By Barbara Peterson. Photos: Getty.
A proposal to close New York City’s troubled prison complex on Rikers Island may have an unintended beneficiary: airline travelers.
The review, just issued by an outside panel of judges and civic leaders, called for closing the prison as part of a larger criminal justice reform measure. While most of the 150-page report dealt with how to build a more humane alternative to the city’s overcrowded jails, in the last section, the authors came out firmly in support of using the land—which is across a highway from LaGuardia—to allow the congested airfield to add a badly needed runway and perhaps even another terminal.
The 413-acre island "is uniquely positioned to accommodate an expanded LaGuardia Airport that would reduce delays and could serve as many as 12 million more passengers annually," the panel said. The airport is already straining to serve nearly 30 million fliers a year, and while there’s a massive construction project underway, it wouldn’t fix the problem of inadequate runways, or the tight space. (LGA covers 680 acres versus 5,000 acres at New York’s other big airport, JFK.)
“For decades, LaGuardia Airport has led the nation in delays, with traffic jams in the sky and on the ground,” said Joe Sitt, chairman of the Global Gateway Alliance, a group of civil leaders pushing for improvements to New York’s airports. “The proposal to knock down Rikers and extend LaGuardia’s runways to the island would be a big piece of the puzzle to change all that.” But is it realistic? The Rikers Island addition has been suggested before; with politicians at both the city and state level now rallying behind it, it’s at least within the realm of possibility.
Still, this is New York City, where it took nearly a generation to add a much needed subway line. Shutting the sprawling prison alone is expected to take a decade.
This story originally appeared on Conde Nast Traveler.
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