The Port Authority’s commissioners approved a $32 billion capital plan Thursday that includes significant funding commitments for top New Jersey priorities like the Gateway trans-Hudson rail-tunnel and the long-awaited replacement of the bistate agency’s aging midtown Manhattan bus terminal.
The commissioners also authorized spending $70 million immediately to help jumpstart the planning process for the new terminal, something state lawmakers identified in recent days as being vital to ensure that red tape — and uncooperative New York officials — don’t stall the project from the start.
But even with those steps, the capital plan lacks the full funding that will be needed to complete those top-priority projects over the next 10 years, a cause of concern for transportation advocates. Some potentially thorny planning issues with the New York officials have also yet to be fully worked out.
Meanwhile, the funding for other infrastructure work that would pay immediate dividends for New Jersey commuters, like increasing PATH-train capacity by expanding the size of station platforms, also did not make the final draft of the 10-year capital plan. But New Jersey is also due to elect a new governor later this year, meaning the long-term plan could see some changes if the new governor tries to exert more influence over the agency or even as a routine in-house review plays out in the coming years.
Port Authority officials praised the adoption of the capital plan yesterday during the commissioners’ monthly meeting in New York, with Pat Foye, the agency’s executive director, calling it the most significant long-term investment in the Port Authority’s nearly 100-year history. But New Jersey officials who attended the meeting — including Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Wisniewski — questioned whether the Port Authority was truly acting in the best interest of the region’s commuters, or instead primarily serving the interests of the two states’ governors, each of whom have the power to veto the agency’s actions. “You as commissioners need to confront the reality that the receipt of a gubernatorial veto is not necessarily a bad thing,” said Wisniewski, a state Assemblyman from Middlesex County.
The particulars of the plan
In all, the 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 Gateway a $24 billion long-term project that calls for the construction of two new rail tubes under the Hudson River connecting New Jersey with midtown Manhattan, as well as several other important infrastructure upgrades on the New Jersey side of the river.
The capital plan also budgets $3.5 billion for the replacement of the existing 1950s-era bus terminal, which won’t be enough to fully fund a project that 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 or later, even as ridership is projected by the Port Authority to increase by 10 percent by 2020, and up to 50 percent by 2040.