Without Extra Billions, Bus Terminal Won’t Be Replaced Before Late 2020’s

Concerns raised about urgent need to do something for commuters, bus companies at final public hearing before key February 16 vote

The Port Authority bus terminal
The current draft of the Port Authority’s 10-year capital plan doesn’t include enough funding to finish a planned replacement of the bistate agency’s aging midtown Manhattan bus terminal. That means a new facility won’t open until the late 2020’s at the earliest.

But a number of speakers who testified yesterday evening during a public hearing on the $32 billion capital plan stressed that there’s already an urgent need for more capacity for the commuters who currently use the 1950s-era facility on a daily basis, and also more space to park buses, including those coming from long distances.

Whether the agency’s commissioners — many of whom did not attend the hearing — end up amending the capital-spending plan to move up the timeline for replacing the bus-terminal remains to be seen. The capital plan — which also includes funding for a long-planned extension of PATH-train service to Newark Liberty Airport that also drew several comments last night — is scheduled for a vote of approval on February 16.

In all, the 10-year spending 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 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.

Agency estimates new bus terminal will cost $7.5B to $10B

The capital plan right now also budgets $3.5 billion for the replacement of the bus terminal, which is not enough to fully fund a project the agency estimates will cost between $7.5 billion and $10 billion. That means completion of the new terminal could be pushed back until 2030 even as ridership is projected to increase by 10 percent by 2020, and up to 50 percent by 2040.

But the spending plan does call for the new facility to remain on the west side of Manhattan, which would preserve a one-seat ride for New Jersey commuters and those coming from longer distances. That was a point of contention last summer when several New York officials unsuccessfully lobbied for the terminal to be moved to Secaucus instead.

Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer was among the many speakers who testified on the bus-terminal issue during last night’s public hearing in Jersey City. It was the second and final hearing on the capital plan following a similar meeting last month.

Hoboken mayor: ‘We can’t afford to wait 10 more years’

Zimmer urged the commissioners to move up the project’s current timeline, and she also pushed back against suggestions that replacing the bus terminal is only a priority for New Jersey. “This is a critical project,” Zimmer said. “We can’t afford to wait 10 more years.”

“It’s really important to move forward with this bus terminal and to fund this project,” she said. “To support a regional economy in New York and New Jersey, I urge you to reconsider.”

Sen. Robert Gordon (D-Bergen), who has called for the agency to hold off on passing the new capital plan until more information can be collected, said no matter what the Port Authority spends on the new bus terminal the funding should be used to increase capacity as soon as possible.

“Whether the final amount in the capital plan is $3.5 billion or $5.5 billion, we would like to see that money spent on increasing bus capacity now — during this 10-year capital plan — whether it is by building ‘up’ on the current site or by building a scalable terminal on a location nearby,” said Gordon.

‘Severely outdated and overcrowded’

Brandon Buchanan, director of regulatory affairs for the Washington, D.C.-based American Bus Association, raised the issue of adding more space for parking for long-distance buses. He was one of several speakers who represented charter-bus services. “This is a huge opportunity to serve as sort of a beacon of transportation policy in this region and really in the United States,” Buchanan said.

Michael Fleischhauer, vice president for Greyhound Lines, Inc., called the current bus terminal “severely outdated and overcrowded.”

Parking for buses was also a concern for Heath Ochroch, president of Phoenixville, Pennsylvania-based Werner Bus Lines Inc. He said when buses can’t park at the terminal they drive around Manhattan, tiring out the drivers and generating pollution. “My drivers tell me of the frequent problems they have finding parking in New York City,” Ochroch said.

$1.7B for PATH extension to Newark airport

Chip Hallock, chief executive officer of the Newark Regional Business Partnership, was among those who testified in favor of the planned extension of PATH service to Newark airport. Right now, the capital plan includes $1.7 billion for the project, which would allow for a one-seat ride from the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan to the airport’s monorail service. “A direct connection for passengers will make the airport even more competitive,” Hallock said.

He also raised the issue of providing a station stop in Newark’s South Ward, an area that has little access to public transport. The current plans for the PATH-extension project call for a stop in the area of Dayton Street that local residents would have access to. Last month, during a legislative hearing in Trenton, Port Authority officials had mistakenly said the project no longer included a stop in the South Ward. A park-and-ride facility at the end of the extended line is also envisioned through a public-private partnership.

But Gordon said since PATH service is already near capacity, the Port Authority should move into the new 10-year plan a $400 million project to increase the size of platforms to handle 10 cars instead of eight. “This is a relatively inexpensive way to increase trans-Hudson capacity, and we believe if? it were up to Port Authority staff, this project would already be in the proposed capital plan,” Gordon said.

Only two Port Authority commissioners attended last night’s hearing, Pat Schuber of New Jersey and Jeffrey Linford of New York. Port Authority executive director Pat Foye and chief financial officer Elizabeth McCarthy also listened to those who testified. Though no additional public hearings are scheduled, the agency is still collecting comments on the capital plan via email at publiccomments@panynj.gov.

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