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Why We Can't Have Nice Things
New York’s Port Authority Cuts a New Check

The bloated Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has approved a $32 billion capital improvements budget, the Wall Street Journal reports:

The agency’s largest-ever capital plan includes more than $3 billion for a rail link from the Willets Point neighborhood in Queens to LaGuardia Airport and, separately, a PATH-service extension to Newark Liberty International Airport. It also includes $3.5 billion to replace the aging Port Authority Bus Terminal in Midtown Manhattan.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie took credit for the funding plan, saying it was the result of months of negotiation with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. “We shouldn’t pretend that it’s something different than that—it’s not. They ratified our decision today,” Mr. Christie said.

Critics contend the rail-link proposals are ill conceived and the money could be used for other projects. They also maintain that the bus-terminal funding is insufficient and wouldn’t allow construction to proceed in a timely manner.

Ill-conceived or not, it’s a lot of money. And based on experience, residents of New York and New Jersey shouldn’t expect to get much value in exchange. The $3.5 billion to replace the bus terminal is only a fraction of the $11 billion (!!) they say is needed. The hope is that the rest of the money will come from the federal government. We’ll see.

The real problem is that Port Authority is moving ahead with a new big spending spree without making even a minimal effort to reform its costly practices. There’s nothing in the plan to make bidding more transparent and competitive, to reduce labor costs, or to eliminate the need for so many costly consultants. Without such fixes, $32 billion won’t go as far as one might expect, and the underlying problems which have been plaguing New York metro area’s transportation infrastructure will persist. Maintenance will continue to be deferred, overruns will be the norm, and deadlines will remain functionally meaningless.

Failing to reform now means that next time, the budget will be even bigger and more unwieldy. After recent infighting, corruption scandals, and high-profile resignations at Port Authority, the agreement between New York and New Jersey feels less like a success and more like a lease on life for an agency that doesn’t really deserve another chance.

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  • Psalms564

    The fact that someone would say “We need 11 billion to replace PA Bus Terminal” (which a real shltty place BTW) and not be told to come back when they regained their sanity is all the information you need to know about how “effective” this spending plan. Infrastructure development is a waste to time and money, unless it is preceded by massive regulatory regime overhaul.

  • What is it about a bus terminal that could conceivably cost $11 billion? Or even $4 billion? $10 million with an M and not a B sounds a lot more like it.

    Here in Miami we spent $2.2 billion on something called the Miami Intermodal Transport Center, a massive development that’s supposed to combine all our public transport in one glitzy, massive, unwieldy central place. While hideously confusing, the architecture looks like some kind of mixup between an airport, a bus station and a railroad. The bus station is tucked away so well that it took me 15 minutes to find it. Because the complex is so sprawling, it looks like you need to walk a mile or two to move on to other “modes”. And frankly, when I found the bus terminal, it didn’t look any nicer than the plain cheap cardboard box style bus terminals I see elsewhere.

    Why do we let our governments spend this kind of money on facilities that are, frankly, operationally inferior to the old, cheap ones? I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who wants to spend time in an Intermodal Transport Center. They would rather have the airplanes, busses and trains run on time. Let’s invest our money on that, not insane efforts to outdo everyone on architecture.

  • Josephbleau

    Wow, that is more money than it takes to build a wall on the Mexican border! Although I would like to see a decent subway /rail connection from middtown to LaGuardia, or even a realistic bus route, for when I take Southwest going to manhattan.

    • CapitalHawk

      Yes. the connections between manhattan (especially mid-town and lower) and LaGuardia, are horrible.

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