After years of talk about building a new Port Authority Bus Terminal elsewhere on Manhattan’s West Side, perhaps taking land through eminent domain, or even shifting it into New Jersey, it might instead be built right where it’s already located.

The build-in-place option resurfaced at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s April board meeting, and last week it formally became an option as the agency solicits consultants interested in providing both environmental analysis and architectural/engineering services for a new bus terminal.

“The build-in-place option is potentially viable from a construction and operational perspective,” said Steven Plate, chief of major capital projects for the Port Authority.

The current bus terminal was built in 1950 and expanded in 1963 and 1979, but it’s now aging and stretched far beyond its capacity.

New Jersey officials who have clamored for an upgrade are receptive to the idea of building a new terminal in the same location, rather than moving it.

“It sounds like a very viable alternative. It sounds like it might be something, after we ask enough questions about it, that we could embrace,” said Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen, who said the new facility would need to be able to accommodate a 50 percent boost in capacity.

The current terminal loses over $100 million a year, with buses spilling onto New York streets during peak demand. There are currently 770 buses per hour in the evening rush, and that’s projected to grow to 1,000 an hour in 2040.

The terminal handled an average of 232,000 passengers on weekdays in 2011. That was projected to increase to 270,000 a day by 2020, 294,000 by 2030 and 337,000 by 2040.

Under the build-in-place approach, new fifth and sixth floors would first be added to the existing terminal. Then the four existing floors would be replaced. Construction would be done in phases so the terminal would continue operating.

Plate said a similar build-in-place approach has worked at the World Trade Center, the bus terminal itself, and outside the agency at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York.

“So it’s been done, it’s proven. It’s not state-of-the-art,” Plate said. “Been there, done that.”

Weinberg said that’s reassuring.

“My initial reaction was that’s impossible – keep a bus terminal operating for 240,000 passengers each day and actually do this,” Weinberg said. “But apparently you can.”

The build-in-place option isn’t necessarily going to be chosen. Any plan could take 15 years to finish and cost around $10 billion. The Port Authority capital plan allocates $3.5 billion over the next 10 years.

“It’s an option that we are looking at,” said Port Authority chairman Kevin O’Toole, a former state senator. “I can’t give you a timetable because frankly I don’t think we’ve taken a choice of an avenue yet.”

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Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5 and the editor of New Jersey: Decoded. Follow @NJDecoded on Twitter and Facebook. Contact him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com

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