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Cuomo’s $13 Billion Solution to the Mess That Is J.F.K. Airport

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New York City fancies itself the capital of the world, but its leading airport, Kennedy International, often gives the impression that it is a gateway to a metropolis in decline. Disjointed terminals. One of every four flights delayed. Aggravatingly long security lines. Brutal slogs through traffic to even reach the airport.

On Thursday, officials unveiled an ambitious $13 billion solution to the mess that Kennedy has become. Most of that money will go toward building two terminals that will help the airport accommodate the steadily rising tide of international visitors and the largest and most modern planes in the world.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates J.F.K., expects it to serve 80 million passengers annually by 2035, up from nearly 60 million last year.

New York’s Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who helps control the Port Authority, vowed to transform J.F.K. into a “21st century transportation hub” that will rank “as one of the finest airports in the world.”

[Dear non-New Yorkers: What’s your impression of our airports? Tell us.]

That is a tall order for an airport that consistency delivers a failing report card. Kennedy ranked 14th in customer satisfaction among the 24 largest airports in the country in a survey by J.D. Power that was released last month. (The airport that ranked last was Newark Liberty International in New Jersey, which also is operated by the Port Authority.)

About one-fourth of the flights into J.F.K. arrive late, compared with about 17 percent at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International, the world’s busiest airport.

Still, the changes Mr. Cuomo announced would have only minor effects on flight delays, if any, because they do not include an additional runway or improvements in the air-traffic control system.

The new terminals — one to be built by a consortium of four foreign airlines and one by JetBlue Airways — will take several years to complete. In the meantime, the Port Authority plans to spend $1 billion on improvements to roadways and other infrastructure within the airport grounds. Mr. Cuomo, at a breakfast conference in Manhattan, said that airlines had committed to spending $10 billion to build the terminals.

Rick Cotton, executive director of the Port Authority, said the goal was to “eliminate the spaghetti” of roads that cross the main loop that connects J.F.K.’s six free-standing terminals. “There are more steps to go but ultimately the goal is to have all of the passenger facilities interconnected,” Mr. Cotton said.

Mr. Cotton said private companies would provide about $2 billion of additional funding for those infrastructure upgrades. Among the improvements, he said, would be an increase in the capacity of the AirTrain, which links to the subway system and the Long Island Rail Road.

J.F.K. has been notoriously difficult to get to and from. Unlike many major international airports, it is not accessible from the central business district by a single transit ride.

No solution to that shortcoming is on the horizon. But the state Department of Transportation has allocated $1.5 billion for improvements to the highway interchanges that produce the biggest bottlenecks for airport traffic. Mr. Cuomo said the transportation department would add a fourth lane in each direction on the Van Wyck Expressway, the main route to J.F.K.

“This is long overdue — it’s about 20 years overdue," said Mitchell L. Moss, director of the Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management at New York University. “It isn’t just cosmetic. The roads stink there. The signage at J.F.K. is predigital. They have not changed the signs since they named the airport after John Kennedy.”

Mr. Moss said the planned improvements to Terminal 1, the main international terminal, would “turn the thing into a global shopping mall.” But he said that is the established trend in airports around the world, where a “captive audience” of travelers waiting to board planes is enticed to spend money in sleek shops and restaurants. “J.F.K. has been very slow to recognize that there’s more money to be made on the ground than in the planes,” he said.


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