BY TRONE DOWD
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey stopped by Queens Borough Hall on Monday to give community boards an update on how proposed plans to improve the city’s airports are coming along.
As announced by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2015, LaGuardia and John F. Kennedy International airports are both scheduled to receive massive, multi-billion dollar facelifts to improve their aesthetics and day-to-day functions. The ultimate goal is to create a “unified” airport, complete with new terminals, better access via public transportation, a smoother experience for drivers and quality passenger amenities.
Of the two airports, Port Authority Director of Aviation Huntley Lawrence said that LaGuardia is the furthest along. Terminal B’s $4 billion reconstruction has already begun to make progress, he said.
“As you can already see, the new terminal is already taking shape,” he said. “There is a significant amount of construction going on and progress has been good. It may be hard to view from nearby roadways, but it’s happening. It’s not as fast as we’d like, but it’ll never be as fast as we’d like.”
Efforts to hire minority and women owned businesses (MWBE) have been underway since the spring. According to Lawrence, the Port Authority has worked with its partners, Delta and LaGuardia Gateway Partners, to give contracts to local businesses looking to take advantage of the opportunity.
“We have made excellent progress when you look at the contracts,” he said. “We have 286 MWBE contracts worth $415 million coming from LaGuardia Gateway Partners and 52 contracts worth $24 million coming from Delta. This is significant coming from both of our partners.”
Job fairs, which were organized in conjunction with Queens Borough President Melinda Katz’s office and Vaughn College, have also seen significant turnout. More than 950 people showed up to the two job fairs held this year, at which 58 employers aimed to fill more than 1,000 job openings.
At JFK, upgrades are still in the earliest stages. The Port Authority said that Mott MacDonald and Grimshaw architects have been chosen to lead the redesign.
Leaders of community boards around the borough asked for a number of different considerations for the projects in their early phases. While the proposal to build a light rail that would travel from Willets Point to LaGuardia has been approved, Community Board 6’s Joe Hennessy pointed out that waiting for such a project to be completed could mean years of commuter delays. He asked the Port Authority why alternative options, such as ferry service, haven’t been considered.
“The ferries are there now to be utilized,” Hennessy said. “Why are we so hesitant in using our waterways?”
Katz agreed with his sentiment.
“We would love it if the administration would look towards the ferry system,” she said. “There’s a five-borough ferry system in place.
I think it’s worth taking a close look at trying to move forward on something like that.”
The Port Authority said that while studies in 2013 showed that nearby communities had little interest in ferry service to the airport, there is evidence that this has changed since then.
“Obviously, some improvements would have to be made, so you can actually dock there safely,” Lawrence said. “But it’s really about getting passengers and folks who are willing to make the journey for the cost that it would take to operate. It is something that we are looking at.”