Building Big! Building Green?

LaGuardia Airport in Queens, NY.

LaGuardia Airport in Queens, NY.

By Elias Rodriguez

Today helps determine our tomorrow. Over the next several years, visitors and residents of the Big Apple, as New York City is known, will witness a major reconstruction or reinvention of two major transportation hubs within the area. Both of these herculean public works projects will have significant impacts on New York’s quality of life, the communities surrounding them and the environment.

Most likely, the first mega-project will be LaGuardia airport in Queens. The decaying airport is named for our beloved Fiorello Henry La Guardia who served three terms from 1933 to 1945 as mayor. Budgeted at $3.6 billion, the long overdue overhaul of the airport is highly anticipated. Vice President Biden attending the launch for the plan. Comprising over 680 acres, the airport borders two bays: Flushing and Bowery and served 26.7 million passengers in 2013 alone. LaGuardia airport opened in 1939 and is infamous for traffic jams, and a retro-vibe that is decidedly not cool.

The second transportation hub in desperate need of an update is the bus terminal at 42 Street and Eighth Ave. and Ninth Ave., which is also owned by the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey. It is the largest bus terminal in the country and handles about 220,000 passenger trips on one typical work day. It is not named after anyone, which is odd for Gotham.

Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York City.

Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York City.

Founded in 1921, the Port Authority built and owns the two hubs, the World Trade Center site and many bridges and tunnels in the area. The Port Authority is a bi-state agency and joint venture run by the two respective states. It receives no tax revenue from either New York or New Jersey but gets its revenue from other sources such as tolls and the fees I pay for my EZ-Pass (electronic toll collection system) device. In my family’s case, the Port Authority gets about $150 to $300 a month. Correct. That’s not chump change.

Projects of this size, scale and enormous cost raise correspondingly momentous questions about their environmental impacts. Will green infrastructure be a consideration? How can we best handle air emissions from mobile sources? The region’s transportation infrastructure was already sorely tested during the extreme weather from Hurricane Sandy. What mitigation steps are available to address the impacts from floods and wet weather impacts? These are weighty questions and public input will be a key part of the design and development process. Are these project really necessary? Yes, they are desperately needed investments. How they are rebuilt will be of monumental significance to every stakeholder.

As you enjoy Earth Day and related events, take some time to think about your impact, big or small, on our planet. Oh, and have a safe trip.

About the Author: Elias serves as EPA Region 2’s bilingual public information officer. Prior to joining EPA, the proud Nuyorican worked at Time Inc. conducting research for TIME, LIFE, FORTUNE and PEOPLE magazines. He is a graduate of Hunter College, Baruch College and the Theological Institute of the Assembly of Christian Churches in NYC.

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