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LaGuardia Airport to get a $3.6b rehab

Reviled terminal will be replaced

In 2012, Travel and Leisure magazine named LaGuardia the nation’s worst airport.

FRANK ELTMAN/ASSOCIATED PRESS

In 2012, Travel and Leisure magazine named LaGuardia the nation’s worst airport.

NEW YORK — Dark, dingy, cramped, and sad. These are some of the ways travelers describe LaGuardia Airport, a bustling hub often ranked in customer satisfaction surveys as the worst in America.

‘‘It does not represent what people think of when they think of New York and Broadway shows and glamour. It’s not very pretty,’’ said Layla House, a sales manager who travels from her home in Texas, to New York at least six times a year.

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That’s about to change.

Governor Andrew Cuomo recently said the state is taking control of a $3.6 billion construction project that envisions an entirely new central terminal at LaGuardia, with vast open spaces, restaurants, shopping plazas, garages, free Wi-Fi, and other amenities common in other airports. He also wants a plan to upgrade cargo operations at nearby John F. Kennedy International Airport.

‘‘We are going to redevelop those airports the way they should have been redeveloped many, many years ago,’’ he said.

Cuomo said he became frustrated that talk about renovations has been going on since the 1990s, with little progress.

He wants to jump-start construction, as he did with a $3.9 billion project to replace the Tappan Zee Bridge, north of New York City.

LaGuardia, in northern Queens, is the closest of the New York area’s three major airports to midtown Manhattan. It handled a record 27 million passengers last year.

The central terminal opened just in time to receive visitors to the 1964 World’s Fair. Many travelers say being in it is like stepping back in time.

They encounter low ceilings and dimly lit, narrow hallways. Check-in kiosks are arrayed haphazardly. A modest food court features a hamburger counter, a pizzeria, and a Dunkin’ Donuts.

‘‘It’s probably the worst of all the terminals I go in and out of,’’ said Thomas Smith, a frequent-flying energy company executive from Chicago who has seen buckets on the floor under leaky ceilings and other signs of decay. ‘‘There’s no real food service other than small snack shops. The gate areas are old.’’

Most passengers have to drag their carry-on bags down a flight of stairs; only one concourse has an escalator.

Built to accommodate 8 million passengers a year, the central terminal now handles about 12.5 million.

Cuomo envisions a new terminal that could handle as many as 17.5 million passengers a year by 2030.

LaGuardia’s three other terminals — including the Art Deco-style Marine Air Terminal, which Delta Shuttle flights to and from Boston use — are not slated for renovation.

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