Flights, construction and everything else seem to be postponed at the city’s airports these days.
And LaGuardia Airport’s Central Terminal Building will stay on virtual life support for the time being, as the Port Authority continues to stall on the city’s largest infrastructure project. The half-century-old building will continue to cramp passengers travelling in and out of the city, and with minimal funding coming in to fix existing problems.
Mass transportation demands are likely why the Port Authority has delayed the project, experts believe, along with ensuring the building holds up to the growing number of people travelling per year. Port Authority officials likely haven’t voted on a development plan yet because they’re still looking for a plan that brings a subway stop to the terminal, express bus stops and expands roads for taxis, said Adam Forman, a research associate at the Center for an Urban Future.
Forman’s report earlier this year on the city’s aged infrastructure showed that the central terminal building was 65% over capacity, or more than 5 million over the 8 million it was designed to hold per year.
Even if the Port Authority agreed this month on one of the three groups for the $3.6 billion project, it would be too late for the seven-year project to make its 2021 completion deadline, according to Stephen Sigmund, executive director of the Global Gateway Alliance. A closure on the deal won’t be done until early 2015, he said, which will push the completed airport facelift into 2022.
And that means travelers will endure the poor conditions that make LaGuardia a punchline for the city. Underfunded and overcrowded, the airport has fallen into disrepair and many parts of its utility infrastructure date back to 1939. The Port Authority committed $30 million in sprucing up LaGuardia in its 2014 budget, including funding a new electrical station and structural overhauls to accommodate passengers. But, Forman said, small repairs like the $12 million for structure changes is just a bandage until something bigger is done.
“Resiliency is probably a factor playing into potential redesigns,” he said. “So that this airport can be resilient in the next 10, 15, 20 years.”
The Port Authority has left LaGuardia – and other area airports – to rot while it uses its revenues to help fund real estate projects that failed to live up to expectations, according to a report published this year by the Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management.
LaGuardia had driven less money in recent than JFK International Airport to its south in 2012, according to the report. While much smaller than its counterpart, LaGuardia only netted the Port Authority $30 million, compared to the stronger $190 million brought in by JFK from shipping, travel and new, trendy restaurants.
Authors Mitchell Moss, the center’s director, and Hugh O’Neill, a former PA director, wrote that an improved LaGuardia – one that generated higher revenues – was crucial to the city’s trade, finance and tourism sectors. In the end, a swift completion of the central terminal building and improved runways would ensure that.
Despite all of this, it isn’t keeping Sigmund, tasked with boosting redevelopment, down from LaGuardia getting a major facelift.
“It’s a transformative project,” Sigmund said. “The most important thing from our perspective is that you get a 21st century airport that changes its reputation.”