With New Bus Terminal Fuss Unabated, Port Authority Allocates Billions


BY JACKSON CHEN | The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey earmarked $3.5 billion for its controversial bus terminal replacement project as its board approved a $29.5 billion 2017-2026 capital plan on January 5.

The replacement project aims to expand on the capacity of the decades-old bus terminal on Eighth Avenue between 40th and 42nd Streets – built in stages between 40 and 65 years ago – that serves as the main gateway for interstate buses arriving in Manhattan. Provisional proposals rolled out by the Port Authority stirred up considerable controversy by suggesting the use of eminent domain — a legal mechanism by which the government can force the sale of private property needed for public projects — in carrying out a new terminal project. The early designs were eventually scrapped after an outcry from community members who claimed the Port Authority had not solicited public input or considered the neighborhood’s needs.

Despite the planning process having essentially been restarted – with no decisions yet made on size, design, or location – the Port Authority’s board was focused on its 10-year capital plan and keen on funding what it sees as a needed revitalization project. The board’s chair, John Degnan, noted that even after allocating $3.5 billion for the project, the agency has not provided full funding for any eventual plan agreed upon.

“Do I think it has enough money to finally erect a new bus terminal in the 10-year period? No,” Degnan said of the capital budget approved at the Port Authority public hearing on January 5. “But do I think if we had more money we could spend it in that 10-year period to get the bus terminal done? I don’t.”

Last year, agency officials offered a preliminary estimate of the project’s entire cost, which they said would be in the $8 to $10 billion range. The hearing brought out many New Jersey elected officials who called for greater funding for the project in the decade-long time horizon of the new capital plan.

The crush of commuters traveling through the Port Authority on during a weekday morning rush hour. | MICHAEL SHIREY
The crush of commuters traveling through the Port Authority on during a weekday morning rush hour. | MICHAEL SHIREY

Even without fully funding the project in the 10-year plan, Degnan said several billion dollars would be needed in coming years to get the ball rolling and put “shovels in the ground.” By the end of the 10-year capital plan, Degnan said, he hoped construction of the new bus terminal would be underway, with the subsequent capital budget funding its completion.

“I am convinced that if we spend $3.5 billion during that 10-year period, this Port Authority will find a way to finish it,” Degnan said. “It would be the height of irresponsibility not to finish a project into which we sunk that amount of money. It needs to be done right and it needs to be done.”

Several working groups representing the community, meanwhile, are digesting information they have received in recent months from neighborhood residents likely to be impacted by any new bus terminal project.

According to Betty Mackintosh, who leads Community Board 4’s Hell’s Kitchen/ Port Authority Working Group, that group is currently going through feedback it received during a December 6 planning meeting and distributing a follow-up survey. She said the group would summarize and review the input it has received during an upcoming meeting. Mackintosh added they’re working on a “community vision” document that would detail the area’s needs and the potential impacts of a new bus terminal.

“We want to be positive and constructive and we want to say this is our vision, our identification of what the community is striving for, and this is how the bus terminal and other related transportation issues fit in,” Mackintosh said of the vision statement the working group will prepare.

Delores Rubin, CB4’s chair and part of the Hell’s Kitchen South Alliance, said the alliance is planning to meet later this week, as well, to discuss next steps. Asked about the approval of $3.5 billion in the Port Authority’s new capital plan, Rubin said the group has no official stance on that but is instead focused on the continuing discussion of overall project options.

“I think that we’re not that concerned there is a number that’s placed in that [capital plan],” Rubin said. “Mainly because we know we will be part of a conversation that will take into account the concerns of our community as well as the commuters and the other community boards that surround the bus terminal but may be affected by any change.”

The Port Authority will hold two public hearings on the capital plan – one on January 31 at 5 p.m. at 4 World Trade Center in Manhattan and a second on February 7 at 5 p.m. at 2 Montgomery Street in Jersey City. The board will consider the public comments before approving a final plan on February 16. The capital plan then needs approval from Governors Andrew Cuomo and Chris Christie.

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