TRANSPORTATION

As it plans new NYC bus terminal, Port Authority gets earful from commuters

BY Brenda Flanagan, Senior Correspondent |

The Port Authority plans to replace its overcrowded and obsolete bus terminal in midtown Manhattan, and it invited members of the public to a hearing in Springfield to weigh in on which of three options it should pursue.

Commuter Kalitta Phipps was among the handful of people who took the regional transportation agency up on the offer. And she came loaded for bear on what’s wrong with the existing terminal, offering a distillation of what many of her bus-riding counterparts experience every day.

“There are often times, due to the increased ridership, that we have lines crawling all over the building,” she said. “There’s no one to direct traffic. Obviously space is an issue there.

“It’s confusing,” she went on. “No one knows where they’re standing. Sometimes it leads to fighting, if there’s no one to manage it. You have people who have the [NJ] Transit clip boards and vests on, but they’re off in their booth. So you’re kind of left off to yourself.”

The nearly 70-year-old terminal on 8th Avenue at 40th Street handles 860 buses an hour during rush hours and a total of 260,000 daily passenger trips. That’s expected to jump by 30% in two decades as the bi-state agency looks to boost mass transit ridership. Right now, there’s not enough space for riders or the increasingly larger buses they arrive on, which are often forced to wait their turn in staging areas in the busy neighborhood surrounding the terminal.

The Port Authority officials said they know about the problems.

“And now most of [the buses] are 45-footers, right? So there are more people on the bus, you know,” said Diannae Ehler, director of tunnels, bridges and terminals for the agency. “Most of the number of buses haven’t changed. The number of people using the terminal have gone up.”

The agency has narrowed down to three its design options to replace the terminal, with a timeline of completion by 2030:

  • Constructing a larger facility at the present location, in stages — from the top down.
  • Rehabbing the existing structure, while commuter buses keep running, and moving long-distance bus service to a new facility under the Javits Convention Center on 11th Avenue.
  • Building an entirely new combined terminal under the Javits Center.

Transportation advocate Janna Chernetz fears none of those plans is ambitious enough and worries that whatever form the replacement takes, it could be obsolete when it opens.

“Well, I’m concerned about that. We’ve seen that in the past, with the original bus terminal,” she said. “Looking at the numbers now, they’re building to meet 2040, it’s opening in 2030.”

Chernetz, who is New Jersey policy director for the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, said it’s also essential for the Gateway rail tunnel project to be built. “And we have to keep in mind that there is another large mega-project that is needed in this region to increase cross-Hudson capacity,” she said.

But Gateway, which ultimately would add two rail tubes under the Hudson for NJ Transit and Amtrak trains, is stuck in political traffic, as regional officials battle with Washington over funding.

Also represented Thursday night were bus companies that want a larger terminal, one that’s flexible enough to accommodate electric-powered buses and other modern vehicles.

“Perhaps longer buses, or higher buses, or even articulated buses,” said Carol Katz of Katz Government Affairs. “The bus terminal should contain parking areas where buses can wait when a gate is not yet vacated, without holding up traffic in the terminal.”

The Port Authority has budgeted $3.5 billion for the new terminal, but the overall cost could hit $10 billion depending on which of the three designs it chooses.

The agency will ask for environmental impact statements for each option and then pick a winner. Officials say construction could start by 2022.

Commuters and others who want to comment on the new terminal can do so by email, by Sept. 18, at ReplacePABTcomment@panynj.com.