The head of the contracting consortium that will remake New York’s LaGuardia Airport said last week that passengers will be able to get to their gates “with very little disruption” during the first three or four years of the project.

“Our goal is to construct the new facility with very minimal impact on the existing facility,” LaGuardia Gateway Partners CEO Stewart Steeves said in a phone interview last week.

His comments came one day after New York governor Andrew Cuomo, flanked by vice president Joe Biden, held what officials referred to as a groundbreaking on the $4 billion project, even though the June 14 news conference lacked the shovels, hard hats and grip-and-grin photos ubiquitous to such occasions.

The LaGuardia renovation, which is overseen by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, will involve the demolition and replacement of LaGuardia’s main terminal, Terminal B. Trains will be built to connect commuters to the Long Island Railroad and ferry passengers around the airport. New infrastructure will be built for high-speed water taxis into Manhattan. The entire terminal area will be moved 600 feet closer to the Grand Central Parkway, providing more space for airplane taxiways.

Preliminary construction is underway, Steeves said, with workers beginning to pile up materials for the new West parking garage. But LaGuardia passengers are more likely to begin noticing the work in the late summer or early fall. That’s when construction starts on that garage and when the existing West garage is demolished to make room for the new terminal entryway, where check-in and security will be located. Another early project will be construction of the central heating and air conditioning for the airport, Steeves said.

All told, the LaGuardia rebuild is expected to take more than five years, with two-thirds of the $4 billion to be shouldered by the private sector and by existing airport fees, officials said.

Delta Air Lines plans to renovate terminals C and D, which it controls. The airline and the city have yet to strike a deal on the work, but at the news conference last week, Henry Kuykendall, a Delta vice president, asserted the carrier’s commitment to redeveloping those terminals on a parallel track with the remainder of the project.

Once complete, LaGuardia’s terminals B,C and D will be unified into one, with passengers reaching the gates from check-in via bridges that cross over the taxiway. The Marine Air Terminal (Terminal A), which is not being rebuilt, will remain separate but is expected to be connected to the remainder of the airport via air train. The entire project, including the Delta terminals, will cost an estimated $7 billion, according to Cuomo.

Watchdog groups, while supportive of the rebuild, say that so much work will naturally result in hassles, service limitations and traffic backups.

“There will likely be periods of time when the airport will have reduced capacity to deal with traffic. I think that’s normal,” said Richard Barone, vice president of transportation for the Regional Plan Association, a nonprofit that advocates for public works projects in the New York metropolitan area.

Steeves said that wasn’t so, at least as it relates to Terminal B and the remainder of the work that LaGuardia Gateway Partners is overseeing. The consortium, he said, is working with airlines to make sure flights won’t be disrupted.

“No arrangements are being made with other airports,” Steeves said. “We will accommodate all traffic that currently serves LaGuardia at LaGuardia.”

As for passengers, they will continue to use the existing terminals while the new ones are built alongside, behind, in front of and over the existing facility, Steeves said. In fact, LaGuardia Gateway Partners plans to improve some services in the existing main terminal, including restrooms and concessions, while construction is ongoing.

Once the facilities are finished, sometime around 2020, operations will be transferred and the existing terminals will be demolished and turned into taxiways. Steeves said the one area where LaGuardia customers should expect to encounter hassles during construction is driving to the airport. He suggested that once construction is underway people check road conditions and traffic reports as they plan their airport commute.

Like the Regional Planning Association’s Barone, Joe Sitt, chairman of Global Gateway Alliance, which advocates on New York-area airport issues, isn’t quite as bullish about what LaGuardia passengers will encounter in the coming years.

The contracting team, he said in an email, “must now work with the Port Authority to anticipate and mitigate these issues for the more than 28 million passengers who use the airport every year.”

Sitt also called on the Port Authority to launch a website that tracks the progress and expenditures of the project.
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CORRECTION: The Marine Air Terminal (Terminal A) won't be part of the $4 billion LaGuardia renovation.

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