NEWARK, N.J. — As an embattled travel and transportation industry confronts steep revenue fallout due to COVID-19, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is approaching a major construction milestone.
The $2.7 billion state-of-the-art Terminal One project at Newark Liberty International Airport will reach 60% completion this fall and open to travelers in late 2021, according to Kevin O’Toole, chairman of the board at the Port Authority. The project has managed to stay within budget and on time despite the public health crisis.
Once completed, it will replace Newark Airport’s declining Terminal A. The 1 million-square-foot Terminal One construction site, which employs roughly 750 workers, is ready to expand by 50 more sets of hands as crews prepare to install curtain walls and glass, O’Toole said.
In May, the Port Authority put out a plea to the federal government for help to compensate for a projected $3 billion revenue shortfall. A highly unusual move for the normally self-sustaining agency, Executive Director Rick Cotton said a 97% drop in passenger volume at Newark Airport alone has manifested a crisis.
The major funding challenges pose a threat to $20 billion in other infrastructure projects that Cotton said are desperately needed, including expansion to the Port Authority bus terminal, improvements to JFK Airport and a Newark Airport Airtrain.
On a tour of the Terminal One site on Monday, Cotton said that $3 billion projection has roughly stayed the same. Travel picked up slightly over the past month or two, about 15%, but has again been declining by about 1% each week since the governors of New Jersey, New York and Connecticut put COVID-19 travel rules in place.
Cotton said the rules, which dictate that passengers from 31 states must quarantine upon arrival in the tri-state area, is a must-have policy for public health.
Regardless, Cotton said, Terminal One and the Port Authority’s other infrastructure project at LaGuardia Airport are fully funded, world-class facilities that will be ready for passengers when travel resumes to normal volumes.
“These infrastructure projects are about the long-term, so when this project opens in about 18 months, we expect that travel will have picked up,” Cotton told TAPinto Newark. “Obviously, we don’t know exactly how much, but this has a 30-year time horizon, and we are completely confident that travel will resume. It’s not a question of if, it’s a question of when.”
At the new Terminal One, the passenger experience begins at a top-floor check-in and TSA checkpoint, which filters down to the terminal’s 33 gates, concessions and eateries via elevators and escalators. Port Authority Aviation Director Huntley Lawrence said the agency is deliberately leasing to vendors that reflect the area.
“We are very, very focused on local New Jersey flair, so there are going to be a lot of New Jersey-themed restaurants and locations,” he said. “That’s important to us on this project.”
Cotton and O’Toole echoed a commitment to keeping Terminal One true to local culture, rather than typical corporate restaurant options one might expect to find in an airport.
“I truly think that’s one of the signature approaches that the Port Authority is making, is that each of the airports should not be cookie cutter but have local options so people have a sense of place when they arrive,” Cotton said.
In the present, Port Authority has closed several concourses and terminals given the low passenger volume. Cotton said that all elements of the air travel community are working together to adjust to current conditions.
In the meantime, Terminal One is well on its way to providing the long-awaited modern travel hub for travelers far and wide. Whether COVID-19 will have subsided enough in 18 months for those travelers to populate its gates and concourses is anybody’s guess.