There’s a renaissance happening at the three major New York City-area airports.
A brand-new terminal opened earlier this year at Newark, the dreaded “third-world country” that was LaGuardia is now history and the region’s busiest airport, John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK), is undergoing perhaps the biggest transformation yet.
As part of the so-called “JFK Vision Plan,” the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which manages and oversees the airport, has embarked on a nearly decade-long transformation project that’ll make JFK a whole lot better than before.
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This includes a brand-new Terminal 1 and Terminal 6, expanded facilities in Terminals 4 and 8 and the demolition of the existing Terminal 7.
While the redevelopment sounds good on paper (and looks great in renderings), the next few years are not going to be fun for those headed to or from JFK.
That’s because major disruptions are coming to how you get to JFK — many of the existing roadways are getting torn up, which will undoubtedly lead to traffic jams, congestion and possibly even total gridlock.
The Port Authority previewed the changes coming to JFK at a special media event on Tuesday, and while the agency is being transparent about what’s coming, you’re not going to like these updates, especially because the disruption is estimated to last (at least) four to five years.
“We are asking people to take note of the construction challenges to recognize there will be temporary changes and we are going to be doing the best we can to minimize those disruptions,” said Rick Cotton, the executive director of the Port Authority. “In the end, it will be worth it,” he added.
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Traffic changes at Terminals 1 and 5
If you plan to drive to JFK, be prepared for what could turn into gridlock.
As part of the construction of the new Terminals 1 and 6, the Port Authority will close multiple airport roadways, which will primarily affect those headed to Terminals 1 and 5.
Though the ramifications of the roadway changes aren’t yet clear, new traffic patterns at both terminals will certainly cause a headache as you try getting to or from these facilities.
The changes will begin at a yet-undisclosed date in early May, and they’ll last for at least four to five years. Of course, these disruptions could even cause backups on other JFK roadways.
The Port Authority recognizes the possibility of total gridlock, and to prevent that, the agency just opened a new traffic management center at its on-site Airport Operations Center.
Multiple traffic engineers are stationed there around the clock, and they’re responsible for monitoring traffic flows and diverting vehicles as necessary to alleviate any bottlenecks.
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They have the capability of remotely changing traffic lights, and they’re in 24/7 communication with Port Authority police officers, who can physically block and direct traffic as needed.
Related: Watch us race to JFK via train, subway, cab and helicopter
Relocated taxi stands and rideshares pickups
If you prefer taking a taxi or rideshare from JFK, you’re going to be in for a big schlep if you land at JetBlue’s Terminal 5.
Beginning on Wednesday, April 26 (tomorrow), the taxi stand at Terminal 5 is being relocated to the ground level of the yellow garage, which is attached to Terminal 5 by an enclosed pedestrian bridge.
But the revamped rideshare pickup setup, which will start in the next 30 to 45 days, will become even more of an inconvenience.
Ubers and Lyfts will only be allowed to pick up Terminal 5 passengers at a new staging area being built on the roof of the Orange Garage, which is adjacent to Terminal 7.
This area will be covered with canopies in the case of inclement weather.
To get there, flyers will need to pickup their luggage, walk to the Terminal 5 AirTrain station, take the train one stop and then make their way to the roof of the Orange Garage — a big headache, especially for those with lots of checked bags or mobility issues.
Note that you’ll still be dropped off at Terminal 5, regardless of whether you’re arriving at the airport in a taxi, Uber, Lyft or private car.
For now, the Port Authority is only changing the pickup procedure for Terminal 5 passengers, but the agency isn’t ruling out the possibility of future disruptions to the rideshare drop-off and pickup experience.
One idea that’s being considered is the opening of a remote lot to handle all rideshare vehicles at JFK (similar to what happened at LaGuardia during the redevelopment). Hopefully, the agency can avoid this measure because that’d surely be a big pain for travelers.
Related: There’s a new way to get from midtown Manhattan to JFK
Major AirTrain closure
Going forward, the AirTrain will become the most reliable way to get to or from JFK. The train runs in a continuous loop to all JFK terminals from Howard Beach and Jamaica stations, which are accessible via the New York City subway and Long Island Rail Road (LIRR).
However, even the AirTrain will have some disruptions. Beginning on May 1, the AirTrain station at Terminal 1 will be closed for at least seven months.
Travelers headed to Terminal 1, which is home to many large international airlines, including Air France and Lufthansa, will need to take the AirTrain to either Terminal 4 or 8, where the Port Authority will set up a bussing operation to take travelers to Terminal 1.
Terminal 4 to Terminal 1 shuttle buses will run daily from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m., while busses from Terminal 8 to Terminal 1 will be available 24/7.
For now, the only near-term AirTrain disruption will be at Terminal 1, though the Port Authority said that future closures at other terminals are possible as the construction progresses.
There’s a looming traffic nightmare coming to JFK.
With multiple terminal redevelopment projects underway, the Port Authority is adjusting traffic patterns to make room for construction. This will lead to roadway closures, relocated rideshare and taxi pickup areas and changes to the AirTrain system.
More than anything, you’ll need to pack your patience and allow extra time when traveling to or from JFK in the coming years. I’d consider taking public transportation to the airport if you can, or even rerouting to fly from nearby LaGuardia or Newark if at all possible.
In the meantime, stay tuned to TPG, JFKAirport.com and @JFKAirport on Twitter for more updates on the disruptions coming to JFK.