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Wild Idea to Link Laguardia to New South Bronx Rail Hub

Union Tpke

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Folly or Genius?
Jim Venturi’s plan for expanding La Guardia Airport would radically transfigure the landscape on both sides of the East River.

1. La Guardia would expand to include Rikers Island, allowing construction of 160 gates and of four runways long enough for big jets.

2. A new terminal at Port Morris would accommodate rerouted subways and Amtrak trains from Penn Station, and cars from the Bruckner and Deegan Expressways.

3. Passengers would be transferred between terminal and gates on a shuttle train running under the East River.

4. Sunnyside railroad yard would become a park, transportation hub and development site. Trains staging here would be moved to a new yard in Port Morris.

Some excerpts:

Jim Venturi has a big idea, and it led him, on a recent afternoon, to a lush strip of overgrown vegetation in the South Bronx, through a gap in the wire fence, past a sign saying to keep out, past abandoned furniture and an empty homeless encampment.

The green swath was an abandoned railway line that once ran across the South Bronx, from Port Morris on the East River to Spuyten Duyvil on the Hudson, connecting the Bronx to a vast transportation network — an invaluable piece of infrastructure, Mr. Venturi said, just waiting for someone to use it.

Last month, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced a $500,000 competition to modernize four New York airports. Mr. Venturi’s big idea, which is still in its drawing phase, involves the radical transformation of La Guardia Airport, and it runs through this patch of unkempt green.

* * *
On a bright recent morning, Mr. Venturi stood on the terrace of his 19th-floor Riverside Drive apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and pointed to bits of city infrastructure: the Amtrak line to Albany; the Hell Gate railroad bridge to Queens; the site of the never-built Westway, a proposed underground highway for which Mr. Venturi’s parents and a colleague, Frederic Schwartz, had contributed designs. Jim Venturi’s first trip to New York was to visit Mr. Schwartz during the design phase of Westway.

To solve La Guardia’s problems, Mr. Venturi decided, it wasn’t enough to annex Rikers. On the advice of a friend, the architect Henry Smith-Miller, he began to look at the Bronx. The industrial Port Morris neighborhood, with its sewage treatment plant and assorted warehouses, was just across the river from the jails and had access to Amtrak, Metro-North and subway lines, including the abandoned rail tracks west to Spuyten Duyvil. It was ripe for the taking, Mr. Venturi thought.

* * *
So he let his imagination go: Why not build a massive, 22-track rail station and airport terminal in Port Morris, and put the gates on Rikers — connected by a shuttle train, as at the airports in Atlanta and Denver? The present La Guardia space could then accommodate four runways instead of the current two, with extensions into the East River to lengthen them.

* * *
Poring over old and new subway and train maps, he began to look at Penn Station and the rail yards in the Sunnyside neighborhood of Queens — both places that had a lot of subways and rail lines.

Why not make another transit hub in Sunnyside, joining the subways that already stop there — the E, M, N, R, Q and 7 trains — with new connections to Metro-North, Amtrak, the Long Island Railroad and New Jersey Transit? The rail lines could continue to Penn Station in one direction, and up to the new La Guardia superstation in the other. (He’d extend the new Second Avenue subway up there as well.) “It would connect the boroughs with each other and with the suburbs,” Mr. Venturi said.

At the same time, he proposed moving the unsightly Sunnyside train yards up to Port Morris, near the airport, and building a massive convention center over them to replace the Javits center.

On the old Sunnyside site, he would build a 300-acre park. The park and transit station, he said, would draw developers — office towers, apartment buildings, restaurants — creating a real downtown Queens to compete with Manhattan or Brooklyn.

On the site of the current Javits center, in Manhattan, he would build another park, possibly with an aquarium.

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Folly. Not even counting the negative impacts on the local ecosystem, it would also increase flood risk and degrade local water quality by channeling water into a smaller space in an already degraded body of water.


It would actually improve the region's airport capacity to close LaGuardia, because then it would significantly increase the amount of possible flight paths to Kennedy and Newark. But we're never going to see that happen, because it makes too much sense. The issue is not that we have a lack of runways or a lack of terminals, but a lack of flight paths in and out of the runways due to all the conflicting airspace (hence why all three New York airports are at the very bottom of the on-time list).

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