OF HOW DO YOU GET PEOPLE OUT OF THEIR CARS MORE EFFICIENTLY TO AND FROM THE AIRPORT.

THERE'S GOING TO BE A YEAR LONG PROCESS.

THERE WILL BE TWO SETS OF PUBLIC HEARINGS.

SO WHAT YOU AND I ARE ABOUT TO TALK ABOUT IS GOING TO BE FULLY DEBATED BY THE PUBLIC BEFORE A FINAL DECISION.

GOOD.

LET'S TALK ABOUT THE CRITICISM OF THIS AS IT STANDS NOW.

THE FIRST ONE, OF COURSE, IS THE ONE ABOUT THE CIRCUITOUS ROUTE.

IF THE AIR TRAIN HAPPENS AS IT'S BEEN DISCUSSED NOW, TRAVELERS FROM MID TOWN WOULD HAVE TO GO EAST OF LaGUARDIA TO WILLIS POINT BEFORE DOUBLING BACK TO LaGUARDIA.

WHY THAT ROUND ABOUT ROUTE, AND DON'T THE CRITICS HAVE A POINT?

IT'S ONE OF THE MORE NONSENSICAL POINTS THAT HAS BEEN IN THIS DEBATE.

EVERYBODY WHO DRIVES A CAR IS USED TO GPS WHICH TELLS PEOPLE WHAT IS THE FASTEST WAY TO GET FROM POINT A TO POINT B.

EVERYBODY DOES IT AUTOMATICALLY.

THEY DO IT WITHOUT THINKING ABOUT IT.

BECAUSE THE FACT THAT IT MAY BE A QUARTER MILE OR A HALF MILE SLIGHTLY LONGER, WHAT'S IMPORTANT TO TRAVELERS IS GETTING FROM POINT A TO POINT B FASTER.

LaGUARDIA AIR TRAIN ROUTE WHICH WILL COME BY THE LONG ISLAND RAILROAD OR SUBWAY FROM EITHER GRAND CENTRAL OR PENN STATION, WE'RE TALKING ABOUT MID TOWN MANHATTAN.

THE 7 TRAIN.

WILL GO TO WILLIS POINT, THE LONG ISLAND RAILROAD TIME IS 16 MINUTES.

THE TIME FROM WILLIS POINT TO THE AIRPORT BY AIR TRAIN WILL BE 6 MINUTES.

A TRAVELER WILL KNOW WHEN THEY GET ON THE TRAIN THEY ARE HALF AN HOUR FROM THE AIRPORT.

THAT IS WHAT IS CRITICAL.

THE FACT THAT THE FASTEST WAY TO GET THERE HAPPENS TO BE SLIGHTLY LONGER ON A GEOGRAPHIC BASIS IS REALLY NOT WHAT TRAVELERS CARE ABOUT.

BUT LET'S TALK ABOUT THE 30 MINUTES AND THE 60 MINUTES FROM USING THE LONG ISLAND RAILROAD.

LET'S TALK ABOUT THAT, BECAUSE ACCORDING TO CALCULATIONS, IF A TRAVELER USES THE 7 TRAIN, IT ALREADY TAKES 33 MINUTES FOR THE 7 TRAIN TO GET FROM GRAND CENTRAL TO WILLIS POINT.

SO ANYBODY USING THE 7 TRAIN IS GOING TO BE MORE THAN HALF AN HOUR.

IF THEY USE THE LONG ISLAND RAILROAD, TRUE, 60 MINUTES TO WILLIS STATION.

THE TRAIN USED TO GET TO WILLIS POINT ON PEAK HOURS GOES EVERY 10 MINUTES, OFF PEAK HOURS EVERY 30 MINUTES.

IF YOU'RE LUCKY ENOUGH TO AVOID THE WAIT TIME, WHICH WOULD BE RARE, RIGHT?

IT'S NOT A MATTER OF LUCK.

THE FACT IS THIS WILL BE A SCHEDULED TRAIN.

EVERY SINGLE RAIL LINK TO AIRPORTS, THERE IS A SPECIFIC TIME WHEN THE TRAIN DEPARTS.

AND WHAT'S MOST IMPORTANT TO TRAVELERS IS RELIABILITY AND PREDICTABILITY.

RIGHT NOW THE VARIANTS, IF YOU'RE COMING, FOR EXAMPLE, FROM TIMES SQUARE TRYING TO GET TO LaGUARDIA, HAS A VARIABILITY OF ANYWHERE FROM 35 MINUTES DRAMATICALLY OFF PEAK TIMES TO 70.

THAT'S BASED ON GPS DATA OF FOR HIRE VEHICLES AND TAXIS.

