By Michael Aron
Chief Political Correspondent
The Port Authority board unanimously approved the proposed 10-year capital plan. The big question from a New Jersey perspective was, is there enough money for a new Port Authority Bus Terminal in midtown Manhattan?
“The current terminal is run down, over crowded, depressing and inadequate. I often said I wish that Vice President Joe Biden had come to the bus terminal in addition to LaGuardia Airport because he would have seen what a real Third World transportation hub looks like,” said Sen. Loretta Weinberg.
“Senate Republican leader Tom Kean and my good friend Sen. Joe Kyrillos join Sen. Weinberg, Senate Budget Chair Paul Sarlo and me in expressing our concern that the amount of money being budgeted in the proposed 2017 to 2026 capital plan is simply insufficient,” said Sen. Bob Gordon.
“I can’t help but wonder if this capital plan is really the best we can do,” said Assemblyman John Wisniewski.
Highlights of the proposed capital plan include $3.5 billion over 10 years for a new bus terminal, $2.7 billion for the new Gateway Trans-Hudson Rail Tunnel project and more than $1.5 billion each for two new rail links to Newark Airport from Manhattan and to LaGuardia from Queens.
New York appointee Kenneth Lipper objected to that one.
“The two airport rail projects, one for Newark Airport to the World Trade Center, the other from LaGuardia to Willets Point in Queens are amongst the most ill-conceived projects that I’ve experienced in government,” he said.
Others lobbied for the bus terminal.
“I’ve heard that some, mainly our governors, may think that the bus terminal is a New Jersey project because it mainly serves New Jersey residents. But these residents come to New York to work, to attend Broadway shows and other cultural events, to visit friends and family, to shop and most importantly to spend money in New York,” said Hoboken Councilwoman Tiffany Fisher.
“More trans-Hudson commuters than NJ Transit and Amtrak combined and a bus terminal that serves more than 2.5 times as many annual passengers as LaGuardia, that’s the Port Authority Bus Terminal. And to me it is shocking that we’re still here fighting to make this a priority for the Port Authority,” said Janna Chernetz, Tri-State Transportation Campaign New Jersey policy director.
Port Authority Chairman John Degnan, Gov. Chris Christie’s appointee, is committed to a new bus terminal.
“Am I wildly enthusiastic about every single component of this capital plan? No. Do I think it has enough money to finally erect a new bus terminal in the 10-year period? No. But do I think that if we had more money we could spend it in that 10-year period to get the bus terminal done? I don’t. And I am convinced that if we spend $3.5 billion during that 10-year period this Port Authority will find a way to finish it,” Degnan said.
Estimates have ranged as high as $10 billion for a new bus terminal.
The New Jersey lawmakers seemed today to settle for $3.5 billion over 10 years.
“And no it’s not enough to build a bus terminal within the next 10 years, but again, it’s $3.5 billion that was never considered before,” Weinberg said.
“I’m disappointed. I do think we need a larger amount if we’re going to get this project done,” Gordon said.
“This is one of the longstanding problems the Port Authority has had with how they allocate the revenue. They start projects and they don’t earmark enough money for the project,” Wisniewski said.
The 10-year plan should be published online this week. Two public hearings will be held in coming weeks. The public comment period expires Feb. 15. And the board will meet on Feb. 16 to vote on the final plan.
The 10-year Port Authority capital plan involved no major toll or fare hikes, according to Chairman Degnan, but that could change. It’s interesting to hear a multi-billion dollar agency worry aloud about where all the money is going to coming from.