Citing decreased revenue, five years ago the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey “postponed” a bus garage from its 2007-2016 capital plan period to the next capital program. In transportation parlance, “postponed” is often a euphemism for “not likely to ever happen,” a message delivered again by the PANYNJ in its most recently approved 2014-2023 capital program. The omission was scantly observed except by those paying close attention to the lack of bus parking in and around the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan.
The postponed West Side bus garage, once estimated at $1 billion, would provide indoor parking for hundreds of NJ Transit and private buses, sparing dozens of communities on Manhattan’s West Side from the dominating presence of buses on their residential streets. The projected cost is a seemingly massive impediment to the project — that is until you compare it with other projects with a similar price tag that deliver fewer immediate direct transit benefits. One such project is the PATH extension from Newark Penn Station to Newark Liberty International Airport.
With Governor Christie still trying to erase the memory of his short-sighted and faulty decision to cancel the ARC Tunnel, the $1.5 billion PATH extension has become his pet project, so it was all but certain to get a thumbs up from the PANYNJ board during last month’s meeting. However, given that buses actually move more people between New York and New Jersey than trains, and the fact that there’s already existing transit service to Newark Liberty International Airport, is this how $1.5 billion of limited funds should be spent in the Port Authority’s next capital program?
In 2012, more than 373,000 people used buses into and out of New Jersey (via Lincoln and Holland Tunnels) each workday. That’s like having everyone in Mercer County, NJ (population 366,513) riding buses across the lower Hudson River every day. From 2003-2012, the number of bus riders through these tunnels increased 18 percent. And yet, there is no significant capital project in the PANYNJ’s program that addresses the significant growth in bus travel.
Yes, the $1.4 billion Lincoln Tunnel Helix Reconstruction, which is included in the 2014-2023 capital program, will deliver significant benefits for bus riders by easing the funneling of more than 1,800 buses into the Lincoln Tunnel Exclusive Bus Lane each morning. But it is not a dedicated capital bus project. There isn’t even money in the next capital program for a rehab of the Port Authority Bus Terminal, an omission lamented by some at last month’s board meeting and yesterday by PANYNJ board member, Kenneth Lipper. While the George Washington Bridge Bus Terminal is getting a facelift (PANYNJ share = $83 million) and the PABT got information kiosks just in time for the Super Bowl (PANYNJ cost = $1 million), $84 million is a drop in the bucket for capital bus investments.
Bus service continues to be neglected by the PANYNJ with no serious attention given to capital improvements. Instead, redundant rail service to Newark Liberty International Airport is prioritized. Even the PANYNJ acknowledges, “Getting to and from Newark on AirTrain is fast and easy. AirTrain Newark provides easy connections to and from NJ Transit, PATH and Amtrak through one gateway: Newark Liberty International Airport Station.” The PATH extension is expected to be completed in 2024. In the meantime, bus travel will likely flatten and possibly decrease given the constraints on bus infrastructure. Imagine how $1.5 billion could enhance trans-Hudson bus commuting over the next decade: a bigger, better, PABT; a westbound Exclusive Bus Lane in the Lincoln Tunnel (which was successful during the Super Bowl) during the p.m. peak; more bus parking facilities; better technology.
Buses make it possible for people of all different means, abilities, and preferences to access jobs between New York and New Jersey. The road and rail infrastructure are at capacity and with the proposed Gateway Tunnel far off into the future, the most fiscally responsible, environmentally sustainable, and common-sense solution to improving transit in the short-term is for the PANYNJ to make serious capital investments in bus service.