Thursday, February 2, 2012

Port Authority Plans New $3.6 Billion LaGuardia Terminal

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is planning a 2014 start to construction of a replacement for the cramped, outdated Central Terminal Building at La Guardia Airport. More than a dozen firms have responded with ideas for how to build—and most importantly pay for— the new 1.3 million-square-foot terminal. The schedule calls for construction to be completed by the end of 2021 at a cost of about $3.6 billion.

Because the Central Terminal would need to remain in operation during construction, the Port Authority sees work taking place in phases. A contractor would knock down part of the terminal while keeping the rest in operation, construct part of the new building, and then move onto the demolition of another piece of the old one.

The existing central terminal, which opened in 1964, is outmoded and overcrowded. Half of La Guardia's 72 aircraft gates, built originally to accommodate smaller planes, are located at the Central Terminal Building. When it opened, the facility could handle eight million passengers annually, a figure surpassed in 2006, when nearly 13 million passengers passed through the terminal. Last year, more than 24 million passengers used the 46-year-old Central Terminal.

The aircraft that use La Guardia today are about 20% wider and 15% longer, according to the Port Authority. The bigger planes carry more passengers, making the inside of the current terminal overcrowded. Modern airport security requires more space than the Central Terminal Building can allot for it. In addition, the terminal lacks the bevy of shops and restaurants that are common in newer structures. All those things conspire to make La Guardia one of the lowest-rated and most delay-riddled airports in the U.S.

But a fix has been hard to come by. There's not much free space at La Guardia, which is hemmed in by the Grand Central Parkway on one side and Bowery and Flushing bays on the other. The Port Authority has weighed a replacement for years but hasn't had the money to pay for one.

The Port Authority wants that building to be designed in a way that would allow for a rail connection, in case the city and state ever find a way to pay for one and figure out where to put it. Plans for subway link to La Guardia have long been discussed, but never been implemented because of lack of funds and neighborhood opposition.

The Port Authority is planning a similar project to overhaul Newark Liberty International Airport's Terminal A beginning in 2015.