NJ Lawmakers Concerned About Port Authority Capital Plan

By Michael Hill

Port Authority executives called the agency’s 10-year, $32 billion capital plan the right one to keep commuters moving the next decade and beyond.

“The Port Authority’s largest ever,” said Port Authority CFO Elizabeth McCarthy.

The state Senate Legislative Oversight Committee says the biggest plan is not the best plan for the region’s growing transportation needs. The committee chair said there are growing doubts.

“That $3 billion will be adequate to ensure the construction of the terminal is complete, or nearly complete, by the end of the 10-year period. Any delay in construction will have long lasting negative repercussions for a commuter state like New Jersey, whose economy depends on the ability to move people and goods in a safe and efficient manner,” said Sen. Bob Gordon.

Port executives assured senators the plan is a work in progress that includes quarterly monitoring of expenses, reviewing the capital plan every two years and delaying lower priority projects to free up money for high priority ones such as a new bus terminal.

The Port Authority’s own projections show ridership growing and so is the frustration of senators who say the project is already two years overdue.

“So I would ask why is it the only project in the capital plan that doesn’t have a projected construction start date?” asked Sen. Loretta Weinberg.

“We’re still in the early stage of community engagement process,” McCarthy said.

The answers failed to inspire the committee.

“At then end of 10 years will we have a foundation? Is that what you’re saying?” Weinberg asked.

“I’m not saying that. It’s just, we will have the — again looking forward, we anticipate having all the environmental approvals in place, all the permitting, all the design and the construction well underway,” said Steven Plate, chief of major capital projects for the Port Authority.

“I guess you’re not making us all feel comfortable that we’re actually going to get a new bus terminal sometime in the foreseeable future,” Weinberg said.

Transportation advocates criticized the Port Authority for planning to build major projects — the Gateway Tunnel, a new bus terminal and PATH rail extension to Newark Liberty — independent of each other.

“They should not be planned in isolation of each other,” said Mark Lohbauer, Regional Plan Association director.

“Some of the things I heard are extremely alarming,” said Janna Chernetz, senior New Jersey policy analyst for the Tri-State Transportation Campaign.

In his closing statements about the Port Authority testimony, Gordon, a chair of the committee, offered a gloomy assessment.

“We have misplaced our priorities here that will have — if some of the scenarios described by you two should materialize we could see an economic depression in North Jersey,” Gordon said.

The public will have a chance to comment on the Port Authority’s capital plan — including the new bus terminal — later this month.