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Focus on PATH Extension, Tunnel Helix at Hearing on Port Authority’s $32B Plan

Agency proposes spending billions on a number of projects, not all of which have unanimous approval

port authority

In the weeks that followed the Port Authority’s unveiling of a plan to spend $32 billion on infrastructure improvements over the next decade, New Jersey commuters and transportation advocates have questioned why there’s only partial funding to replace the agency’s aging, flagship bus terminal.

But during a public hearing yesterday on the bistate agency’s 10-year capital plan, it was several other proposed projects that could have an impact on New Jersey commuters that drew more attention, including a proposed extension of PATH-train service to Newark Liberty Airport.

Several of those who testified during the hearing specifically addressed the proposal to spend $1.7 billion to extend the PATH’s existing service beyond Newark Penn Station to the airport, calling it a potential boon for both lower Manhattan and Newark’s South Ward. Other projects that drew attention included the proposed bus-terminal replacement and work on the Lincoln Tunnel helix.

Second — and final — public hearing takes place next week in Jersey City

The public hearing at 4 World Trade Center was the first of two that the bistate agency is holding to collect public comments in advance of a vote on the capital plan that’s scheduled for February 16. The second hearing is scheduled for February 7 from 5:00 p.m. until 8:00 p.m. at 2 Montgomery Street in Jersey City.

In all, the capital plan includes $29.5 billion in direct investment by the Port Authority, which owns and operates most of the region’s major airports, ports, bridges and tunnels. Another $2.7 billion in the plan is set aside for debt service for the long-planned Gateway project, a $24 billion project that calls for the construction of two new rail tubes under the Hudson River connecting New Jersey with midtown Manhattan and several other infrastructure upgrades.

The capital plan includes $3.5 billion to begin the planned replacement of the agency’s bus terminal in midtown Manhattan, not enough to finish a project that will cost between $7.5 billion and $10 billion. That’s drawn concern from New Jersey commuters and transportation advocates who want to see more funding allocated to the bus terminal replacement and a quicker timeline. Demand at the 1950s-era facility is projected to increase by 10 percent by 2020, and up to 50 percent by 2040 as job growth in New York City is expected to continue to outpace economic development in New Jersey.

Location for new bus terminal still hasn’t been chosen

But keeping the terminal itself in Manhattan has also been a big priority; at one point, officials in New York threatened to block the Port Authority’s attempts to keep the facility in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood, suggesting it could even be moved into New Jersey. While an exact location still hasn’t been picked, the capital plan calls for the facility to remain in midtown, and there was little evidence during yesterday’s hearing of the friction that occurred over the summer.

Christine Berthet, a member of Community Board 4, the district in midtown Manhattan that includes Hell’s Kitchen and the bus terminal, spoke only briefly, inviting Port Authority officials to attend a community meeting that has been scheduled for February 7.

As well as the $1.7 billion for the extension of PATH-train service to Newark Liberty, the capital plan also includes $2 billion for an upgrade of Newark Liberty’s Terminal A.

Councilman says PATH extension would give new opportunities to Newark residents

Newark Councilman John James praised the inclusion of the PATH extension to Newark Liberty, saying it would provide new opportunities for residents of his city. “It’s not just an expansion,” James said. “We have a neighborhood that’s been trapped because we have limited transportation.”

“This is a phenomenal project,” James said. “It stands on its own.”

Jessica Lappin, president of the Downtown Lower Manhattan Association, also testified in favor of the proposed PATH extension, which some lawmakers in New Jersey have criticized as catering mainly to Wall Street. But Lappin said projections show 40,000 new jobs will be created by the end of the decade in lower Manhattan, jobs that residents of New Jersey could compete for with improved transportation. “It would be a benefit to all of us in the region,” Lappin said.

‘The project is highly duplicative’

But not everyone who testified yesterday was in favor of the proposed extension. Jack May of Montclair suggested existing New Jersey Transit and Amtrak service makes the proposed service redundant, especially without any firm studies indicating potential ridership. And he said it would still require transferring off PATH and onto the airport’s monorail to get into the airport.

“The project is highly duplicative,” May said. “We already have dependable rail service to Newark airport.” Trains that run on NJ Transit's Northeast Corridor and North Jersey Coast lines stop at the airport station, as do Amtrak's Northeast regional trains. And those services also link with nearby Newark Penn Station, which is served by PATH.

“How many people will use it? We don’t know,” May said.

New Jersey state Sen. Robert Gordon (D-Bergen) has raised similar concerns, and is urging the Port Authority to hold off on approving the capital plan until more information can be gathered about the PATH extension and a proposed $2.5 billion train to LaGuardia Airport in Queens. Gordon is expected to testify at the hearing in Jersey City.

Other projects in New Jersey that would be funded through the plan include nearly $2 billion for repairs at the George Washington Bridge and $1.5 billion for replacing the Lincoln Tunnel helix.

Mayor urges officials to work with local community on Lincoln Tunnel helix

Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner spoke specifically about the plan to replace the Lincoln Tunnel helix, which is the system of ramps that leads traffic directly into the tunnel. He urged agency officials to work cooperatively with the local community as the project goes forward. “You have to keep in mind to include the impact on the community,” he said.

“There’s only so much that can go through the tunnel,” Turner said. “It’s very important that this is coordinated from top to bottom with everybody.”

Several Port Authority commissioners attended the public hearing, including chairman John Degnan and Commissioner Pat Schuber, who both represent New Jersey. Executive director Pat Foye and chief financial officer Elizabeth McCarthy also listened to those who testified.

Yesterday’s hearing followed a meeting on Monday in Bergenfield that was organized by the Senate Legislative Oversight Committee as a way to bring more attention to the priorities of New Jersey commuters, including Gateway and the bus-terminal replacement. All of the testimony collected during the legislative meeting was recorded, and a transcript is being submitted to the Port Authority. The agency is also collecting public comment on the capital plan via email at publiccomments@panynj.gov.

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