Port Authority Bus Terminal spat latest political feud to affect commuters
NEWARK, N.J. (AP) -- A new bus terminal in New York will be discussed when the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey convenes for its monthly board meeting on Thursday.
That means political squabbling can't be far behind.
New York and New Jersey legislators have been at odds over where the terminal should be, and even which side of the Hudson River it should be on. The current terminal is at 42nd Street and Eighth Avenue, and plans called for it to be rebuilt a block west of there.
It's the latest installment in how politics have injected themselves into the lives of commuters whose only goal is to get to work on time.
Train riders already have seen their hopes dashed for a new tunnel under the Hudson River when Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie killed a Democrat-supported project in 2010, over fears of cost overruns.
Had it survived, the new tunnel could have been completed by 2018 and increased capacity and reduced delays caused by nearly century-old infrastructure, two of the main complaints of commuters.
Instead, the more ambitious -- and costly -- Gateway project, which will build a new tunnel and expand New York's Penn Station, could take well over a decade before all its main components are finished.
The two states seem to be at odds "a good part of the time, and things don't get done because of the disagreements," said Peter Palmer, chairman of both the Raritan Valley Rail Coalition and the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority. "Right now, though, it seems they have an agreement on moving forward on the existing tunnel project with representatives of both states in cooperation, so at least that will mean progress."
The Port Authority's plans to push ahead with building a new bus terminal appeared to reach a milestone in September when elected officials from both states signed off on what was called a "new, expanded comprehensive planning process."
All of that came crashing down last month when several members of the New York contingent accused Port Authority Chairman John Degnan, a Christie appointee, of not negotiating in good faith and demanded he recuse himself from the project.
They said the project would require the taking of land in the surrounding the Hell's Kitchen neighborhood by eminent domain, and demanded more input into the process.
Degnan called the allegations against him "astounding" and "insulting." Last week a bipartisan contingent of New Jersey lawmakers fired back, blasting the New York side for a proposal to have the Port Authority allocate $2 billion for the bus terminal, a number they called far too low for a project estimated to cost between $6 billion and $10 billion.
The big picture is being missed amid the posturing, said Len Resto, president of the New Jersey Association of Rail Passengers, an advocacy group.
"This is a region, it's not `New York and New Jersey,"' he said. "You have to just play nice. Sometimes it's unbelievable. It delays things, and that's not good for people."
How much the Port Authority plans to spend on the bus terminal is expected to be revealed this month when it releases its revised 10-year capital plan. The original 10-year plan approved in 2014 didn't include a new bus terminal, drawing criticism from commuters and others who pointed to the current six-decade-old Midtown Manhattan facility's crumbling infrastructure and frequent delays.
Numerous other mass transit projects in New Jersey also have been stymied by funding problems that were only recently solved by lawmakers who passed a gas tax increase last summer. That followed decades of borrowing money for transportation needs instead of creating a dedicated source of funding.
Martin Robins, a former NJ Transit executive and director emeritus of Rutgers University's Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center, called the last decade "a huge accumulation of lost opportunities" for transit improvements that followed a long period of growth in which New Jersey Transit built the River Line, Secaucus Transfer Station and Newark Liberty Airport station.
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