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OpinionEditorial

Ease the traffic pain during LaGuardia’s $4B renovation

Public Advocate Letitia James has outlined ways to

Public Advocate Letitia James has outlined ways to improve mass transit at city airports in a new report released on Nov. 23, 2016. Above, heavy traffic and congestion caused by construction at LaGuardia Airport in Queens on Sept 22, 2016. Photo Credit: Uli Seit

Travelers knew it wouldn’t be easy.

They knew the $4 billion renovation of LaGuardia Airport would come with mega construction on a relatively small piece of land, leading to headaches and frustration with traffic, parking and more.

But while no one expects the remaking of the airport, which is one of the nation’s busiest, to be painless, there is still too much pain. There are ways to make it better. This has to be an ongoing process, starting with collaboration among New York State, the Port Authority and the LaGuardia Gateway Partners consortium that’s handling the renovation. They’ve added police officers and signage, established a traffic command center, consolidated rental car vans and lowered the price of short-term parking at the Marine Air Terminal. Most recently, the Port Authority brought on transportation expert “Gridlock” Sam Schwartz to help, and officials there say they’re constantly addressing the issue. But there’s more they can do to ease exasperation and reduce congestion.

While the situation is a bit better than in August, when complaints ratcheted up, it’s still far from smooth driving. Nearly every weekday morning and evening, traffic crawls, even on the Grand Central Parkway, backing up from the LaGuardia exits. Taxis and other cars inch their way onto the airport grounds, where they weave around blocked-off construction zones, often in just one lane. Some try to postpone their pain, waiting on the side of roads leading into the airport. But once inside, they have to navigate the traffic again to leave.

All of the players have to find ways to minimize traffic on internal airport roads. That could start with more shuttle buses, and creation of park-and-ride options at Citi Field, the New York Hall of Science, Flushing Meadows-Corona Park and other sites. They could add taxi pickup and drop-off locations off airport grounds, and use nearby subway stations as shuttle bus stops. Officials also should consider the idea of making the Q70 bus, which goes to the airport and has been rebranded as the LaGuardia Link, free, as suggested by the Global Gateway Alliance advocacy group. Combined with better publicity, that might encourage more airport users to use public transportation.

None of this will work without more communication and transparency. Port Authority officials say they’re collecting data on how the construction is affecting traffic. They should use that information and make it public. They could create a LaGuardia-specific app or texting notification system to tell travelers more regularly about current conditions. Post a Disney World-style wait-times clock online, at the airport entrances and on the app, to tell drivers how long it’ll take to get into and out of the airport and to specific terminals. Every airline should also inform passengers about the congestion and travel options.

A renovated LaGuardia should be worth the trouble now. But rather than reminding travelers of the promise of the future, officials have to focus on the present and prioritize innovative fixes that just might pave a clear, less congested path to a new LaGuardia Airport.

— The editorial board

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