Governor Cuomo Just Announced Plans to Spend $10 Billion Fixing JFK Airport

The Governor of New York presented a plan to pour billions of dollars into the pit that is New York JFK.

However it’s unlikely to make the airport more connected to the city other than through some road widening, and it’s unlikely to reduce air traffic congestion. Because those problems are really hard.

What they’re doing is laying the groundwork for connecting terminals over time, making the infrastructure nicer, and getting passengers to spend more at the airport.

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today presented a vision plan to transform JFK International Airport into an airport equipped to meet the demands of the 21st century and worthy of the State of New York. Based on the recommendations of the Governor’s Airport Advisory Panel, the vision plan lays out a comprehensive, airport-wide framework to create a unified, world-class airport.

They’re already declaring New York LaGuardia redevelopment — years from completion, a traffic nightmare, and which won’t provide convenient transit or a solution to congested air traffic control in the region — “successful.”

For JFK airport the plan is to:

  • Connect disparate terminals by “expanding newer terminals and redeveloping/relocating older terminals” over time. Presumably this entails ultimate replacement of terminals 1, 2 and 7 and expanding terminals 4, 5 and 8.

  • Create a ‘ring road’ around the airport to replace the mish mash of roads that are there today, and move to a single parking structure for all terminals.

  • Expand taxiways and add new flight slots

  • More security including creepy stuff.

They want new and redeveloped terminals to have standards for implementing ‘fine dining, top retail, duty-free’ because of course those things generate revenue.

Expanding taxiways, while at the same time increasing the number of flight slots (JFK is only slot constrained at peak departure times), won’t mean fewer delays since those are meant to be offset by more planes (if DOT goes along). Nothing that’s envisioned does a thing about congested New York air space. They see $7 billion in private investment here.

Greater capacity for airport access roads would be nice, though, and they’re going to increase capacity of the connector ramps between the Grand Central Parkway and Van Wyck Expressway and they’re going to add a lane in each direction of the Van Wyck Expressway reserved for buses and ‘HOV’ vehicle use. This will cost $1.5 billion to $2 billion.

Meanwhile they want to expand mass transit but haven’t decided how yet, either expanding the Airtran or a pie in the sky single train from JFK to Manhattan.

The CEOs of Delta, American and JetBlue — the 3 US airlines with major presences at JFK — are all saying wonderful things about the plan. Of course they are. They’re talking about at least $10 billion in investment of other peoples’ money before even getting to the cost of public transit into the city (which may never happen). And remember this is the starting price. Construction unions like it, too.

As for the idea of public transit direct to Manhattan, on-airport rail at LAX is slated to cost $1 billion per mile without land acquisition cost. If they managed to halve that for this project, for 15 miles, you’d have $7.5 billion plus land and that’s without crossing water. Rather than a direct train it would be more feasible to expand existing public transit to JFK. Even so, the costs are prohibitive because $500 million or $1 billion a mile doesn’t cover ongoing operating cost. Pouring billions into the Airtran seems the more likely outcome, and even that isn’t coming quickly.

And though they envision $7 billion from private sources, that will entail giving up revenue streams associated with the airport that would likely deliver more than that (which is why private money would be interested in investing in the first place). It’s not free money.

Governor Cuomo wants to spend a lot — probably ultimately even more than this — without solving congested air traffic or the airport’s connectedness to Manhattan. They’re tackling the comparatively easy cosmetic stuff first, rather than what seems most important.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. […] Governor Cuomo Just Announced Plans to Spend $10 Billion Fixing JFK Airport by View From The Wing. Would have liked to see what the plan is for mass transit, as that is the most important in my opinion. I’m also not sure why governments agree to these plans without also requiring companies that directly benefit to add funds to the total pool – but let’s say that argument for another day. […]


  1. Figured you’d have a less-rosy take on this. It is amazing how much of a hodgepodge NYC airports are. At least LGA and JFK. Reminds me in some respects of the entire city of Austin, of which you are familiar, where half-assed kinds of temporary solutions have made the infrastructure inefficient and a giant turd burger.

    I will be the first to admit that my experiences in JFK are limited. Flown into it once, flown out of it twice, transferred from LGA once. I think upgrading the amenities and aesthetics of JFK are more important than they are at LGA, just given the nature of the flights in and out. But, you’re right, this doesn’t really cut to the heart of what plagues NYC airports.

  2. Maybe that godawful WN pier at LGA won’t suck quite so bad then. What a 1960s-era craphole.

  3. Typical big government statists. Cuomo will be long gone before the first shovel hits the ground.

  4. At least we are talking about investing in infrastructure now. If we just kept up on our local airports, we wouldn’t need to do these overhauls. The major issue is that LGA is SUCH a mess right now, we can’t have BOTH airports in NYC under major construction at the same time.

  5. JFK was my Ellis Island. I am knowing many peoples who find light there. today it is a very dark place

  6. @FNT Delta Diamond

    I know I’m going to regret asking this but who, if not the state’s big government, is going to coordinate and pay for infrastructure investment? I can’t see delta parting with a dime to upgrade the expressways in queens that bring passengers to its planes.

