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Give Kennedy Airport new wings to fly

Runways at Kennedy Airport near Jamaica Bay are

Runways at Kennedy Airport near Jamaica Bay are seen from the control tower in an undated image. Credit: Craig Ruttle

Remaking Kennedy Airport will be more expensive, piecemeal and complicated than the effort at LaGuardia Airport.

And because Kennedy doesn’t suffer from the same “Third World” reputation that its smaller counterpart endures, its renovation may seem, at first glance, somehow less necessary.

But it is indeed necessary. And the so-far successful $4 billion public-private partnership at LaGuardia Airport can serve as a model for what’s done at Kennedy, even though the latter carries an even heftier $10 billion price tag.

The plan to better connect Kennedy’s six airline terminals and improve access by road and rail was announced Jan. 4 by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

There’s plenty to do to make New York City’s international hub modern, cohesive and user-friendly. That starts with remaking the roads leading to it. Cuomo has put $1.5 billion of state Department of Transportation funds in his 2018 budget to redo the nexus of the Van Wyck Expressway and the Grand Central Parkway, an interchange plagued with perpetual traffic, and to add a lane to the Van Wyck. That’s important, and will help drivers who may never venture to the airport.

But it’ll mean years of construction on roads that never seem to be finished. State transportation officials will have to take lessons they’ve learned from their stumbles at LaGuardia to do a better job with delays and detours.

The public transit changes Cuomo proposed are more tenuous, but also important. The idea of a one-seat ride from Manhattan to JFK is intriguing. But each option has complications, technical needs, community concerns and expense, from using the Rockaway Beach line of the Long Island Rail Road to building new tunnels. It may never happen, but it should be studied.

As for on-airport plans, details remain unclear. There’s the hope of creating a ring road around the airport to make access less complicated. Beyond that, the Port Authority has to start with establishing a redevelopment office at the airport, led by a czar of sorts to coordinate planning.

The airport’s terminals have different operators, airlines and interests. The Port Authority also has to approve its capital plan, which it is likely to do next month. The plan includes more than $1 billion toward Kennedy Airport’s redevelopment. State officials think up to $7 billion of the cost can come from private companies. Officials should think broadly about who can be partners in this venture beyond airlines and terminal operators; there are other companies with interest in the airport and the area, such as Genting New York LLC, which operates Resorts World Casino at nearby Aqueduct Racetrack.

Although every airport is different, the current effort to transform LaGuardia can serve as a model and a laboratory for the work at JFK, from the practical improvements and upgrades to the terminals themselves to smaller, environmental improvements in artwork, seating and even entertainment. That’s especially true if some of the same companies involved in LaGuardia’s renovation end up working on JFK, too.

State and Port Authority officials should include in the conversation residents affected by construction or one-seat ride ideas, and small businesses in southeast Queens. They’ll have something to say, and officials have to listen. At the same time, those communities should give this project a chance and focus on ways to work with state and Port Authority officials.

In this massive project, there’s a tremendous opportunity. It could transform the airport to the benefit of the region’s residents, businesses and overall economy, as well as international travelers, and its surroundings from a hodgepodge of disconnected pieces to a finished puzzle. It’ll take thinking big, understanding the details and communicating at every turn to make Kennedy Airport ready for takeoff.


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