Vice President Joseph Biden and Gov. Andrew Cuomo ceremoniously kicked off the $4.2 billion construction of a new 1.3-million-square-foot Terminal B building at LaGuardia Airport in Queens today.
Terminal B is part of a larger plan to essentially rebuild LaGuardia, which has long been the butt of infrastructure jokes. Cuomo and Biden last July announced a plan to replace the existing four-terminal LaGuardia Airport in Elmhurst, Queens, with new structures that will allow for more tarmac space. The veep has pushed for more infrastructure investment across the country, particularly at LaGuardia, and in February 2014 referred to it as a “third-world country.” Cuomo said today the entire project would cost $7 billion when all the terminals are rebuilt.
“You’re going to make a gigantic difference not only in the state of New York, but in the region,” Biden said at today’s announcement. “It’s consequential. Our life blood depends on it.”
The governor did not announce any new movement for a new Airtrain, slated to run between the Mets-Willets Point 7 train and Long Island Railroad station in Flushing, Queens. Nor were there any new developments about Delta Air Lines’ plans to build a new Terminal C and new Terminal D. Instead, the governor’s office announced in a press release that the Q70 would run non-stop from the airport to the Woodside LIRR and 7 train stations as well as Jackson Heights-Roosevelt Avenue subway station. Dubbed the “LaGuardia Link,” the streamlined bus service will begin this September with a distinct look that makes it easy to locate by passengers.
“The best mass transit option to LaGuardia shouldn’t be a secret, but for too long that’s what the Q70 has been,” Joseph Sitt, the head of Thor Equities and the chairman of airport improvement advocacy Global Gateway Alliance, said in a joint press release with transportation group Riders Alliance. “LaGuardia has the worst mass transit access of any of our major airports. Both passengers and airlines agree that transit to and from the city’s airport is in desperate need of an overhaul.”
LaGuardia Gateway Partners—a consortium led by Skanska USA, Meridiam Infrastructure and Vantage Airport Group—has a 35-year ground lease with the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey to demolish the existing Terminal B, build a new one on site, but closer to the Grand Central Parkway, and manage the property through 2051.
“This is not the way government normally builds,” Cuomo said of the project and handing the keys to private developers. “Government is not the best builder. Let’s just leave it at that. It is not in the business of construction, development [or] construction management.”
Port Authority commissioners approved the contract with LGP in March following a debate between New York and New Jersey appointees over how much the project will cost (New Jersey officials argued it cost $5.3 billion because of earlier work between 2004 and earlier this year; their New York counterparts said it was really $4.2 billion). Chairman John Degnan eventually conceded to support and push through the project in exchange for an agreement that a new Port Authority Bus Terminal be built in Manhattan instead of New Jersey.
LGP officially entered its ground lease earlier this month following the receipt of $2.5 billion in bond debt—one of the largest issuances of its kind—rolled out through the New York State Transportation Development Corporation, as CO reported two weeks ago. The group is also contributing private equity and the Port Authority will pay a smaller portion of the bill.
While advocates for better airports have praised replacing the overcrowded terminal, they have raised concerns over the project being on time and on budget. Sitt, in a separate statement provided to CO, called for transparency in the project to ensure it has a smooth landing. Particularly, Sitt floated creating a website that allows people to track the construction progress.
“We look forward to this project upgrading LaGuardia to a first-class airport worthy of the city it serves,” he said in a statement.
Sitt also urged that upgrades be made to the existing Terminal B building, which will continue to operate while its replacement is being built. The current 52-year-old structure, also dubbed the central terminal and slated for demolition after the project, handled 13.7 million passengers last year, as CO reported in March, about half of the traffic going through all of LaGuardia’s terminals. Officials expect the first leg of the new Terminal B will be done by 2018 with the entire 35-gate terminal completed by summer 2020. Officials hope that the whole project, which includes construction of Delta’s terminals, will be finished by 2021.
“In the meantime, the current central terminal must be improved beyond its ‘third-world’ status and kept in state of good repair for the 14 million passengers who use it annually right now,” Sitt said.
Update: This story was edited to include information about the Q70 bus line, as well as additional comment from Joseph Sitt.