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$4B LaGuardia Airport makeover approved by Port Authority

The Port Authority on Thursday, March 24, 2016,

The Port Authority on Thursday, March 24, 2016, approved moving forward with the $4 billion LaGuardia Airport redevelopment project; above is a rendering of proposed central terminal building. Photo Credit: Office of the Governor

A $4 billion plan to redevelop LaGuardia Airport was approved by the Port Authority board Thursday after much debate between board members and heated exchanges between Executive Director Pat Foye and Chairman John Degnan on the actual costs of the project.

The vote — which saw one board member abstaining and another recusing himself — approves a public-private partnership lease with LaGuardia Gateway Partners, a consortium of airport developers and operators picked in a bidding process last year. The partnership will build and operate the new, modernized Terminal B that will feature a unifying central hall connecting Terminals B and C, as well as far more taxiing space on LaGuardia’s airfield to reduce airport ground delays.

Two-thirds of the project will be paid for by a combination of private investment from LaGuardia Gateway Partners and existing passenger facility charges, the Port Authority said.

The overhaul of LaGuardia is a pet project of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who first announced plans to upgrade the region’s airports in 2014, after Vice President Joe Biden referred to LaGuardia as a “Third World” airport.

Foye, who called the project the largest transportation-related public-private partnership in the country, said Thursday was “an important day for airport passengers in both New York and New Jersey and beyond. The economic impact of this on the region will last for decades.”

The characterization of the project’s cost was the major point of contention between Foye, a Cuomo appointee, and Degnan, an appointee of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

While the fixed price for design and construction of the airport remodel was approved Thursday at a cost of $4 billion, that estimate has grown from $3.6 billion last year, and Degnan has argued that the “true cumulative investment” in the project since 2004 is closer to $5.3 billion. Foye countered that it was not fair to include prior authorizations made by previous Port Authority boards over the past decade in the total cost of the redevelopment.

Degnan made a statement shortly before the vote outlining his misgivings about the project, and questioned proceeding with building the central hall without an agreement in place about how Delta Air Lines, the airport’s main carrier, will renovate its terminals to connect to that hall.

“I also have unanswered questions about the wisdom of a large entrance hall, which will be accessible to the public without security clearance, particularly in light of the Brussels attacks,” he said. Ultimately, though, he voted to approve the project.

A news release from Cuomo’s office said now that the funding and lease have been approved, groundbreaking for the project will begin “shortly,” but his office did not offer a more specific time frame.

A specific agreement detailing the plans for renovating Delta’s terminals to connect with the new, light-filled central hall will mark the next phase of the project, officials said.

A Delta spokeswoman said the airline “fully supports the governor’s efforts to transform LaGuardia Airport and is firmly committed to playing a part in the project.” She said the airline is working closely with the Port Authority on the redevelopment.

At a media availability session after the sometimes contentious board meeting — where at one point Degnan told Foye he was out of order during discussion of the cost of the new Port Authority bus terminal in Manhattan — both said the vibrant discussion was a sign of democracy.

“Openness and transparency, which have been urged on this board for years, are messy,” Degnan said. “But if they work properly, they get things done.”

“I believe he’s a man of integrity,” Foye said of Degnan. “I hold him in high regard — we disagree on things.”

MAKEOVER HIGHLIGHTS

  • Demolition of LaGuardia Airport’s Central Terminal Building and associated infrastructure;
  • Construction of a new 1.3-million-square-foot, 35-gate terminal building;
  • A new aeronautical ramp and frontage roads that will serve the new terminal;
  • A new central heating and refrigeration plant, and other utilities and site improvements;
  • Construction of a central hall and connecting concourse to unify terminals.

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