NJ Transportation Funding Plan Would Shortchange Bus Riders

Limited capacity at the Port Authority Bus Terminal translates into congestion in New Jersey and on local NYC streets.

An article in last week’s Wall Street Journal indicated a dire need to do something about the Port Authority Bus Terminal, which has reached its capacity, as TSTC has pointed out in reports and videos. But New Jersey’s plan to divert over $1.5 billion in Port Authority money would make it much harder to fund projects to relieve the crowded terminal and reduce congestion on NJ highways and NYC streets.

The Port Authority Bus Terminal accomodates about 6,000 buses that travel underneath the Hudson River every day. Those buses account for 225,000 passenger trips each day — mostly New Jersey residents commuting to and from Manhattan. In the mornings, NY-bound buses wait in the Lincoln Tunnel, on its approaches, and on ramps leading into the terminal until gates open up. During the day, the buses go back to New Jersey (empty) because there are no available gates to park. These same buses then return to Manhattan (empty) to pick up commuters and go back to New Jersey. The terminal is so busy that in the evenings, buses are diverted to Manhattan streets — like planes circling the runway — to make way for other buses . About one in 10 NJ Transit buses leave the terminal at least six minutes late between 3:30 p.m. and 7 p.m.

Money that had been dedicated to the cancelled ARC rail tunnel could go to improvements like a second Manhattan-bound bus lane through the Lincoln Tunnel in the morning, a westbound bus lane during evening rush hours, additional NJ Transit buses, a bus garage on the West Side of Manhattan where buses could park, and a reconstructed Lincoln Tunnel helix. In fact, Port Authority executive director Chris Ward put improvements to the bus terminal “at the top of his list,” according to the Journal.

Not so fast, Port Authority. Enter Governor Christie, who has used the cancellation as an opportunity to get NJ’s hands on this pot of money and bail out the state’s soon-to-be-bankrupt Transportation Trust Fund. Christie’s 5-year transportation funding plan would divert more than $343 million a year of Port Authority money for NJDOT projects.  Principal projects to be funded with Port Authority money originally earmarked for ARC include the repairs to the Pulaski Skyway;  the Route 7 Wittpenn Bridge in Kearny; Route 139 Viaduct; and the Route 1 & 9 Truck Extension known as Portway New Road in Jersey City.

As previously reported in MTR, NJDOT Commissioner Jim Simpson has described PANYNJ’s contributions to the NJ projects as pretty much a done deal.  But the resolution passed during the Authority’s March meeting merely “authorizes” its executive director to “effectuate the Port Authority’s participation” in these projects — or in “suitable replacement projects mutually agreed upon with NJDOT.” That doesn’t indicate a done deal.

To its credit, the Christie administration has committed to increasing bus service in northern New Jersey cities. But it’s missing an opportunity to reduce congestion and improve bus speeds for hundreds of thousands of cross-Hudson commuters.

Photo: Aristide Economopoulos/The Star-Ledger.

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