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Demanding Answers: Port Authority Under Fire After LaGuardia Traffic Nightmare

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey was making moves Monday as traffic at LaGuardia Airport has been turning chaotic.

CBS2 reported on the problem last week. Passengers and even pilots this past Friday were forced to grab their bags and walk on dangerous highways, walk over snowy embankments, and climb over fences to make their flights.

CBS2 Political Reporter Marcia Kramer was demanding answers Monday afternoon

The desperate and dangerous situation on Friday stemmed from a traffic backup that extended for miles. It was an embarrassment for both Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who is leading the charge to rebuild the airport, and the Port Authority, which runs it.

Kramer asked Port Authority Executive Director Pat Foye if what happened Friday was in any way acceptable.

"No, the answer is absolutely not," Foye said.

Foye was trying to come to grips Monday with the massive traffic tie-ups at LaGuardia, which have occurred with some predictability for the last six months – ever since construction started to rebuild the airport.

The backups occur on holidays and whenever bad weather forces flight cancellations.

Notably, in late August of last year, passengers ended up parking along the Grand Central Parkway and dragging their luggage along the busy road.

At that time, the Port Authority did not go on camera, but did say they would tinker with the traffic patterns to try to fix things. Changes were made, but the problem is not fixed.

There was also massive gridlock at the airport following a blizzard in January 2016. Passengers flooded the area when delayed flights resumed and traffic from the evening commute made matters even worse. Some people were stuck in traffic for up to five hours and many travelers missed their flights.

On Monday, the Port Authority took several steps to get cars off the roadways. A new taxi stand opened Monday, relocating thousands of taxis from in front of the terminal.

There will also be new signs, a new southbound road for cars to exit faster, and a crackdown on illegal taxi hustlers who clog the terminal roads.

But Kramer wanted to know why all this didn't happen sooner.

Kramer: "Why didn't you do this before? I mean, this isn't a revelation that the airport is under construction. It isn't a revelation that when there's a snowstorm or a weather storm, flights are canceled."

Foye: "Everything the Port Authority police, working with the State Police and the NYPD, can do to ban hustlers and to stop them from interfering with real passengers at LaGuardia Airport arriving and departing, we're doing."

And in the midst of the negative public relations, the agency hired Sam Schwartz – famously know as Gridlock Sam – to advise them on reengineering the traffic. They are now calling him "Anti-Gridlock Sam."

Kramer asked Schwartz about demands from transit experts for park-and-ride lots at Citi Field, and more dedicated buses from subway stops.

"I'm always for more public transportation," Schwartz said.

Stephen Sigmund is the executive director of the Global Gateway Alliance, which addresses transportation challenges in the metro area. He said the Port Authority has not done enough to explore solutions.

"The security line is not supposed to start on the Grand Central Parkway," Sigmund said.

Joe Sitt, also of the Global Gateway Alliance, said the Port Authority should initiate ferry service to the Marine Air Terminal, offer park-and-ride lots at Flushing Meadows and Citi Field, and create an app to report delays.

The Port Authority said it is negotiating with the Mets to use Citi Field, and with the busy President's Day weekend coming up, it will have traffic reports on its website. It will also use social media and radio ads to warn of traffic delays.

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