By David Cruz
When the Port Authority officially put construction of a new Manhattan bus terminal in its strategic plan this year, it looked like a major victory at the end of a long-fought battle for New Jersey commuters.
“It is astounding that this idea for a new bus terminal wasn’t even in the capital budget,” said Sen. Bob Gordon, who co-chairs the Senate Transportation Committee in the New Jersey Legislature.
The PA announced a design competition for a new bus terminal to be built on the west side of Manhattan and the process seemed to be on its way. But at a meeting late last month the agency heard from New York officials — including Congressman Jerrold Nadler — who say they want to put the brakes on the design competition, citing a lack of transparency on the part of the Port Authority.
“We’ve seen no real public engagement, not of the elected officials who represent the community, nor of the city of New York, nor of the local community board, nor of other stakeholders,” complained Nadler. “As a result the competition is based on assumptions and utilizes selection criteria, that have been made with little transparency or public input.”
While it wasn’t unexpected entirely, the pushback from New York prompted an immediate reaction from Sen. Loretta Weinberg, who’s been the driving force — from the Jersey side — behind a new bus terminal. She said she respected Congressman Nadler and others who now object to the terminal but cautioned that this process has been going on for a couple of years now.
“It is time that we move ahead,” she urged the commissioners. “The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s main mission is mass transit. This is the most important mass transit project that is before you.”
In a letter signed by 20 of New Jersey’s state and federal lawmakers last week, the officials called on the Authority to stay on track. “We cannot consider any plan that reduces direct mass transit service to Manhattan,” the letter read. “Pushing more commuters back into their cars would not only make Manhattan traffic and air quality worse, but also add to the commute time of other New Jersey drivers,” concluding that “Building a new bus terminal on the New Jersey side of the Hudson is a recipe for disaster.”
That is something that more than one New York official has suggested. “Why should New York build a new terminal,” they reason, “when it’s New Jersey commuters who need the buses.”
“Thirteen percent is the number of jobs in Manhattan that are filled by people coming from New Jersey,” countered Gordon. “We’re hearing projections of robust job growth in Manhattan. That would be a wonderful thing, but people can’t afford to live in Manhattan, so many of them are living in New Jersey and that growth isn’t going to take place unless we can get those people there through an efficient infrastructure.”
Gordon says he’s willing to work with interested parties but doesn’t think talks can begin until the design phase — the competition — is finished in the fall. The New York side says the talks need to take place before the design competition is complete.
Even with everyone on the same page officials predicted a new Port Authority Bus Terminal would take a decade to complete. But like most things with the Port Authority, the plan’s not final until everybody’s been heard from. And nobody’s really sure how much time that will add to the process.