The NY/NJ Port Authority Commissioners have a scheduled meeting today. Let’s remember the PA was established to serve bi-state transportation needs. Over the years it ventured into expensive real estate and give-aways to both governors (including a recent $900 million multi-year slush fund for them) which jeopardize its core transportation mission. Its reach has exceeded its grasp. The result has been dilapidated tunnels, bus terminals, ports, bridges, and airports. It now faces the urgent need to make major investments in the Gateway tunnel, Midtown Bus Terminal and other aging infrastructure.
As the Record explains after an interview with Board Chair John Degnan:
“More money could be freed up by selling or leasing some of the Port Authority’s land, buildings and air rights to private developers,” Degnan said. Much of that money could come from the World Trade Center, but such an arrangement would be complex because many of the bonds sold to pay for the construction are backed by revenue from the Port Authority’s other facilities, including bridge tolls and airport fees.
It is normal for corporations to consolidate their revenue streams in order to be more attractive to bond purchasers. However, the PA is not just any corporation. It has an overarching responsibility to users of its transportation services. Its real estate arm includes some fallow properties (including air rights) which generate no income and most importantly the World Trade Center which devours cash. Last year Estimated Gross Revenue from its Bridges, Tunnels, and Terminals was $1.4 billion (page 60) and its expenses were $439 million (Page 64), so the surplus became available for whatever use the PA wanted. It is not wise that tolls for bridges and tunnels which have increased in the past few years from $7 to a scheduled $15 this december be diverted to subsidize real estate ventures and demands from PA’s uber-bosses (the two governors.)
The needs, particularly for the Gateway Tunnel and the Midtown bus Terminal, are within the PA’s grasp. By divesting itself of real estate and returning to its core mission the funds are are there. Combined with state and federal monies, there is a path that can assure its infrastructure, some of which is over 100 years old, will be rebuilt or replaced to meet today’s and tomorrow’s needs.