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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