PATH Extension Project Threatened By ‘Parochial’ Interests Say Critics

By David Cruz

At the recent Port Authority board meeting they were lining up to advocate for their share of the multi-billion dollar capitol spending that was on the table, but with so many projects to pay for and not enough dough to pay for them all, something’s got to give, and it looks like Newark may end up having to wait for its share. The board approved a 10-year, $16 billion capital plan that included:

– A new terminal A at Newark Airport. Price tag: $2.3 billion
– A new Terminal B at LaGuardia: $5.3 billion
– A $35 million share of Phase I of the Gateway Tunnel
– $150 million for the rehab of approaches to the GWB
– Dredging Newark Bay: $10 million
– $10 billion for a new Port Authority Bus Terminal
– $1.5 billion for PATH extension to Newark Airport

But that last item, which has been on the Port Authority radar for two decades and would connect a depressed South Ward neighborhood to the airport, is seen by some as expendable.

“That project should be put off right now to free up some much-needed money so that projects such as the Port Authority Bus Terminal can be funded,” said Janna Chernetz, the senior New Jersey policy analyst for Tri-State Transportation Campaign. “This would free up approximately $1.5 billion.”

Bergen County lawmakers, including Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg and fellow Democrat Robert Gordon, have pushed for a new bus terminal and have also called the Newark PATH project expendable. They say the bus terminal will handle 4.7 million passengers a month compared to about 180,000 per month for the PATH extension.

“I feel there’s some parochialism in the decision-making that has been made because who benefits from the $16 billion commitment? It’s basically Bergen County,” charged former Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver. “I think Essex and the other communities are getting short-shrifted.”

This neighborhood doesn’t look like much today but it’s right across the street from Weequahic Park in what used to be one of the swankiest neighborhoods in Newark. The councilman for this ward says a new PATH station here would be transformative.

“It is one of the cheaper of the billion dollar projects and it would probably be done the fastest, if they break ground in 2018,” said Councilman John Sharpe James. “It would be a boon to that area with construction jobs. It might take four years to construct, so they would really appreciate that. And we also have two or three hotels that have expressed interest in coming to that area, so it would really be an economic boon to those living there.”

Mayor Ras Baraka, who was not at the board meeting last week, has expressed support for the project, which is in the ward he once represented. But without some more ardent support from the mayor, external forces may — yet again — negatively impact a project that could do his city some good.