Municipal Government

Cuomo Announces $10 Billion Plan for JFK Airport

January 6, 2017
By Steven Wishnia

Gov. Andrew Cuomo

New York, NY – Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a $10 billion plan to upgrade John F. Kennedy International Airport Jan. 4.

The plan would expand highways leading to the airport and reconfigure its roadways and terminals to make access by car easier; expand taxiways to enable the airport to handle more passengers; and add conference facilities and upscale stores and restaurants in its terminals

The governor’s five-member panel, chaired by real-estate investor Dan Tishman and including Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, also recommended developing plans to expand rail access to the airport. Possible options include doubling the capacity of the AirTrain by running four-car trains, improving subway and Long Island Railroad connections to the AirTrain at Jamaica Station in Queens, and “exploring the feasibility of a one-seat rail ride to JFK,” according to the panel’s report. It did not estimate how much these would cost.

The state Department of Transportation would pay the estimated $2 billion cost of adding lanes to the perennially clogged Van Wyck Expressway and the connecting ramps at its interchange with the Grand Central Parkway in Kew Gardens. The governor’s announcement did not give details of how the other improvements would be financed, but it said the airport has “the potential to drive up to $7 billion in private investment.”

“Our vision plan calls for the creation of a unified, interconnected airport that changes the passenger experience and makes the airport much easier to access and navigate,” Cuomo said in a statement. “We remember the bravado that built this State in the first place, and that is the attitude that will take JFK and turn it into the 21st-century airport that we deserve.”

Gary LaBarbera, president of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York, praised the plan as “ambitious and historic.” “Governor Cuomo continues to think big when it comes to modernizing and investing in our state’s infrastructure,” he said in a statement. “Today’s announcement will not only make JFK Airport a model transportation hub worldwide, but it also will create thousands of middle class construction jobs with good wages and benefits.”

The airport’s “transformation,” according to Cuomo’s office, would redesign its roadways into a “ring road” configuration, with some older terminals relocated to accommodate that, and parking lots expanded and centralized. It would also include “world-class amenities” in eating and shopping, and implement security technology such as facial-recognition and video-tracking software. It would also renovate the Jamaica Station passageway over the LIRR tracks where passengers transfer to the AirTrain from an open-air mezzanine to an enclosed shopping mall.

Rich Barone, vice president for transportation at the Regional Plan Association, says much of the governor’s proposal is “very positive”—particularly the possibility of a direct rail connection to JFK—but cautions that a lot of details have not been disclosed. The one-seat train ride, he said, is standard at the world’ major airports. Passengers can reach Chicago’s O’Hare Airport by subway, Charles de Gaulle outside Paris by commuter rail, and London’s Heathrow by both, including an express train.

One thing missing from the governor’s plan, Barone says, is expanding the airport’s runways. The number of passengers going through JFK increased from 31.7 million in 2003, the year the AirTrain opened, to 60 million last year, and the Port Authority projects it will surpass 75 million by 2030. Federal safety regulations limit the airport to 81 combined takeoffs and landings per hour.

Adding taxiways, Barone says, will “increase efficiency, but it’s not going to add the capacity we’re going to need.” JFK is already “hitting the ceiling” in terms of the number of flights it can handle, he explains. Airlines switching to larger planes would increase the number of passengers, but at the price of squeezing out flights to smaller cities such as Rochester.

He believes the plan is most likely to obtain private financing for enhancing the terminals, because adding retail can make that profitable, but money for “hard infrastructure” such as roads, runways, and mass transit is “more likely to come from the public sector.” The ownership structure of JFK’s terminals makes public-private partnerships there more complicated than they are at LaGuardia Airport, he adds, and the recent renovations of Delta Air Lines’ facilities used some public funds.

At LaGuardia, according to Gov. Cuomo’s office, “two-thirds of the over $8 billion being used to construct new facilities is paid for by the private sector.” The office did not respond to messages from LaborPress asking for more details about the JFK plan.

January 5, 2017

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