Port Authority Chief Has Told It Like It Is on Infrastructure


Multiple news outlets have reported that Port Authority Executive Director Chris Ward will resign by the end of October, after 3 years of leading the agency. During his tenure, Ward kept agency budgets lean and took control of the World Trade Center rebuilding efforts. As Tri-State’s executive director Kate Slevin told the NY Times, Ward also “made a very strong and convincing case for more investment in our infrastructure.”

One recent example of that was a bold speech Ward gave at a NY Building Congress luncheon this summer. For years, transportation infrastructure has been on the decline: bridges are deficient, roads are crumbling, transit systems are aging.  Ward candidly compared the foibles of recent years with the marvels of the Progressive Era (when Grand Central, the subway system, and the underground water network were built). He lamented the passing of an era of bold innovation driven by courageous decision makers who understood the long-term implications of the decisions.  Too many of today’s leaders have kicked the can down the road and left future generations to deal with the consequences, and made it a struggle just to maintain existing infrastructure. Ward said:

The Port Authority recently sought to significantly raise its tolls and fares… In an instant, we became subsumed in the political environment I have been describing – one with little capacity to support the investment our region’s economic backbone so desperately needs.

By the end of it, we emerged with a ten-year capital plan that in some ways is all too modest – one that keeps our transportation network in a state of good repair to be sure, but not one that expands it in any transformative way. That agenda was unthinkable in this environment. […]

Unfortunately, you cannot always do more with less. Sometimes you must simply do more. And until that reality becomes part of our political conversation, we will be playing catch up with the rest of the world.

In the last few years, the nation’s biggest transit project (the Access to the Region’s Core rail tunnel) was cancelled, riders of the nation’s largest transit agency (the MTA) have twice faced the prospect of “doomsday” budgets, transportation construction programs in New York and New Jersey have been patched up with duct tape, the Lake Champlain Bridge in upstate NY had to be blown up after it was found unsafe, and lack of maintenance directly contributed to rail shutdowns in the winter (Metro-North’s New Haven line) and summer (NJ Transit and Amtrak derailments and electrical problems, LIRR switch failures). At the federal level, it often seems as if the best case scenario is the status quo, with massive cuts the only other option.

The financial and political environment hasn’t stopped all progress. But Ward is right to worry about the consequences of continued neglect. Let’s hope the next wave of transportation leaders is thinking about those consequences too.

5 Comments on "Port Authority Chief Has Told It Like It Is on Infrastructure"

  1. As most of your piece suggests, the the political leaders, not the transportation leaders are the problem. Ward and Walder are out the door because they refused to lie about the consequences of continuing disinvestment in transportation. Andrew Cuomo wants to run for president without having to expend political capital on the unpopular new tolls, fees and taxes that must be levied to fund transportation infrastructure. The only job of his new MTA and Port appointees is to make sure the trains don’t derail, and the bridges don’t fall into the river, until the day after he is elected president.

  2. Bernie Goetz | October 3, 2011 at 10:05 pm |

    The article has it exactly backwards. Ward has misled the public. As for “jump starting the WTC site” which most NY media bought hook, line and sinker, its like getting us into Vietnam…. up to our necks. The WTC site is headed for a fiasco, and the recent toll increases probably have backfired (good). Ward expected Cuomo to fire him, but that didn’t happen, so Ward cleverly decided to leave prior to the upcoming train wreck. Puke. It will be interesting to see what happens in the next several months.

  3. Bernie Goetz | October 4, 2011 at 7:38 pm |

    You would think a sudden 50% toll increase would indicate to intelligent people that something is not right. What we are dealing with here is both corruption and stupidity

  4. Bernie Goetz | October 6, 2011 at 7:39 pm |

    And if anyone thinks that Ward “Has Told It Like It Is”, what about the sudden emergency 50% toll increase? This situation didn’t happen overnight. Has he “told It like it Is” over the past 3 years? Or is he just telling us now? He claims he is now the victim of “politics”! Its amazing so many people are so ill informed or so stupid as to believe him. NY and NJ may have to divest themselves of the WTC site. If so, hurray. Its the best thing that could happen.

  5. Bernie Goetz | October 18, 2011 at 11:53 am |

    The best thing for New York and everyone else would be for the PA to divest itself of the WTC site and rescind the toll increases. A new PA director can do that.

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