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Photo courtesy of LaGuardia Airport
Photo courtesy of LaGuardia Airport
The construction of a new LaGuardia Airport is underway.

The plan to transform LaGuardia Airport from what former Vice President Joe Biden called a “third world country” into a state-of-the-art transportation hub took off a year ago and is now in high gear.

Representatives from LaGuardia Airport and Port Authority attended a Community Board 1 meeting on April 19 in Astoria to give updates on the project. Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the $4 billion overhaul in July 2015, which includes a brand new Terminal B 600 feet closer to the Grand Central Parkway, parking garage, retail and hotel complex and a unified terminal.

Currently, construction on the 3,200 parking garage is underway and should be operational by February of next year, said Richard Smyth, Executive Director of Port Authority. He added that the garage will be “an important milestone” that will help with traffic circulation.

Smyth said workers are driving piles into what will be the new headhouse location – where customers will board – and should be done within 6 to 8 weeks. The structure will be substantially completed by the end of this year and should be in full operation by the end of June 2018.

Roadways around the airport will also be replaced and most will be elevated. A flyover road will also be constructed over the Grand Central Parkway.

Delta has also agreed to completely rebuild Terminal C and D. The four new concourses would be connected with a canopy and walkway so passengers can easily get to Terminals B, C and D. The board at LaGuardia Gateway Partners finalized the terms of the agreement in January 2016 and the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) also reviewed the plan.

After a public hearing on May 3 to gather feedback from the environmental assessment, it will take around six weeks to incorporate the comments and receive approval. Delta will then proceed with construction and has promised to catch up so that all terminals can open at the same time.

An engineer has been selected to conduct detailed ridership studies, financial studies, feasibility studies and technical studies for the possible implementation of an air train.

The AirTrain would provide a six-minute ride from LaGuardia to Willets Point. A new LIRR station and 7 line station are in the process of being constructed at Willets Point, which would make travel from Midtown Manhattan to LaGuardia easier, Cuomo said in February.

“We think it’s something very important it not only gives us connection to the LIRR and 7 train but it allows us to essentially create an extension of the airport,” Smyth said. “We have the opportunity to build a car rental center where we can consolidate all the car rental facilities.”

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Lisa Scully, general manager of LaGuardia Airport said employees have implemented several plans to ease congestion during construction. In February, the area around the airport saw massive gridlock after a snowstorm.

They have instituted a short-term parking area where people can wait for free for three hours, increased their bus fleet from 8 buses to 30 vehicles a day and created a westbound service ramp along the 94th Street Grand Central Parkway exit. About 250 to 600 cars use the service ramp every hour, she said.

A parking space for employees at 94th Street and 23rd Avenue has also freed up parking for passengers in the airport. As of April 5, private and for-hire vehicles have been directed to pick up passengers on the west side of Terminal B.

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LaGuardia Airport is also busing and walking customers from Terminal B to the pickup lot. So far, they have bussed 60,000 customers to the lot.

Scully said these changes, along with an effort by traffic professionals who constantly monitor the airport to stop gridlock before it happens, have resulted in heavily mitigating traffic around the area, and has especially stopped cars from being backed up along the eastbound side of the grand central.

“It’s really a big win to our operational team and our construction team,” she said.

Shanel Thomas, community outreach liaison for Port Authority, said the agency host quarterly job fairs for the surrounding community including one at Vaughn College in East Elmhurst on April 27. More than 25 companies will attend and the event will take place from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Later this month, the Port Authority will also produce a newsletter to keep people “constantly up-to-date” with construction, other community benefits provided by the agency and other partners and to answer questions. Email shthomas@panynj.gov to be added to the newsletter, which will be called The Redevelopment Times.

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