A long, treacherous path to reform the PA and build a new bus terminal

Rival interests between NY and NJ have bedeviled efforts of the Port Authority going back as far the construction of the George Washington Bridge when NJ wanted its Roebling Mill to provide the steel. More recently the PA has strayed from its core mission of transporting people and goods between the two states and instead has made huge investments in non-transportation areas – primarily real estate. The largest investment was the World Trade Center but others continue today. It is time for them to disinvest themselves of these extraneous efforts and return to their core mission.

Problems at the PA started to gain public attention in 2012 with the multi-year huge toll increases stealthily imposed which will continue through 2016 with a $15 charge for cars to cross bridges and tunnels. (Vehicles with six axles will pay $126, a cost transferred to us consumers.) Much of the income derived will go toward non-transportation projects, indeed to bond holders, who now, rather than customers, hold sway over the PA. The problems then reached a boiling point with Bridgegate when Gov. Christie stuffed the PA with political appointees who felt free to close lanes to the GW Bridge presumably to punish a mayor for not supporting the governor’s re-election.

Yesterday in Hackensack Sen. Bob Gordon, Chair of the Oversight Committee, held a public hearing on reforming the PA. The committee’s other key concern is the PA midtown bus terminal which after 60 years is dilapidated with a leaking roof, long lines for bus users and pigeons flying inside, plus, a complete inability to handle the current load of bus users, much less that anticipated in coming years. It is incredible that it took the PA over 60 years to even consider a new terminal.

The Port Authority will hold its next board meeting tomorrow where there is a scheduled vote on authorizing the construction of a new bus terminal, most likely one block away from the current one. The issue was discussed at the last meeting where the Board Vice Chair from NY raised objections.

Sen. Loretta Weinberg at the oversight hearing urged a meeting, preferably at the bus terminal, of the board members, probably none of whom ever go there or are aware enough of its problems. She further pointed out that although a favorable vote might be reached tomorrow there is no assurance that as a result the bus terminal will then be added to the PA’s 10-year capital budget plan.

Reforming the PA has proven to be difficult with long delays. Essentially there are four parties which must reach mutual agreement: the NJ legislature, the NY legislature, the NJ governor, and the NY governor. They came close to the objective when in June last year the NY legislature passed a reform bill signed by Governor Cuomo and approved by Governor Christie. The NJ legislature, however, felt that it lacked key requirements and was “too advantageous to New York,” so it passed its own bill. Then Gov. Christie and New York Gov. Cuomo announced on a Saturday during the Christmas holiday they would “embrace” Port Authority reforms recommended by a panel they appointed in May, but would veto a key piece of reform legislation adopted overwhelmingly by the legislature of both states.

It’s back to square one now with the NJ legislature trying to craft a new reform bill, hopefully one accepted by all parties – a challenging task. On the table also is a bill sponsored by Senate Minority leader Tom Kean which he describes as a hybrid between the NY and NJ bills.

Gaining a new midtown terminal and reforming the Port Authority might loosely be compared to the Mets efforts at becoming a superior baseball team – something lots of people desired but it took forever. They achieved their goal this year. However, we still have a long and treacherous PA path ahead.

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