The contractor overseeing the rebuilding of LaGuardia
Airport last week defended itself against criticism over traffic delays caused
by construction, but the company also said it was taking more steps to help the
roadways flow better.
Even so, critics said the contractor’s measures did not go
far enough, and they predicted years of traffic congestion. Meanwhile, some
agents said they have begun advising clients to avoid LaGuardia altogether.
“There have been plans in place a long time, and that’s why
on most days the airport works fine,” Stewart Steeves, CEO of the prime
contractor, LaGuardia Gateway Partners, said in an interview with Travel
Weekly. “What we’re suggesting here is there is always opportunity for
Traffic patterns were altered at LaGuardia on Aug. 7 to
facilitate construction on Gateway Partners’ $4 billion portion of what will be
an almost complete rebuild of LaGuardia over the next five years.
Two weeks later, on Aug. 22, traffic at LaGuardia ignited a
New York-area media storm, including reports that some passengers had been seen
walking down Grand Central Parkway toward the terminal, luggage in hand.
In the aftermath, the TSA issued an advisory recommending
that travelers flying out of LaGuardia arrive at least two to two-and-a-half
hours ahead of their scheduled departure.
The major change instituted on Aug. 7 was a roadway
reconfiguration for those entering the airport via 94th Street, a move that
Gateway Partners made to create space to construct a new parking garage.
Leading up to the reconfiguration, the contractor, in
conjunction with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (which runs New
York-area airports, including LaGuardia), took several steps designed to
relieve congestion in front of the central terminal, also called Terminal B.
Notably, they opened a new cellphone lot that is free for up
to two hours of use, designated an alternate passenger pickup lot so that
greeters don’t have to make their pickups in front of the main terminal and
relocated the taxi stand from the approach to the exit side of the main
Steeves said that LaGuardia has long faced traffic
congestion problems, which is one reason the airport is being overhauled. He
said that the problems on Aug. 22 were in large part due to bad weather the
night before, which led to nearly 100 flight cancellations and resulted in
passengers rebooking for that day.
Nevertheless, Steeves said that there are sure to be other
days when unforeseen events will add to the passenger and traffic burden at
LaGuardia as the project continues during the next five-plus years.
Both he and Cheryl Ann Albiez, a spokeswoman for the Port
Authority, said they have already taken steps to improve traffic flow at the
“It’s a lesson learned,” Albiez said. “They’re working to
ensure that this doesn’t happen again.”
Adjustments made by Gateway Partners since Aug. 22 include
improvements to signage and striping, realigned temporary roadway barriers, the
elimination of inactive crosswalks and the installation of additional
The contractor is also looking at how to improve the
temporary roadway configuration, Steeves said.
Still, critics expressed skepticism that the steps taken
will actually reduce traffic snarls around the airport.
Among them is Joseph Sitt, chairman of the Global Gateway
Alliance (GGA), an advocacy group for users of the New York-area airports, who
said last week that the measures taken by the Port Authority and Gateway
Partners are not adequate.
“One of the questions we have is: If they had four years to
plan this, why are they making these quick fixes now?” Sitt said.
The GGA has created a six-point list of steps it believes
would be easy to implement and would help alleviate delays.
Those recommendations include an increase in park-and-ride
lots; free bus service to LaGuardia on the newly renamed “LaGuardia Link” route
in Queens; the launch of shuttle service to a nearby subway station; temporary
ferry service to LaGuardia from Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens; opening
temporary highway access ramps from the Grand Central Parkway; and launching a
website and app that would provide real-time LaGuardia traffic updates.
Sitt predicted that days such as Aug. 22 will be repeated
throughout the LaGuardia project if those changes aren’t made to the airport’s
In the meantime, the situation at LaGuardia has caused some
travel agents to redirect clients to alternate airports in the area.
“We try to avoid [LaGuardia] when we can,” said Joshua Bush,
CEO of Avenue Two Travel in Villanova, Pa. “If it’s apples to apples and it
doesn’t make much difference to the client, we’re going to send them to an
Omega World Travel is also directing clients to New York JFK
and Newark airports when it makes sense, according to client services manager
But not all agents and agencies are taking that approach.
“I’ve had several dozen clients fly out of [LaGuardia] over
the past few weeks, and not one client has complained about the traffic or
missed a flight,” said Eric Hrubant, president of New York-based CIRE Travel, a
division of Tzell.
Senior editor Jamie Biesiada contributed to this report.