By Bill Parry
The Iblue-ribbon commission impaneled by the City Council to study Rikers Island not only recommended that the jail complex be closed and demolished in 10 years, it also came out strongly in favor of using the 413-acre island for an expansion of LaGuardia Airport.
With the city’s two major airports already operating at capacity, the panel’s report said regional planners anticipate nearly 40 million passengers at New York’s airports will go unserved by 2030 at a cost of $17 billion in annual economic activity. While the $8 million reconstruction is already underway at LaGuardia, the expected increase in passenger demand and the need to reduce delays will require the construction of one or more new runways.
“Rikers Island is strategically positioned to accommodate a third runway for LaGuardia Airport, as well as a new, modern terminal that could increase capacity by an estimated 12 million passengers annually, or an additional 40 percent over existing LaGuardia capacity,” the report said. “The airport expansion would grow the local economy by creating thousands of new permanent jobs both on and off the airport. In addition, a new state-of-the-art terminal would provide a completely updated travel experience in line with other planned improvements at LaGuardia, benefitting millions of local residents as well as the millions of visitors who pass through New York City annually.”
During his hastily called press conference last Friday, two days before the commission’s release of the report, Mayor Bill de Blasio admitted he had yet to read it and was not committed to any of the recommendations other than closing the complex.
“We’ve committed to closing Rikers in 10 years, so we are many years away from a decision of what will become of the island,” City Hall spokeswoman Natalie Grybauskas said. “It’s too early to say at this point, so we’re not ruling it out.”
Speaking at an Association for a Better New York event last year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he was “intrigued” with closing the jail and “using Rikers to build another runway for LaGuardia.”
Global Gateway Alliance, a group of civil leaders who advocate for improving the city’s airports, liked the panel’s recommendation.
“For decades, LaGuardia Airport has led the nation in delays, with traffic jams in the sky and on the ground, but the proposal to knock down Rikers and extend LaGuardia’s runways to the island would be a big piece of the puzzle to change all that,” Global Gateway Alliance Chairman Joe Sitt said. “By replacing 1960s radar with ‘NextGen’ GPS technology, and making more room on the ground for incoming and outgoing flights, passengers will finally be able to have on-time flights in New York. That is a vision worth working for.”
Meanwhile, the Port Authority has moved the pick-up area for for-hire and app-based cars like Uber and Lyft collecting travelers flying Terminal B in a continuing effort to clear up traffic congestion. The new location, about a 10-minute walk from the terminal, will operate on a one-month pilot basis in anticipation of higher passenger volumes during the traditionally busy spring break and Easter and Passover holiday travel period.
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr