Port Authority delays vote on plan for new bus terminal

Thursday, September 24, 2015

NEW YORK -- The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey delayed voting on a plan to rebuild its aging and outdated bus terminal Thursday amid sharp differences from its board of commissioners on the direction of the multibillion-dollar project.

A working group presented a plan to the board, but a vote wasn't taken and likely will be delayed at least a month. Several board members said they hadn't had enough time to review the plan, and others voiced more specific objections.

The Port Authority has been criticized for not including a new terminal in its 10-year capital plan. Built more than 50 years ago, the terminal handles more than 200,000 people per day and is plagued by congestion and crumbling infrastructure.

A new terminal, expected to cost around $10 billion, will have to handle nearly 300,000 people daily by 2030, according to a presentation at Thursday's meeting.

Some commissioners advocated moving ahead with the plan soon, while others questioned whether the Port Authority was qualified to settle on a plan without getting more expert opinions.

"It's a no-brainer that we need a new bus terminal," board member Kenneth Lipper said. "It seems incredible that this bus terminal was left out of the capital plan. It's time we remedy our error."

Othera were more cautious. Vice chairman Scott Rechler advocated for a recommendation that also included a backup plan, and Pat Schuber, a New Jersey appointee to the board, said any plan that envisioned a new facility in northern New Jersey "is a non-starter" because it would require a two-seat ride.

The working group's recommendation, culled with the help of outside consultants from five options presented to the board in March, would move the current terminal from Eighth Avenue and 42nd Street to between Ninth and Eleventh Avenues and 39th and 40th streets.

Unlike some other options, it wouldn't require the construction of an interim terminal while the new one was built, which presumably would lower the overall cost.

Commissioner Hamilton James suggested looking closer at ridership projections and their historical accuracy and considering a separate terminal for intercity passengers elsewhere in the city.

Commissioner David Steiner was more blunt, saying the board was "out of our league" in trying to reach a decision on such a complex project. He advocated opening up a design competition, an idea supported by the working group.

"We're going to make the wrong decision as we've done before because we don't know what we're doing," Steiner warned.

Board chairman John Degnan said despite the plethora of questions raised Thursday, he anticipated putting the item on the agenda for October's meeting.

"This is at least an 18-month or two-year process already, and at some point we've got to find a way to move this project forward," he said. "I think all the comments made by Scott and others today are valid and need to be addressed, but I am not sure all of them need to be resolved in full before we start to move forward."