The COVID19 crisis has slowed global air travel to a virtual standstill in the last several months, but the impacts don’t seem to have halted momentum to complete a $2.7-billion state-of-the-art terminal aimed at raising the perennially low profile of Newark Liberty International Airport in Newark, N.J., as well as helping propel some recovery for the New York-New Jersey region’s hard-hit economy.

Construction of Terminal 1—which airport owner Port Authority of New York and New Jersey started in 2018, and which continued as “essential” as other projects in the state shut down for more than two months—is set to deliver a 1-million-sq-ft facility and 33 new gates to replace the outmoded 47-year-old Terminal A, and create a needed 21st-century regional air hub.

"We never paused," claims Ron Tutor, chairman and CEO of California-based contractor Tutor-Perini Corp., which in joint venture with Parsons Transportation Corp. won Terminal 1’s fixed-price design-build contract.

PANYNJ has said initially it intended to complete the terminal’s first 21 gates by “late” next year, with full operation by the end of 2022. but it remains unclear if those deadlines will hold post-virus.

Budget 'Hole'?

Despite a very steep falloff in regional travel and commerce that executive director Rick Cotton said in May “blew a $3-billion hole” in PANYNJ revenue over the next two years, the agency has said funding for Terminal 1 is in place; it has not publicly announced funding changes or completion delays.

The project is the largest PANYNJ has ever done in New Jersey. Tutor says “it’s too soon” to comment on potential impacts to schedule or budget.

According to agency statistics, the airport employs about 21,000 people directly and contributes more than $27 billion in regional economic activity. PANYNJ says Terminal 1 will create an additional 23,000 jobs.

The new terminal will alleviate issues in Terminal A, which include too-tight areas for check-in, security and baggage claim, as well as space constraints on frontage roads. A new 3,000-car parking facility also will be built. Airline tenants in the new terminal have not yet been announced. Airlines now using Terminal A include American, JetBlue, Air Canada and Alaska.

Having some 40 months to deliver the first 21 gates is “a phenomenally short time frame,” says Michael Garz, senior vice president of team design firm STV. “We had to make significant decisions very early on.” Terminal A, which opened in 1973, was designed with a maximum capacity of 9 million passengers a year. Terminal 1 will handle 13.6 million annual travelers and could expand.

Terminal architect Grimshaw’s Mark Husser, project partner in charge, and Nikolas Dando-Haenisch, design manager, say its design emphasizes “clear lines of circulation and intuitive wayfinding, creating ease of movement in a naturally light, open and inviting environment.”

Common Use Approach

They also note a “central element” that is now emerging in aviation, “the common use approach of the facility.” Terminal 1 will allow for “interchangeability of check-in, processing, gate assignments and other aspects to allow for operational flexibility and adaptability as the industry addresses change,” say the executives.

  While all three New York City regional airports are on tight sites compared with many others in the U.S., Terminal 1 was able to be located on space vacated by UPS and Postal Service facilities. Recent construction work has not had as much of an impact on day-to-day airport operations as at LaGuardia Airport in Queens N.Y., now undergoing an $8-billion upgrade of facilities and infrastructure while in use.

Specific protocols to address health and safety are currently under review to allow the terminal to reflect appropriate recommendations at the time of opening,” say Husser and Dando-Haenisch. The terminal will be built to a LEED Silver sustainability rating. According to STV’s Garz, the team completed the design within 18 months from the notice to proceed, accommodating an “evolution” in standards by the Port Authority.

Nigel Newton, New Jersey office manager for transportation at Parsons, says the major challenge “was executing a design-build contract surrounded by seven other design-bid-build contracts.” He says they all “had to coordinate regarding utility reconstruction, land availability and schedule.” But according to Newton, COVID-19 eased some aspects of work, “including building pipe connections between the new terminal and the central heating-cooling plant. The trench for the pipes had to be built through a parking lot, and reduced use of that lot helped accelerate our work.”

This job is in a wide-open area with no connections to any existing buildings,” says Tutor. “It makes our job easier.” He says COVID-19 work protocols and impacts caused some terminal subcontractors to stop work temporarily, but overall project work has not been interrupted.

Forward Spin

With about 800 workers on site, crews completed steel erection and have begun constructing a 1,000-ft-long bridge that spans the front facade of the new terminal as well as a pedestrian bridge that will connect to the new parking garage, says Tutor. 

Terminal A’s current configuration, with gates clustered in a circle, has been an issue in airplane maneuverability.

At the new terminal, gates will be arrayed along three long wings, which also can provide more space for larger aircraft, such as Boeing 777s. The new terminal is designed with the option to expand to 45 gates. Other airside improvements include the addition of dual taxi-lanes to help planes travel faster to and from gates.

Hired last year to manage and operate Terminal 1 and run its concessions is well-known Munich Airport International, which Cotton said “allows us to deliver on that promise of operational excellence.”

Still on the PANYNJ drawing board is a new $2-billion whole airport monorail to replace the existing 23-year-old system. The agency’s current financial situation leaves its budget, scope and timing unclear.

How quickly regional air travel will return to the pace that triggered the need for Newark Airport's expanded facilities also remains to be seen, as does the amount of federal funding that PANYNJ will receive to keep its ambitious capital investment program intact.

"If we don’t get federal aid, we’re going to be looking at every project,” Cotton said in May.