BUT MANY TIMES IT'S MUCH -- IT'S OVER AN HOUR AND A HALF, AND YOU AS A TRAVELER DON'T KNOW WHAT YOU ARE GOING TO HIT IF YOU TRY TO TRAVEL BY SURFACE TRANSPORTATION.

SO WHAT THE TRAVELER WANTS TO KNOW IS I'VE GOT A PLANE TO CATCH OR I'VE GOT A MEETING TO MAKE, AND I WANT TO KNOW HOW TO PLAN TO GET THERE.

I WANT A CONVENIENT AND FAST WAY AND THE AIR TRAIN WILL PROVIDE THAT.

WHAT ABOUT THE ARGUMENT THERE ALREADY EXIST MASS TRANSIT OPPORTUNITIES TO GET TO LaGUARDIA THROUGH THE USUAL -- THROUGH THE REGULAR SUBWAY SYSTEM AND CONNECTIONS WITH EXPRESS BUSES, AND THAT, IN FACT, FOR MULTIPLE POINTS, NOT JUST FROM MID TOWN, FROM HERE TO LaGUARDIA?

FOR EXAMPLE, YOU CAN USE THE R, THE E, THE F OR THE 7 TO GET TO 74th STREET AND QUEENS AND TRANSFER TO THE Q 70, I BELIEVE, THAT TAKES YOU -- THE BUS THAT TAKES YOU TO LaGUARDIA.

YES, BUT WE KNOW THE FACTS.

6% OF PEOPLE CHOOSE TO DO THAT.

WE'RE TALKING ABOUT 95% OF PEOPLE ARRIVING ON OUR CONGESTED ROADWAYS AND DOING WHAT I SAID BEFORE.

THE NONAIRPORT PUBLIC IS DEALING WITH CONGESTION.

THE AIRPORT TRAVELER IS DEALING WITH CONGESTION AND WILDLY UNCERTAIN TIMES.

AND THE ENVIRONMENT IS SUFFERING FROM POLLUTION AND GREENHOUSE GASES.

WHAT ABOUT THE ARGUMENT THAT, LOOK, EVERYBODY KNOWS THE ARGUMENT GOES THAT GOVERNOR CUOMO LIKE THE BIG, THE BELLS AND WHISTLES PROJECTS, THIS IS ONE.

AND THAT IT WOULD BE MUCH MORE EFFICIENT, WOULD AFFECT MANY MORE NEW YORKERS IF THAT $1.5 BILLION WERE USED ACCURATELY TO IMPROVE THE COLLAPSING SUBWAY SYSTEM THAN FOR THIS PURPOSE.

THIS IS NOT AN EITHER/OR PROPOSITION.

IT'S A BOTH PROPOSITION.

IT IS IRRESPONSIBLE AND INDEFENSIBLE NOT TO HAVE A MASS TRANSIT RAIL LINK TO LaGUARDIA.

OBVIOUSLY THE SUBWAY SYSTEM NEEDS INVESTMENT.

THE GOVERNOR HAS PROPOSED THE CONGESTION PRICING SCHEME.

HE IS TOTALLY FOCUSED ON THAT QUESTION.

THAT DOESN'T HAPPEN TO BE WITHIN THE PORT AUTHORITY'S RESPONSIBILITY, I'M HAPPY TO SAY.

BUT THE POINT IS WE'RE NOT MAKING A CHOICE HERE.

THE PORT AUTHORITY IS COMMITTING AND THE GOVERNOR IS BEING ENORMOUSLY RESPONSIBLE TO PROVIDE A RAIL LINK TO LaGUARDIA WHICH WILL GET PEOPLE OUT OF THEIR CARS, OFF OUR CONGESTED HIGHWAYS, AND THE RESULT WILL BE GOOD PUBLIC POLICY.

SO, YOUR BEST GUESS IN ABOUT 15 SECONDS AS WE HAVE LEFT, WILL THIS HAPPEN, AND IF IT DOES, WHEN IS THE AIR TRAIN GOING TO BE UP AND RUNNING?

IT WILL HAPPEN.

IT WILL BE OPERATING IN 2023.

BY THAT TIME -- AND IT WILL HAVE ACCESS THROUGH THE LONG ISLAND RAILROAD TO BOTH GRAND CENTRAL AND PENN STATION.

AND IT WILL BE RELIABLE AND PREDICTABLE.

AND WHEN YOU'RE TRAVELING FROM MID TOWN TO THE AIRPORT, IT WILL BE UNDER HALF AN HOUR.

ALL RIGHT.

MR. COTTON, THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR JOINING US TODAY TO TALK ABOUT THIS.

THANK YOU.

DELIGHTED TO BE HERE.

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