Saturday, January 29, 2011

Planners Seek Expansion at Kennedy and Newark Airports by Patrick McGeehan-

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The bay runway at Kennedy Airport could get a sibling built on a filled-in portion of Jamaica Bay under an airport expansion proposal.
The New York region’s two largest airports, already choked with crowds and delays, may need to be radically reconfigured so they can make way for vitally needed additional runways that would help accommodate a projected increase of almost 50 million air travelers per year within two or three decades, according to a new study.
The study, from the Regional Plan Association, calls for as much as $15 billion to be spent at Kennedy and Newark Liberty International Airports. At Newark, all three terminals would have to be at least partially razed, then rebuilt; at Kennedy, part of Jamaica Bay might have to be filled to create space for one or more new runways.
The proposed expansions would amount to the most ambitious reshaping of any of the region’s major airports in several decades. They would require significant changes in the region’s airspace, a modernization of the system for controlling air traffic and at least one act of Congress.
If the proposals are accepted by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates Kennedy, Newark and La Guardia Airports, they would surely encounter stiff resistance from local and national advocates for the environment, the report admits. They would also have to survive the political tug of war between the governors of New York and New Jersey, who jointly control the Port Authority.
The report, which was financed in part by the Port Authority, was scheduled to be presented at a daylong conference on the future of the airports in Manhattan on Thursday.
Christopher Ward, the executive director of the Port Authority, was scheduled to attend the conference and was expected to discuss the report as fodder for planning. Asked for comment, a spokesman for Mr. Ward said only that “we look forward to examining this study.”
The study considered a spectrum of options that stretched to the fantastic: a new airport on an island in New York Bay. But the cost was deemed to be “exorbitant.”
Elected officials and business leaders have discussed airport expansion for years, but have been reluctant to broach the idea publicly to avoid stirring up opposition too soon, said Kathryn S. Wylde, the president of the Partnership for New York City. But, Ms. Wylde added, “It’s become very clear that our economic future depends on investment both in the technology and facilities upgrades and runway expansion at the regional airports.”
For years, the local airspace has been too clogged to consider adding any more traffic. Indeed, federal regulators have placed limits on the number of flights each hour to and from the region’s airports. But the federal government is planning to upgrade the nation’s air traffic control system with a program known as NextGen that will allow more planes to squeeze into the region, said Jeffrey M. Zupan, a transportation analyst who is one of the report’s authors.
Once the first phase of NextGen is in operation, the Port Authority should seek to have the caps on flights lifted and begin making room for new runways and gates to accommodate the increasing traffic, the report says. It estimates that traffic at the three airports will increase steadily from about 104 million passengers annually last year to 150 million passengers within 20 to 30 years. Mr. Zupan said that the airports currently cannot handle more than about 110 million passengers a year.
The Port Authority has been grappling with how to alleviate congestion at its major airports; in 2007, it acquired a long-term lease on Stewart International Airport near Newburgh, N.Y., with the purpose of making it the region’s fourth major airport. That goal has yet to be realized, and the new plan suggests that the Port Authority’s money and efforts would be better spent at Kennedy and Newark.
The question of the Port Authority’s mission arose again this month when New Jersey’s governor, Chris Christie, asked for $1.8 billion to build and repair roads and bridges in North Jersey. New York’s senior senator, Charles E. Schumer, demanded that the Port Authority refuse that request, because, he said, the agency should devote its resources to grand plans that would benefit the economy of the entire region.
The cost estimates are preliminary and vary widely depending on which of several options for expanding Kennedy would be chosen, according to the report. The authors laid out seven proposals for adding runway space at Kennedy, some of which would require filling in more of the bay than others.
At Newark, they concluded, the only feasible way to expand would be to add a runway between the existing terminals and the two main runways in use there now. Doing that would require the demolition of all of Terminal B and parts of Terminals A and C, Mr. Zupan said.
Rebuilding the terminals in Newark could cost as much as $5 billion, which could raise the total cost of the expansion to $15 billion, the report says. But it estimates that not expanding the airports could cost the region $16 billion a year in lost airfare, as well as up to 125,000 jobs and $6 billion in annual wages.
At Kennedy, expansion could cost anywhere from $1 billion to $3.5 billion, depending on whether one or two runways are added and how they are configured, the report says. It lays out seven possible configurations at Kennedy, some of which involve reorienting the flight path into and out of the airport. Doing so would bring those flights into closer conflict with planes going to and from La Guardia, which the Federal Aviation Administration might find unacceptable, Mr. Zupan said.
Among the alternatives, he said, would be to fill in part of Jamaica Bay and construct a new runway parallel to the existing runway used by the giant trans-Atlantic passenger jets. Getting approval for that option would entail not only overcoming opposition from environmental groups but also changing the federal law that created the Gateway National Recreation Area, which explicitly prohibits expanding the airport into the bay.
A section of the bay known as Grassy Bay contains a deep trench that was dug during construction at the airport in the 1950s, the report says. That trench has some negative effects on the surrounding bay, which might be ameliorated if it were filled in during the construction of a runway, Mr. Zupan said.
But John Waldman, a professor of biology at Queens College, said he was skeptical about that trade-off and imagined it would not occur without a “fierce battle.” While he said that filling the trench to level the bottom of the bay probably would be beneficial, he said he could not see the benefits outweighing the cost of encroaching on one of the “ecological jewels” of the region.
“I don’t see that as a clear trade of equal value,” Professor Waldman said.