What the Port Authority Capital Program is Missing

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.

6 Comments on "What the Port Authority Capital Program is Missing"

  1. NJ Transit also has plans to extend the Newark Light Rail to EWR, as a later MOS. It’s like the railroads a century ago racing for access to NYC, except that there’s no profit motive.

  2. Douglas John Bowen | March 26, 2014 at 10:52 am |

    No doubt Gov. Christie’s motives for cancelling ARC are at best suspect. But ARC was deeply, deeply flawed. Gateway, far away though it is, will likely be much better. That’s the position of the New Jersey Association of Railroad Passengers.

  3. The Port Authority still has not begun construction of the cross harbor freight railroad that is and was the only reason it was created. That tunnel could remove huge numbers of long distance trucks from area streets, and also greatly reduce air pollution.

  4. Please get off the ARC tunnel bandwagon. Once the connections to Penn Station NYC and Grand Central Terminal were eliminated (while the costs still rose!), the ARC project became an expensive white elephant. I live in NJ and want to go to the East Side. ARC originally would have given me that connectivity, until it became a terminal to Macy’s basement. Gateway is a much better project than the redacted ARC, but it still doesn’t go to GCT. That solution will hae to be the #7 Subway extension to Secaucus. Long Island gets service to both Penn and GCT, as will MetroNorth passengers. NJ Transit riders deserve the same, and TSTC should be actively supporting this.

  5. Rob Durchola | March 27, 2014 at 9:04 pm |

    @RJA – There was a lot of incorrect information about ARC (as imperfect as it might have been).

    1. Macy’s basement is one block away from Penn Station and there would have been a pedestrian connection. Macy’s basement puts one much closer to Herald Square where there are better subway connections to the East Side, especially if one is destined to locations a few blocks north of Grand Central.

    2. An eventual connection to Grand Central remained possible with ARC. NYC has a MAJOR water conduit that needs to be replaced before a connection to Grand Central could be built from either Penn or Macy’s.

    3. Additional capacity is desperately needed NOW. Killing ARC just delayed the provision of that capacity by an indefinite number of years (assuming Gateway is ever built).

    Sometimes, an imperfect bird in hand is worth more than an ideal bird or two in the bush.

  6. 1.5 BILLION for a PATH extension to EWR?!?!? That’s just crazy expensive!!! It’s just three miles and its a relatively easy straight shot with a good amount of room under the I78 and Rt22 bridges. By comparison he whole RiverLINE cost only 1.1 billion and that includes all the rolling stock and the maintenance sheds to keep them running.

    I’m all for the PATH extension to EWR but you are right. That amount of money could be much better spent.

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