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NYC’s airports are terrible—here’s a plan to fix them

By Clayton Guse

More than 132 million passengers traveled through New York City’s three major airports in 2017, yet the quality of service at each of them was among the worst in the country. Newark Liberty International, LaGuardia and John F. Kennedy International rank first, third and fourth for worst delays among the nation's airports, and the picture isn't expected to get better any time soon.

A new report from local think tank Regional Plan Association paints a detailed picture of the shabby condition of the region’s airports and proposes a series of measures that would turn them into world-class transit hubs. Currently, the area's airspace and airport infrastructure is unable to handle the capacity of flights, the report claims. And with an estimated 200 million passengers traveling through the three major hubs by 2050, the situation is only expected to get worse. Throw in the very real possibility of Teterboro Airport being put out of commission by rising sea levels, and you've got a real nasty meatball on your hands. 

The RPA is no stranger to throwing down sweeping solutions to pressing transit and infrastructure crises. Last year, it released its Fourth Regional Plan, which detailed a series of actionable steps that would allow the New York metropolitan area to continue to thrive for decades to come. The latest plan is a spin-off of that grand one and could very well be put into action. While the RPA's recommendation carries zero weight of law, the organization has inspired several planning initiatives over the past century, like the location of the George Washington Bridge and the formation of the MTA.

As for the airports, the RPA proposes that a whopping $50.8 billion is spent on expanding both JFK and Newark Airport over the next 30 to 40 years, or an additional $500 million on top of what the Port Authority is estimated to invest annually. That money would be used to add two new runways at JFK and one more at Newark. Additionally, it would include an extension of the PATH train to Newark, the addition of a Northeast Corridor railroad terminal and a vastly expanded cargo area at the airport. What's more, the RPA proposes not only an expansion of the AirTrain at JFK but also a new transit option that would provide a one-seat ride to the area’s busiest airport. All of this, combined with the ongoing renovations at LaGuardia, would go a long way in making New York City’s airports sustainable throughout the next century. 

There's also a whole mess of strategies baked into the report that could bring a tear to the eye of any urban planning nerd. From reorganizing the city’s airspace regulations to advocating for planes with larger capacities to rolling out intercity high-speed rail networks, the RPA is, per usual, laying out a series ambitious but crucial ideas that could very well transform the way people travel in and out of New York City.

But, like all great plans (we're looking at you, Andy Byford), this one will require extensive funding and a whole lot of red tape. The stakes, however, are huge. Can you imagine a version of New York City in which the airports are somehow way, way more pleasant?

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