- Associated Press - Thursday, March 24, 2016

NEW YORK (AP) - A $4 billion redevelopment of aging LaGuardia Airport was approved on Thursday after an unusually contentious board meeting that exposed divisions between members on how much the project is going to cost and how it should be managed.

The resolution ultimately passed unanimously but with an asterisk: Port Authority of New York and New Jersey board members also voted to rewrite policies governing how large-scale projects like LaGuardia are approved.

The move was prompted by board member Kenneth Lipper’s strong opposition to the LaGuardia resolution’s giving more power to the Port Authority’s executive director and a subcommittee instead of to the board.

Lipper expressed concern that the airport redevelopment would go the way of the World Trade Center transportation hub, which changed scope several times and has cost billions more than projected. He called the initial LaGuardia resolution “illegal and a dereliction of duty.”

That generated harsh words from other board members. At one point Executive Director Patrick Foye said he would recommend that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo veto Lipper’s alternate resolution.

The tone grew more tense when Foye and Chairman John Degnan sparred over the cost of the LaGuardia project. Foye castigated a published report this week that put the total cost at over $5 billion when work in recent years is included; Degnan followed by saying the report was accurate and that he “completely disassociated” himself from Foye’s comments.

The overhaul will remake the airport’s footprint and build a new central terminal to replace the cramped, boomerang-shaped edifice that opened in 1964. Vice President Joe Biden likened the airport to “a Third World Country” during a visit in 2014.

Foye downplayed the public display of disunity, calling it “a robust discussion from commissioners of both states in good faith debating the issues.”

The action on LaGuardia was one of several big-ticket items taken up Thursday. The board also voted to build a planned new bus terminal in Manhattan, allaying concerns from New Jersey politicians - several of whom attended the meeting - that it would be built in New Jersey, an idea floated by the board’s vice chairman in recent months. The new terminal is expected to cost between $10 billion and $15 billion.

Additionally, the board approved a $2.3 billion project to build a new Terminal A at Newark Liberty Airport. It also approved a memorandum of understanding between the Port Authority, federal Department of Transportation, Amtrak and New Jersey Transit on the management of the estimated $20 billion Gateway project to build a new rail tunnel under the Hudson River and make several other major infrastructure improvements.

The Port Authority has endured sustained criticism for the 2013 George Washington Bridge lane-closing scandal, which led to criminal charges against two former executives, and it is being investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission and Manhattan D.A.’s office over its business practices. Among the byproducts of its efforts to be more transparent in the wake of those developments are scenes like Thursday’s.

“Openness and transparency, which has been urged on this agency for years, are missing, but when working properly they get things done,” Degnan said. “I agree with Pat that this is most significant step forward in contributing to the regional transportation infrastructure that the Port Authority has made in its modern era. The fact that it included some disagreements - don’t complain about what you asked for.”

The location of the bus terminal was part of the negotiation that resulted in New Jersey’s board members approving the LaGuardia project.

“The New Jersey commissioners negotiated with the New York commissioners,” said state Senate President Steve Sweeney, who attended with fellow Sens. Loretta Weinberg, Bob Gordon and Tom Kean Jr. “It’s the way a bistate authority is supposed to work, focusing on the needs of both states.”

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