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Yikes: Major traffic disruptions are coming to New York JFK in time for peak summer

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It’s going to be a miserable summer for travelers passing through New York’s busiest airport.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey — which manages and oversees the John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) — gave an update on Tuesday for what travelers can expect in the coming weeks and months as the airport redevelopment construction approaches peak activity.

JFK is currently undergoing a $19 billion transformation — the largest of any U.S. airport to date. As part of that, flyers will soon enjoy a brand-new Terminal 1 and Terminal 6, in addition to recently opened improvements in Terminals 4 and 8.

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While the highlight of the JFK redevelopment will undoubtedly be the new and upgraded terminals, the Port Authority is also investing $3.9 billion in revamped airport roadways.

two people speaking at the port authority presentation

It’s that last point that will cause the biggest headache for travelers, Rick Cotton, the agency’s executive director, said on Tuesday. In some cases, the Port Authority is projecting traffic on airport roadways in excess of 30 minutes, and it’s strongly advising travelers to seek alternative transportation methods for getting to and from JFK.

All of this comes as JFK is expected to welcome more than 18 million passengers this summer, a record-breaking number that could result in gridlock across the airport.

That said, the Port Authority promises that this short-term pain will lead to long-term gain for those passing through JFK.

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Here’s everything you need to know about traveling through JFK this summer — and the latest on the new terminal developments.

Driving to JFK will be a pain

With the start of the summer travel season just days away, you’ll want to pack lots of extra patience when traveling to or from JFK.

There will be a litany of road closures and traffic pattern changes going into effect over the coming weeks and months — so many that the Port Authority didn’t list all of them in its Tuesday presentation.

Travelers should expect delays at all terminal roadways and frontages, periodic lane closures on both highways (the Belt Parkway and the Van Wyck Expressway) accessing the airport, reduced roadway capacity throughout the airport, and traffic pattern changes and detours.

map of jfk roadways

The one permanent change publicized on Tuesday is that accessing the existing Terminal 1 from Long Island will require a detour from the JFK Expressway.

This new route will be in place for the next two years (until the new Terminal One is complete), and travelers should add at least 15 minutes of travel time to access this terminal.

Other terminals will remain accessible directly from the JFK Expressway.

As for the other traffic changes, the Port Authority is promising real-time instructions from Port Authority police officers. Travelers should expect extended holds at traffic lights and possible redirection to either arrivals or departures levels depending on traffic flow.

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As part of Tuesday’s announcement, the Port Authority showed off its airport operations center, which opened in 2019 and oversees the entire airport in one “war room.” The AOC has both an airside and landside section — the latter of which will be used by the Port Authority to monitor traffic patterns.

map of jfk

Once complete, the $3.9 billion roadway redevelopment project will bring over 6 miles of new roads, eight new bridges, major modifications to five existing bridges and 34 new wayfinding structures.

In total, the enhanced roadway structure will lead to 30% fewer decision points for drivers and a 30% reduction in traffic merges or weaves.

3,500 fewer parking spots

If you’re planning to park at JFK, you’ll want to pay attention to this. The airport has lost more than 3,500 parking spots due to the ongoing construction.

Multiple lots have been affected, mostly those close to the terminal roadways.

The Port Authority has opened new remote lots to help make room for more cars, but there’s one thing you should do if you’re planning to park at JFK: pre-book a spot well in advance.

What you should do about traffic

Aside from packing lots of patience, the Port Authority has some tips for travelers navigating JFK this summer.

The first is to use mass transit. “We have a secret weapon: the AirTrain,” Cotton said.

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The agency is recommending that all travelers take the AirTrain to the airport. (It stops at all terminals.)

The Long Island Rail Road and E, J and Z subway lines stop at Jamaica, which is just a 20-minute (and $8.50) AirTrain ride to and from JFK.

Alternatively, you can take the A subway line to Howard Beach station, which is a six-minute (and $8.50) AirTrain ride from the airport.

For those who prefer to take a car to the airport, the Port Authority is opening a new “free and easy” lot adjacent to the Lefferts Blvd AirTrain station. This lot will offer drivers free access for drop-offs and pickups and will be connected to JFK with a free 24/7 AirTrain ride.

parking lot map jfk

This lot is expected to open in early June.

New JFK terminals are coming along

All of this roadway work pales in comparison to what’s coming in 2026: the opening of two brand-new JFK terminals.

The biggest project is the $9.5 billion new Terminal One, which will become one of JFK’s flagship international terminals.

new terminal one jfk

The new Terminal One at JFK will incorporate the current and former sites of terminals 1, 2 and 3 into a massive, 2.4 million-square-foot international terminal. It will anchor the south side of the airport.

When complete, the new terminal will be the largest at JFK — nearly the same size as two new terminals at LaGuardia Airport (LGA) combined. The first big milestone, which includes the new arrivals and departures hall and the first set of 14 new gates, is expected to open in 2026.

terminal rendering jfk

When fully complete in 2030, the new Terminal One will feature 23 gates, a redesigned check-in hall and overhauled arrival spaces. (The existing Terminal 1 and the recently shuttered Terminal 2 have 12 and 11 gates, respectively.)

The other new terminal is Terminal 6. Once complete, this $4.2 billion project will span 1.2 million square feet and offer 10 new gates — nine of which can handle wide-body jets. The new terminal is being built adjacent to the existing Terminal 5, which is home to JetBlue Airways’ JFK hub.

airport rendering jfk

Once complete, the two terminals will be connected airside, giving flyers a more seamless connecting experience.

When it first opens in 2026, only five of the terminal’s 10 gates will be ready; the remaining five are due to be completed by 2028.

Bottom line

JFK is getting a major $19 billion makeover, and with it comes some big headaches while the construction work is underway.

Travelers should expect lots of traffic and lane closures this summer, which could turn into gridlock on some of the busiest days of the season.

The best way to avoid it all will be to take public transportation. Do whatever you can to take the AirTrain to or from the terminals.

The good news is that all of these adjustments are temporary. They’ll be a headache this summer (and through the upcoming year), but at least they’re making way for what looks to be two beautiful new terminals.

“Where we are headed is worth both the wait and the inconvenience you will experience,” Cotton promised.