$2.1B AirTrain Approved for LaGuardia Project
A large piece of the puzzle has been approved by the Federal Aviation Administration for the LaGuardia Airport project—a $2 billion AirTrain.
Preliminary work could begin as soon as the end of summer, according to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s larger vision for the airport was hinging on this decision, as the facility is in the midst of an $8 billion ground-up renovation.
“The LaGuardia AirTrain will provide a sustainable and reliable travel option to LaGuardia Airport. It will remove millions of vehicles from congested highways and local roads each year. The transformative AirTrain project will help drive the region’s economic recovery by creating 3,000 union construction jobs and more than $500 million in business contracting opportunities for minority and women-owned businesses and local, Queens-based businesses,” said Port Authority Executive Director Rick Cotton.
“It also includes a historic investment of $50 million in the Malcolm X Promenade along Flushing Bay and other neighborhood parks. Additionally, the LaGuardia AirTrain includes a robust package of other community benefits, from investments in workforce development programs for local residents and strong local hiring requirements, to STEM programming and college scholarships for local students.”
The federal approval did come against the protests of some environmental groups as well as New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who questioned why the other options for transportation (such as a subway route or ferries) weren’t fully investigated.
In response, Steve Dickson, administrator of the FAA, said that it was found to be the least disruptive to the surrounding community and pointed out that the point of the project is to serve the airport, not the community: “It is not a regional transit project,” he wrote.
However, an aspect that was not approved was how the AirTrain would be funded. Reportedly, officials hope to use fees collected from passengers at the airports it serves to help pay for it, but the FAA has not approved that idea.
Some LaGuardia Project Background
In July of 2015, Cuomo revealed a massive plan to remake LaGuardia Airport from the ground up—rebuilding Terminals B, C and D—totaling 2.5 million square feet—to improve the overall impression and atmosphere for passengers and expanding exterior space to ease ground congestion.
At the time, the plan called for demolition and redevelopment of existing structures to make way for a new “grand entryway” 600 feet closer to the Grand Central Parkway, the main highway serving the airport.
Partners in the project include the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, LaGuardia Gateway Partners (LGP) and Delta—who are both planning on leasing their terminals from the Port Authority until 2050. LGP is composed of a number of firms, including:
The Port Authority is providing roughly 50% of the funding for the project, with the private partners kicking in the remainder.
In addition to the terminals, work includes the construction of a central utilities plant; 8 miles of road, including 20 bridges; airside facilities; and a 2,700-space parking garage. Work is being reportedly completed by 28 unions and a team of 2,400 professional and trade workers.
Delta’s $4 billion part of the project takes place at Terminals C and D and began in 2017 and parts have been completed. Terminal B took up the other $4 billion. (Its first 18-gate new concourse opened in December 2018.)
In October 2019, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey's Board of Commissioners approved the investment of approximately $4.5 billion for projects that aim to accommodate the continued record passenger growth at three of the Port’s major airports, which included LaGuardia.
Most recently, last month, Cuomo announced plans for a “supercharged” reopening of New York City, which involves a fast-track for multiple infrastructure plans, including the work at LaGuardia.
In addition to the governor’s announcement, Delta Air Lines also recently revealed that it’s looking to finish construction “much, much sooner” than originally planned, taking advantage of reduced airport traffic amid the COVID-10 pandemic.
The initial plan was to work on one concourse at the time in order to preserve gate capacity and limit the impact on travelers. With capacity less of an issue, however, more than one concourse can be redeveloped at the same time.
The Terminal B Arrivals and Departures Hall opened in June and serves American Airlines, United Airlines, Southwest Airlines and Air Canada. The 850,000-square-foot, four-story terminal is also home to 17 concessions of New York-based businesses as well as four permanent public at installations commissioned by the Public Art Fund.
In addition, a 450-foot-long pedestrian bridge is in the works to connect two new concourses to Terminal B. According to ENR, the steel trusses are fortified by customized, molded glass-fiber-reinforced gypsum or glass-fiber-reinforced concrete segments.