  7. I remember when I was young and later as a NYC taxi driver, they used to have a ring road that was horribly congested but allowed easy access from terminal to terminal. Then in order to improve road congestion, they reconfigured all the roadways inside JFK to allow for direct access from the main highway inside the airport to each terminal directly, so there was no more ring road. So now, they have decided to spend a ton of money resurrecting the ring road?

    The main thing I remember as a frequent driver to/from JFK is that at all times there is some roadway under construction in the airport. They never reach a point where the work is completely finished.

    The ring road resurrection sounds like another red herring for everybody.


  8. I live in NYC and fly (Delta DM) often and from all local area airports (JFK, LGA, EWR, HPN…occasionally ISP and SWF). I couldn’t agree more with Gary – the infrastructure and especially local transportation should be the focus of any new money. The capacity constraints will ultimately undermine the American gateway to the world. I would like to see AirTrain extension to LGA over Grand Central Parkway and a high speed ferry from Manhattan (Jersey City and Queens, too!) to LGA/AirTrain which could then provide a one-stop ride to JFK. We already have ferries and water taxis in NYC. LGA was originally a “flying boat” airport and is nested on Queen’s shore. Any reason why this wouldn’t be the most efficient and least costly option?

  9. @Roman R
    Ferries and water taxies aren’t flashy.
    AirTrain is boring.
    Gotta put money to the best use: polishing up the mess that is NYC air travel.

  10. @Tony LGA has two runways. LGA originally opened with four runways at 45-degree angles to each other, the longest (13/31) being 6,000 ft . Runway 18/36 was closed soon after a United DC-4 ran off the south end in 1947; runway 9/27 (4500 ft) was closed around 1958, allowing LGA’s terminal to expand northward after 1960. Circa 1961 runway 13/31 was shifted northeastward to allow construction of a parallel taxiway, and in 1965–66 both remaining runways were extended to their present 7,000 ft.

  11. I don’t necessarily disagree with Gary’s beefs with the plans, but as a NY’er honestly I’d rather see some infrastructure investment than none. I think everyone would agree that these types of things are highly complex, extremely costly and of course political as well so compromises inevitably need to be made. There is lots of complaining about the crumbling infrastructure in this country, but if you look at the major infrastructure projects that have recently been completed (2nd Ave Subway line and 7 train extension to Hudson Yards, not to mention the Hudson Yards project itself), or the ones that are under planning/construction (LIRR East Side Access project to bring LIRR trains into Grand Central, LGA redevelopment, JFK redevelopment), it is fairly obvious that the level of activity is pretty unprecedented looking back over the last 50 years. Are these projects perfect? Absolutely not, but certainly better than nothing IMHO.

  12. As a New Yorker, I’m appalled by the lackadaisical approach to infrastructure the Governor has undertaken. It seems like he’s in hurry to run for the big one in 2020. These cosmetic changes will not do anything. Unless LGA connects directly through train service into Manhattan everything else is a hog wash. JFK is a traffic nightmare. Belt Parkway and Van Wyck are endless traps. These days most of us swallow our pride and take the direct train to EWR. Even with all the trouble with United, EWR’s a cleaner and a much better airport overall. On New Year’s day I had the misfortune to take Delta SFO-JFK red eye. Landed in T4, took 15 mins to walk from gate to baggage claim. For all it’s troubles In LGA you land and you’re out the door in under 5 mins.

  13. Totally agree with Jonathan. Many of the things picked up in the plan discussed here make sense, even the smaller ones – not necessarily the solution suggested, but they need to be addressed. So whilst there is no need to unquestionedly cheer on everything, it’s certainly a welcome discussion. Also, considering the time such projects take to develop I wouldn’t worry too much about LGA and JFK being overhauled at the same time – I guess it will take a long time until the first shovel hits the ground at JFK for this project.

    Having used JFK several times in the recent past, the one thing really missing and the thing that from a passenger perspective must be addressed most is transportation to / from JFK. Cars take forever (almost 2h ride to/from Midtown West sounds familiar?), and public transport is a horrible mess as soon as you i) aren’t close to Penn station and ii) your luggage exceeds one small carry-on bag. Buses don’t count as they get stuck in the same road mess as cars.

    Most important though – make sure the beautiful TWA Flight Center will be integrated in a prominent way in any overhaul! (yes, I am not serious about this being most important, but that building really is beautiful).

  14. Lived in NY for a long time. Travel through mostly JFK very frequently. Not a bad airport once you’re inside. Getting to/from any of the NY airports is a joke, and SO sub-par in comparison with many other international airports in the US and abroad. It is embarrassing.

    For NY meetings I tend to fly into JFK to take the AirTrain/Subway combo not for comfort or convenience, but for speed. At least I’ll get from A to B or vice-versa in an hour. Avoid 3rd world LGA at all cost. EWR is in another state!

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