Saturday, August 1, 2015

Details on $8 Billion Redesign for LaGuardia Airport

For New Yorkers and visitors alike, LaGuardia Airport is a confusing maze of disconnected terminals. Beset with delays, chaotic transfers, poorly designed way-finding, and congestion for both passengers and planes. The airport was recently characterized by Vice President Biden as feeling like a “third-world country.” Now the facility is slated to get a much-needed and long overdue redesign. Governor Cuomo presented a far-reaching plan to overhaul the tired facility, which would cost roughly $8 billion, and be completed over a 5-year period.

According to a proposal by Governor Cuomo, LaGuardia Airport's four terminals will be consolidated into one hub and the entire facility will be moved south almost the length of two football fields.

In addition, the airport will be connected to public transit via an AirTrain link and 24-hour ferry service.

The proposal was guided by the Governor’s Advisory Panel with recommendations from leading architecture firms. It would bulldoze the airport’s Terminal B building and essentially replace an existing series of small terminals with a single unified structure situated closer to Grand Central Parkway.

In January, the Governor proposed to build a mile-and-a-half AirTrain link along the Grand Central Parkway from the No. 7 subway station at Willets Point to the airport. The project would cost approximately $450 million—about $300 million per mile—and take about five years. It would be run by the Port Authority in conjunction with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Once the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey green light the plans, construction will commence in 2016, with the goal of opening the first half of the project to passengers by early 2019, and finishing up 18 months after.

"New York will have the newest major airport in the United States," Mr. Cuomo said.

Airport construction experts have said it would take longer than the Cuomo administration estimates, or about 10 years.

According to the plans, the redesign would include new terminal space, a new arrival and departures hall, and a connection to Delta’s Terminals C and D. In addition, the Governor detailed plans to add transit with a new AirTrain and ferry service, as well as address potential flooding by elevating infrastructure.

Construction experts estimate that rebuilding Terminals C and D alone could together cost $2 billion, though that is a conservative estimate.

In addition to the costs of constructing the terminal buildings, substantial money must be spent on the surrounding infrastructure, such as roadways, parking and a proposed $450 million AirTrain, among other improvements. That is likely to cost another $2 billion.

The cost for the new Terminal B at LaGuardia includes a total $1.6 billion for roadways, electric and other common infrastructure for the entire airport

“New York had an aggressive, can-do approach to big infrastructure in the past—and today, we’re moving forward with that attitude once again,” said Governor Cuomo in a statement.

“We are transforming LaGuardia into a globally-renowned, 21st century airport that is worthy of the city and state of New York.”

Few can argue that LaGuardia, the smallest of New York’s three airports, needs to be re-imagined, but the question is whether this proposal is a band aid solution to a much more complicated problem that requires a greater comprehensive strategy.

While the Governor’s intentions are good, the proposal is disappointing because it does not attempt to deal with the main problems plaguing LGA.

Its runways are too short, which causes safety issues, delays, and limitations on destinations. It’s in a flood zone and its level needs to be raised to deal with future storms. Furthermore, the proposed rail connection is terribly convoluted.

LaGuardia isn’t the only airport in line to be revamped. The governor stated that he will soon issue an RFP for a redesign of JFK International Airport.

In the meantime, the iconic TWA Flight Center will be transformed into a LEED certified hotel, consisting of 505 guestrooms, 40,000 square feet of conference, event and meeting space, and an observation deck. This will be JFK’s first airport hotel.

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