NJ Officials, Commuters Say New Bus Terminal Vital; Will Port Authority Act in Time?

John Reitmeyer | January 31, 2017 | Transportation
The run-down Port Authority bus terminal needs to be replaced, but some are concerned the agency’s capital plan does not provide proper funding

For the last few weeks the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has been collecting written comments on its proposed $32 billion capital plan, and today the bistate agency is planning to hold the first of two public hearings on its long-term spending goals.

But a group of daily commuters, transportation advocates and elected officials from New Jersey got a jump on the public-hearing process yesterday. They participated in a lengthy meeting in Bergen County organized by state lawmakers who are concerned the current draft of the Port Authority’s 10-year capital plan doesn’t do enough to jumpstart the long-planned replacement of the agency’s aging, flagship bus terminal.

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. But the current draft of the Port Authority’s capital plan includes only partial funding for a bus-terminal replacement project that could cost as much as $10 billion, leading to concerns that its completion may be put off until 2030.

The hearing held in Bergenfield yesterday was organized by the Senate Legislative Oversight Committee as a way to bring more attention to conditions that exist right now inside the bus terminal and also the need for the Port Authority to show more urgency. All of the testimony that was heard during the hearing was recorded, and a transcript is being prepared to submit to the Port Authority. Whether the agency takes heed of what was said remains to be seen.

Committee chairman Robert Gordon (D-Bergen) said he’s urging the Port Authority to hold off on voting to approve the capital plan until more information can be gathered on other projects that may not deserve as much funding, , such as a plan to extend PATH-train service from lower Manhattan to Newark Liberty International Airport. It’s unclear what the ridership will be for that project, which would run a little over a mile parallel to existing NJ Transit and Amtrak services.

Current draft capital plan includes $3.5 billion for a new bus terminal

The Port Authority’s commissioners voted unanimously on January 5 in support of the current draft of the 10-year, $32 billion capital plan, which includes $3.5 billion for the bus-terminal replacement project, and another $2.7 billion for the federal government’s Gateway commuter-rail tunnel project. Both the new bus terminal and Gateway — a $24 billion project that calls for the construction of two new rail tubes under the Hudson River connecting New Jersey with midtown Manhattan — are considered to be top priorities for New Jersey commuters.

Carol Katz, lobbyist for the Bus Association of New Jersey, testified at a Senate Legislative Oversight Committee hearing on the Port Authority's 10-year capital plan.
The capital plan, which also includes $1.7 billion for the planned PATH-train extension in Newark, was considered by officials from both New York and New Jersey to be the best deal that could be struck between the factions from each state, which have clashed in recent years over how the agency’s limited resources should be spent. At one point, New York officials were pushing for the new bus terminal to be located in New Jersey, a demand they eventually gave up.

For the last few weeks, the Port Authority has been seeking public comment on the capital plan via email at publiccomments@panynj.gov. The agency is also hosting a public hearing today from 5:00 p.m. until 8:00 p.m. at 4 World Trade Center in New York. A second public hearing is scheduled to be held on February 7 from 5:00 p.m. until 8:00 p.m. at 2 Montgomery Street in Jersey City.

New building might not be completed by 2030 or even later

Right now, the Port Authority has estimated that replacing the existing bus terminal in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood of Manhattan could cost between $7.5 billion and $10 billion. The agency’s current plan calls for construction to begin, but not be completed, under the $3.5 billion allocation that’s included in the proposed 10-year plan. That would mean the bus terminal wouldn’t be finished until a subsequent capital plan is launched, possibly pushing completion back to 2030 or even later.

The funding for the bus terminal that’s in the capital plan also includes the assumption that the federal government will provide $500 million, something the New Jersey lawmakers have questioned. An exact location for the new facility has also not been finalized, leading to more concern that the project will be delayed.

“We need to know there’s enough money in the capital plan to actually build the bus terminal,” said Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen).

Several of those who testified during the meeting raised other concerns, including the conditions that currently exist at the bus terminal.

‘There’s just not enough space’

Deborah Bouchard of Bergenfield highlighted frequent episodes of overcrowding, saying long, snaking lines often lead to confusion among commuters about where the line for each bus starts. “There’s so many people that you can’t find the end of the line,” she said. “There’s just not enough space.”

The capacity of the bus terminal also causes problems in Hoboken, where Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher described long lines of people who wait each morning to get on buses headed to the Manhattan facility so they can get to work. “We have a growing population that already is filled to capacity,” Fisher said.

Carol Katz, lobbyist for the Bus Association of New Jersey, a group that represents private carriers who use the bus terminal on a regular basis, said ridership on those lines has been steadily growing.

“There is an urgent need for a new, state-of-the-art transportation center on the west side,” Katz said. Officials from New Jersey Transit also told a similar story while appearing before the lawmakers yesterday.

Gordon praised the commuters and other advocates who attended the hearing, saying they know the issues best because they use the Port Authority’s facilities on a daily basis. And, as the Port Authority decides what to do with its capital funding over the next 10 years, he said the stakes are high for New Jersey because of how many of the state’s residents have jobs on the other side of the Hudson River.

“What we do know is, the bus terminal is absolutely essential to the New Jersey economy,” he said.