Port Authority Plans to Expand a Rural Airport
Article Tools Sponsored By
By PATRICK McGEEHAN
Published: January 25, 2007
The plan to create a fourth major airport that could relieve crowding and delays in the metropolitan area will take a leap forward today, officials of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey said yesterday.
The Port Authority plans to acquire a 93-year lease on Stewart International Airport, a sleepy and underused facility 60 miles north of New York City, for $78.5 million and begin expanding it starting in the fall, said Anthony R. Coscia, the agency’s chairman.
With the expected approval of the agency’s board today, the acquisition could help solve a problem that has bedeviled aviation officials for almost 50 years: where to send some of the travelers and cargo that are starting to overwhelm Kennedy International, La Guardia and Newark Liberty International Airports.
“The region clearly needs additional capacity for air travel,” Mr. Coscia said. “It’s undeniable. This is intended to remedy exactly that problem.”
The agency has already budgeted $150 million for improvements to Stewart that could include additional parking and the construction of an international passenger terminal, he said.
A converted Air Force base whose commercial use has never met its potential, Stewart is bigger than Newark’s airport, with 2,400 acres and a 11,818-foot runway. Two low-fare airlines, JetBlue Airways and AirTran Airways, began offering flights from Stewart recently. Three other carriers operate limited service from there.
Passenger traffic at Stewart increased 33 percent last month, compared with December 2005, and it could triple this year to about 900,000 passengers, said Tanya Vanasse, general manager for marketing at Stewart. Although Stewart is a small cousin to the region’s three main airports, which together handled more than 100 million passengers last year, that is expected to change.
Mr. Coscia said that by drawing more of the travelers who live north and west of New York City, Stewart could serve more than three million passengers a year within five or six years. Most of that traffic would be diverted from the three big airports, which had been projected to reach capacity by 2020 without considering any expansion at Stewart, he said.
Some of the cargo that arrives at those other airports and some of the private aircraft that now clog the short runways at Teterboro Airport in northern New Jersey could also go to Stewart, Mr. Coscia said.
The plan to acquire Stewart reflects a significant shift in Port Authority politics. The Pataki administration was unenthusiastic about the plan, despite Mr. Coscia’s persistent push to take control of Stewart and link it to New York City’s crowded transportation system.
But now the plan has the support of Gov. Eliot Spitzer, as well as New Jersey’s governor, Jon S. Corzine, said Anthony E. Shorris, whom Mr. Spitzer appointed to be executive director of the Port Authority.
“We’re viewing this as a major milestone,” Mr. Shorris said. “My sense is when you have very strong support from two governors on this — now, two governors on this — you’ll see a concerted effort to make it happen.”
Making it happen will require legislative change in Trenton because the Port Authority’s bi-state charter limits its operations to a zone that extends 25 miles in all directions from the Statue of Liberty. In 1967, lawmakers in Albany passed a bill allowing the authority to have one airport outside that zone in each state. But New Jersey never passed its own version of that legislation.