MIAMI — The battle over rebuilding New York’s LaGuardia Airport flared up once again this week. Governor Andrew Cuomo unveiled his version of a renovation plan on Monday and it is spectacular, but not necessarily in a good way. The three separate terminal buildings in use today will be demolished and replaced with a new, consolidated terminal structure. And it is in direct competition to a plan the Port Authority of NY & NJ had previously commenced work on.
The new facility will be built closer to the Grand Central Parkway, adding more room for aircraft movement and gate positions. And there are more gates coming. The rendering shows approximately 70 gates in the facility, up from 65 in the legacy terminals which will be replaced. Of course, if the Marine Air Terminal is shuttered as part of the plan (Delta has wanted to move its operations out of the MAT for some time now), then the total number of usable gates appears to be going down with Cuomo’s plan.
It is also unclear where the Governor expects passengers to park at the airport: the existing parking lots and garages disappear as part of the plan and there is no indication of new facilities (maybe the western-most bit of the construction is a garage, but it would be undersized if so). But that’s okay because high speed ferries and a new rail link will help bring passengers to and from the airport. No word on where the ferry will dock, but the terminal location is not on the water so figure a decent transfer time between the two. And the rail link is the same one Cuomo has previously proposed, a transfer further out into Queens and to only one subway line rather than the current express bus option to multiple trains. And the bits of road transit infrastructure are on the renderings appear to be missing things like a loop to get back to the other end of the terminal. Oops.
Also not shown in any of the renderings: Aircraft hangars. A couple have been demolished recently as part of the renovation plans but the new layout shows none. Sure, LaGuardia is no longer a major maintenance hub but having some facilities available is an important part of the operations.
The new terminal will be less than a mile from end to end. That’s still incredibly compact for a major airport. Chicago O’Hare and Denver are much larger. So are Detroit and Minneapolis. But LaGuardia is getting an internal tram/train to move people back and forth. Not because it is necessary or even necessarily convenient. But apparently because everyone else has one and they are fun. Or something like that. With stops along the way the tram is unlikely to save more than a few minutes of transit time for passengers.
No mention of tearing down the brand new parking garage which was just built or ripping out the existing access roads and transit connectors. No mention of how the airport will continue to operate with what is essentially in-place construction to replace gates which are already often oversubscribed. The plan is expected to be completed in five years. Which is mostly entertaining because completing the construction in that time frame, without completely destroying the existing experience, would be an incredible feat. Which is not to say that the current experience is great – it is not. But at least the planes are still flying and usually have a gate to park at.
And so it is a solution which will be incredibly expensive – $4bn estimate today which is both an enormous sum of money and probably not enough to get it done. It is incredibly optimistic on construction timing and not especially great for improving passenger experience. It is unclear that it meets the needs of passengers or the airlines but, hey, it looks pretty in the renderings.
To be very clear, something must happen at LaGuardia. The Central Terminal Building in particular is in desperate need of help. But this is a massive spending project with diminishing returns. And still far too many questions open for it to be an easy plan to support.