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OpinionColumnistsJeff Vasishta

How long for bus terminal’s makeover?

The Port Authority Bus Terminal in midtown Manhattan,

The Port Authority Bus Terminal in midtown Manhattan, which opened in 1950, is New York City's largest bus depot and has long been derided as dirty and inefficient. Leaking ceilings, unsanitary bathrooms, late buses and a long standing problem with the homeless have added to the terminal's reputation. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Spencer Platt

‘This is like something out of a 1970s Martin Scorsese film,” my cousin, visiting from England, told me recently when I met him at the Port Authority Bus Terminal.

Let’s face it, for a city like New York, the terminal is an embarrassment — cramped, crowded and ugly.

The best argument I can make for an extreme makeover is King’s Cross St. Pancras station in London. Known to many travelers for its vanishing platform in the Harry Potter films (a big tourist attraction), the King’s Cross area was associated for years with drugs and prostitution. Much like the bus terminal, its seedy reputation was woven into the capital’s own murky past.

That was before five years and $750 million of construction. The station is now light, airy and architecturally stunning, transforming the neighborhood. It is the kind of place where you wouldn’t mind hanging around instead of scurrying through.

I’m so pleased that the Port Authority is holding a design competition to overhaul the bus terminal — after rejecting 15 proposals last year. Frankly, this should have been done a decade ago. Everything around the terminal has changed. A gleaming New York Times building is in front and a much-friendlier and cleaner Times Square is nearby.

This 66-year-old transit hub seems ready-made for an episode of the 1970s period drama “Vinyl.” Penn Station needs the revamp Albany continues to talk about and Grand Central Terminal, while enjoying its historic grandeur, could still use a little contemporary fizz.

A short list of finalists in the bus terminal design competition is expected soon, and then that will have to be whittled down. Meanwhile, the cost of the redesign and possible relocation, last year thought to be in the region of $10 billion, will create contention. Optimistically, after an architect, land and permits are agreed upon, we can project at least a decade’s worth of construction.

By that time, many of today’s commuters will have traded their buses for beach chairs, their cubicles for cabanas, and the claustrophobic terminal will be a horrible memory of their daily slog to and from the city. Let’s hope the terminal doesn’t stay that way for too much longer.

Jeff Vasishta lives in Crown Heights.


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