Call to Bulldozer LGA should be a catalyst for Tri-State Regional Aviation Planning

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George Haikalis, a civil engineer and transportation planner, is a former official of the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council and of New York City Transit, wrote a thoughtful, provocative OpEd piece in The New York Times. His thesis is that LaGuardia should be “bulldozered”[1] over. The headline and his resume will be noticed in the debate over Gov. Cuomo’s plan to revitalize the airport which Vice President Biden labeled as Third World.

[1] Mayor Daley should be credited for adding the technical aviation verb “to bulldozer”, as in “I am going to bulldozer Miegs Field.”

The underlying premise of Mr. Haikalis’ analysis is stated in the following quote:

“But piling billions of taxpayer dollars into upgrading La Guardia, which opened in 1939, won’t solve its fundamental problems. It can’t easily expand. Its two runways and four terminals are surrounded on three sides by water, making landing difficult and hazardous. Parking is a nightmare.”

From this observation, the author extrapolates that LGA should be torn down, the site used for housing and the net proceeds of that land transaction should be applied to improving the ground access to Newark and John F. Kennedy Airports.

Bold? Unthinkable? Visionary? Worth Consideration on a broader scale?

The civil engineer’s background must be surface transportation; for he fails to mention the constraint which harms not only LGA, but also its close neighbors EWR and JFK, which are all owned by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. The airspace above these three major airline hubs is the real constraint. Even with the improvements of NextGen, the skies over the NYC Metropolitan Area will have more planes which will likely exceed even the enhanced capacity.

EWR (1928), LGA (1939) and JFK (1948) were designed when the operating characteristics of aircraft were radically different than today’s fleet. The three sites (see above map) are far too close for the density and operational characteristics of current airliners. Air Traffic considerations demand that future increases in demand may not be accommodated safely or efficiently.

Mr. Haikalis articulates a number of relevant factors which the PANYNJ and others should consider in planning for the air transportation future:

“…trends in the growth in air travel; the environmental consequences of applying advanced air-traffic-control technology; modernizing runway and terminal layouts and improving rail access at Newark; and finding an appropriate role for secondary airports like Stewart, Westchester and MacArthur, which currently handle a tiny fraction of the region’s air passengers.”

With letting the “bulldozer” genie out of the bottle, the planning vision should include the potential closure of one or more of the aviation facilities in the region. There should be no sacred cows, but hard objective examinations should be used to limit political issues. By limiting or excluding options, the process minimizes the likelihood that an optimal solution could be developed. If long term connection to regional, national and international commerce is the goal of this study, then analysis should include a calculus of airspace optimization, runway capacity (now and post NextGen implementation), airport noise, ground access and the environmental impact from any additions, the demography of passenger demand, costs of construction and financing, trading of sites (e.g. LGA) for real estate development for new airport sites and/or cash to pay for expansion of airport facilities/access transportation, etc. This planning process will require multiple iterations and many, many years.

Mr. Haikalis’ provocative, if not incendiary, opinion should be a catalyst for consideration of the future regional Tri-State aviation system. His headline might compel the PANYNJ to begin to assess what can/should be done. While the future milestone on which such a plan may be centered (2035?) is far off in the distance, the optimal solutions (a new site, expanding an existing facility, right-of-way for mass transit, conversion of  rural land into suburban communities where the airport of the future might be located, etc.) may be removed by interim, unrelated actions.

The PANYNJ and regional planning authorities should not ignore Mr. Haikalis’ bulldozering option, but should explore how aviation may best serve this region.

OP ED: Don’t Rehab La Guardia Airport. Close It.

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1 Comment on "Call to Bulldozer LGA should be a catalyst for Tri-State Regional Aviation Planning"

  1. Ray Roberts | May 14, 2015 at 4:25 pm | Reply

    Mr Del Balzo points out the size and complexity of a project to expand capacity in the Northeast Arrival areas. Relocating or expanding terminals affects not only the air traffic arriving there but an entire system of procedures over thousands of miles that efficiently route aircraft into those hubs.

    With the need for coordinated surface transportation systems, the complexity becomes enormous. Manageable? Absolutely. This project requires a clean slate view of the entire complex. As Mr. del Balzo states in his paragraph beginning, “With letting the bulldozer genie out of the bottle…” and concludes with “, …This planning process will require multiple iterations and many, many years” I believe he is kindly and optimistically stating the vast size of this project and the timeframe for completion.

    Without jumping onto this now, there is a perilous prospect of an aviation and ground transportation system unable to meet the needs for growth throughout the area. Will a stagnating transportation system completely shut down the economic growth in a region that drives much of the nation’s economy?

    I believe that may be the missed point in Mr. Del Blazo’s comments.

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