Central terminal LaGuardia Airport is scheduled for a $3.6B makeover....

Central terminal LaGuardia Airport is scheduled for a $3.6B makeover. April 11, 2014. Credit: Uli Seit

LaGuardia Airport, recently derided as "Third World" by Vice President Joe Biden, is on the verge of a $3.6 billion makeover that includes a gleaming new central terminal.

The three-level, 1.3-million-square-foot terminal would be about one-third larger than the existing 50-year-old facility, the Port Authority said in a draft environmental assessment released last week.

The seven-year project also would create additional shops and parking, according to the plan.

The number of gates at the terminal would remain at 35, but they would be spread out to accommodate bigger airplanes.

Thomas Bosco, the authority's aviation director, said the project will turn LaGuardia into a "world-class facility that will service New York City and the region's growing aviation needs well into the 21st century."

Bosco said the project also will be a "financial boon" for the metropolitan area, creating nearly 15,000 jobs and roughly $4.5 billion in economic activity.

Plans call for the $2.5 billion terminal redevelopment to be privately funded in exchange for operating rights. The remainder of the project costs will be shouldered by the authority, officials said.

More than 26 million air travelers used the Queens airport last year. By 2030, passenger volume is expected to swell to 34 million.

To meet the growing demand, the authority said airlines are replacing smaller jets that have 50 seats with those fitted with 70-90 seats. Narrow-body jets with 130-175 seats are being replaced with newer models capable of seating dozens more.

Officials said the project shouldn't cause any significant impacts in surrounding neighborhoods, including Jackson Heights and East Elmhurst.

But Janet McEneaney, president of the advocacy group Queens Quiet Sky, is concerned that the renovation may open the door to more flights -- and noise pollution.

"Yes, we're all for renovating LaGuardia," she said. "No, we're not all for increasing capacity unless it has no negative impact on the communities."

The central terminal, also known as Terminal B, is the largest of LaGuardia's four terminals. It was built in 1964 to serve 8 million passengers, far fewer than the 13 million passengers who passed through in 2012. Airport officials anticipate 18 million travelers a year will use the facility by 2030.

The terminal -- famously critiqued by Biden in February -- has cramped spaces and low ceilings, and is plagued by occasional roof leaks. The authority plans to demolish the building and its parking garage, and three of five nearby airplane hangars.

The hangars were built in 1939 and 1940 as part of the original airport.

About 200 trees will also need to be removed to accommodate the project, according to the plan.

The new terminal will provide ticketing services on the upper level, baggage claim on the middle level, and ground transportation on the lower level, officials said.

Due to increased security, layovers and delays, travelers are spending more time in airport terminals than they did before 9/11, experts say.

Addressing that trend, the project creates space for more shops and concession stands behind security checkpoints. Currently, 90 percent of central terminal concessions are located before the checkpoints.

The new parking garage would accommodate 2,900 vehicles -- 200 more than the structure it replaces, according to the plan.

Construction is expected to begin late this year and be completed in 2021. The Federal Aviation Administration must sign off on the plans.

There are three bidders for the terminal project: LaGuardia Gateway Partners, LGAlliance and LGA Central Terminal Consortium. The bidders have until Tuesday to submit their plans.

The authority is expected to make its selection in summer or early fall.

Latest video