NEW YORK (Reuters) - A long-awaited overhaul of New York’s LaGuardia and John F. Kennedy International airports moved a step closer to reality on Monday when the state and federal governments touted a sweeping plan to make over two of the busiest U.S. travel hubs.
The initiative, announced by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and Vice President Joe Biden, envisions state-of-the-art facility upgrades, improved transportation links and more efficient air-traffic control technology at the two aging airports in the country’s most populous city.“The front doors for business and tourism are the airports,” Cuomo said at an aeronautics school in the borough of Queens, where both facilities are located. “Airports themselves, let alone the front door, are a very big business.”
The plan is still short of specifics, with neither a final price tag nor completion dates revealed. Both will depend on master-plan designs to be selected after competitions that will begin in 30 days, the Democratic governor said.
The airports, which are operated by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, served 77 million passengers and generated $53 billion in economic activity last year, according to the state.
The airport initiative also envisions the creation of a regional cargo distribution hub at Stewart International Airport, 67 miles north of midtown Manhattan. The improvements would allow cargo to be diverted from JFK, leaving room to expand other services and amenities at the main airport, which opened in 1948 as Idlewild Airport.
At a second suburban airport, Republic in East Farmingdale on Long Island, the state will look to find a new operator. It would also set up tax-free zones at both Republic and Stewart.
At LaGuardia, which Biden once described as fit for a “third world country,” a redesign could include a new airport layout, and a high-speed ferry and rail service. In an industry survey, the 75-year-old airport routinely ranks as the country’s worst.
“From LaGuardia to Manhattan by water can only be a couple of miles,” Cuomo said. “How can you not use that access route better and faster?”
With 50,000 people employed by LaGuardia and JFK, Biden said: “Investing in infrastructure is all about jobs.”
The airport initiative is part of a $17 billion strategy announced in January to revamp New York’s infrastructure, transportation networks, energy supply, coastal protection, weather warning system and emergency management.
Writing by Frank McGurty; Editing by Peter Cooney