Flying high at LaGuardia airport

Photo Credit: Buffalo Wild Wings

The design and promise of a modern Flushing airport with connected terminals and public transportation is, for today, just a design and promise.

Now, to make those dreams come true, the state and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey have to turn beautiful renderings and huge plans into reality — quickly, and without tremendous cost or disruption to travelers.

Under the proposal unveiled by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo Monday, two of the four terminals will be rebuilt thanks to a $4-billion public-private partnership — with 50 percent of that bill to be privately funded. The other two terminals will be rebuilt by Delta Air Lines, which controls them. All will be connected to each other and to the region they service by a high-speed train from subways and the LIRR and a ferry from Manhattan. Cuomo said ground will break by next year, and new facilities will be operating by 2019. He expects it will be finished less than five years after construction begins.

Last year, Vice President Joseph Biden, who accompanied Cuomo for yesterday’s announcement, likened LaGuardia to a “third world country.” It is, quite simply, an awful airport. It has universally ranked among the worst in the country. Its terminals are disconnected, its runways are too short, its concourses are too small, hallways and security lines are unmanageable, and parking is close to impossible. When one problem happens, a long line of dominoes falls, often leading to hundreds of cancellations and delays. It’s a mess.

Yet, despite LaGuardia’s problems, its location is enticing, and about 27 million passengers a year attempt to fly in and out. The airport employs about 11,000 people and it’s responsible for billions of dollars in economic activity.

But the plan to rebuild it won’t work miracles, and concerns remain, particularly on cost, timing and passenger impact. The overhaul also won’t change the fact that the airport has water on three sides, a barrier that can be dangerous and limits any expansion. Parking and traffic issues won’t be solved. And it won’t alleviate the noise issues that plague area homes and schools.

But a new airport, if done right, could make a big difference. The proposals also may foreshadow a lifting of the perimeter rule, which could open LaGuardia to cross-country flights. The addition of an AirTrain from LaGuardia to the Willets Point station, where passengers can connect to the subway and Long Island Rail Road is welcome, but must be managed carefully. Not harnessing the power of New York’s waterways to move people is one of the region’s most damning transportation failures. The proposed ferry service is long overdue.

Strong oversight, planning and budgeting is everything here. New Yorkers have lived through plenty of delays at LaGuardia on and off the runways. Cuomo and the Port Authority must ensure this flight takes off and lands on budget and on time.