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Queens Chronicle

Cuomo has ambitious plans for boro airports

State takes over construction at LGA terminal, JFK air cargo sites

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Posted: Thursday, January 16, 2014 10:30 am | Updated: 12:03 pm, Thu Jan 23, 2014.

In his State of the State address on Jan. 8, Gov. Cuomo said the state has talked too long about modernizing LaGuardia and John F. Kennedy International Airports without the action to back it up.

He said it is time for that to change, even going so far as to have the state take over construction management of LaGuardia’s new central terminal from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey

A spokeswoman for the governor said Cuomo is assembling a task force of people from outside the PA that will oversee the LaGuardia project and report to him personally.

The aim, as Cuomo said in his speech, is to “redevelop those airports the way they should have been redeveloped many, many years ago.”

“Unfortunately, the State of New York has fallen behind,” Cuomo said in regard to its standing among the nation’s busiest airports. “LaGuardia Airport is ranked as the worst airport in America, believe it or not,” Cuomo said. “That is a disgrace, my friends, and it is unacceptable and it is going to change.”

In a 219-page booklet accompanying the governor’s address, three full pages are dedicated to the airports, which Cuomo said support 350,000 jobs, $18 billion in salaries and nearly $50 billion in related economic activity.

Calling the airports the gateway to the city for about 20 million domestic and international passengers each year, Cuomo vowed to step in and end delays much as he did in 2012 with the Tappen Zee and Kosciuszko Bridge replacement projects, which were accelerated by about one year.

Aside from a call to greatly improve the existing passenger experience at both airports, the governor said JFK, once the preeminent air cargo spot in the country, has lost about one-third of its cargo volume in the last decade.

Cuomo’s plans call for redevelopment of JFK’s aging cargo facilities and infrastructure, though he did not cite any specific cost or timelines. But the Port Authority — which ultimately is directed by Cuomo and Gov. Chris Christie (R-New Jersey) — appears to be on board with the governor’s directives.

“JFK and LaGuardia Airports are unrivaled as regional economic engines and job creators; however, as Gov. Cuomo noted in his State of the State speech, these aging facilities are in dire need of modernization and redevelopment,” said a statement issued by the PA. “We welcome the Governor’s leadership and we are confident that his efforts will expedite major projects such as a new Central Terminal Building at LaGuardia Airport and ensure that New York’s airports meet the demands of 21st century air travel.”

Jack Friedman, executive director of the Queens Chamber of Commerce, said Cuomo’s air cargo plans are exactly what the borough needs, and not just for domestic shipping.

“Promoting the import-export industry [around the airport corridors] is a tremendous opportunity for Queens,” Friedman said. “Import-export is an opportunity for jobs that offer very good pay — they are not ordinary service jobs — in shipping, freight handling, trucking, warehousing. It is a tremendous opportunity that is untapped.”

Friedman said Kennedy now ranks about 18th in the country as an air freight hub. And while Cuomo’s speech appeared to directly address only air cargo infrastructure within JFK’s fences, Friedman said interior changes will not help all that much without changes to roadways and regulations that make it difficult — and more expensive — to get truck traffic into and out of the airport.

He said JFK is losing out to places like Newark-Liberty Airport in New Jersey and Hartsfield-Jackson in Atlanta largely because of access and cost.

“Access for trucking is a problem,” he said. “Air cargo companies like FedEx are using Newark, not JFK, because there is no direct highway access linking Kennedy and Manhattan or anywhere else.”

The Belt Parkway, for example, which runs along JFK’s northern perimeter, does not allow trucks or commercial vehicles, forcing drivers to use side streets or the Van Wyck Expressway. Friedman also said regulations limit tractor trailers operating in New York City to 48 feet in length, while those operating in New Jersey can run up to 53 feet.

“You have to do something,” he said. “And you have to take into account that with all of this, you are dealing with residential neighborhoods.”

Cuomo’s press office said regulations, truck access and future road projects all are part of ongoing discussions that will continue to include the PA, New York City and its agencies such as its Department of Transportation.

Residents in neighborhoods such as Springfield Gardens and Rosedale long have been fearful of JFK expanding beyond its existing borders.

Those fears only have been heightened in the last three years by the Port Authority’s effort to relocate an existing runway — 4 Left/22 Right.

The current proposal from the PA calls for keeping the runway within JFK’s existing footprint, but moving it more than 700 feet closer to residential neighborhoods north of the airport.

The PA also has not allayed many fears since it entered into negotiations last year with the city’s Parks Department to top or possibly remove more than 300 mature trees within Brookville Park.

The PA has said the trees are tall enough given their proximity to JFK to present a hazard to aviation.

PA representatives deny that there is a plan to expand the airport footprint into what is now parkland.

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