Thursday’s meeting of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Board of Commissioners resulted in some big news for people whose commutes take them from one side of the Hudson River to the other.
Port Authority Bus Terminal
It would seem obvious that a new Port Authority Bus Terminal would A) be located in Manhattan and not, say, in Secaucus and B) be included in the Authority’s capital program. But until yesterday, that wasn’t actually the case. The Board voted to approve a resolution that not only takes New Jersey off the table as a possible location for the new terminal, a location Vice Chairman Scott Rechler had wanted to explore, and formally makes the terminal an official component of the 10-year capital program. The resolution had support from a bi-partisan cadre of New Jersey legislators including Senate President Steve Sweeney, Senator Loretta Weinberg, Senator Robert Gordon and Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean.
Great to see Senators Gordon Kean & Weinberg stand in bipartisan unity fighting for new PA bus terminal in Manhattan https://t.co/uoFyYqggTX
— Steve Sweeney (@NJSenatePres) March 22, 2016
The legislators expressed concern that having the terminal on the west side of the Hudson would result in longer commutes — the last thing New Jersey needs. One in seven Garden State commuters have “mega commutes” of one hour or more — the second highest rate in the nation.
Not much else besides the new terminal’s home state has been decided. Currently, those details are being left to an “International Design Competition.” At a projected cost of $7.5 to $10 billion, there is no room for error. A new Port Authority Bus Terminal must be designed to meet the demands of ridership beyond the 2040 date that commissioners are advocating. This must be a 50-, 75- or even 100-year project. Otherwise, it’ll be like taking a page right of the terminal’s own history: the original bus terminal was built in 1950, but reached capacity just 16 years later.
This project will outlast administrations in both New Jersey and New York as well as the tenures of Port Authority board commissioners, but it must remain a capital program priority. The Port Authority has a number of critical assets all competing for scarce funding, but future commissioners and elected officials must prioritize this over other investments, such as improvements to La Guardia and Newark Airports. The bus terminal serves more passengers than both airports combined. Based on this measure alone, it should remain the Authority’s top priority.
Also at Thursday’s meeting, the commissioners announced a joint financial commitment of $70 million to fast-track the permitting process for the Gateway Tunnel Project. In addition to new tunnels under the Hudson, the Gateway program will include a provision known as the “Bergen Loop” which would allow riders on the Pascack Valley and Port Jervis lines to travel directly to and from Manhattan without having to transfer — something Tri-State and Rockland County leaders pushed for through their role on the Tappan Zee Bridge Mass Transit Task Force. The $70 million will be split evenly between the Port Authority and Amtrak, and will be used for preliminary engineering to advance the estimated $20 billion project.
This news is encouraging, but it also confirms that New Jersey Transit’s role will be at the kids’ table. NJ Transit rail riders have the most to gain from this project; by raising the red flag now, hopefully deference will be given to NJT’s input early on and throughout the process. U.S. Senator Cory Booker, however, was more optimistic: “We can’t do it without NJ Transit leadership… I’m a pragmatist. I want to get it done.”
Let’s hope he’s right.