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Cuomo Names Patrick Foye to Head Port Authority

Patrick Foye

As expected, Governor Cuomo has tapped Patrick Foye to replace Chris Ward as executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Foye, Cuomo’s deputy secretary for economic development and an MTA board member, had been considered a contender since shortly after Ward announced plans to step down.

An appointee of David Paterson, Ward was praised by sustainability advocates for sound fiscal stewardship and his awareness of the importance of transit and cycling to the region’s transportation mix. But Cuomo was reportedly never a fan of Ward, and Ward clashed openly with Cuomo and Chris Christie when the two governors raided billions in Port Authority funds, a move that precipitated a hike in tolls and transit fares.

Foye is a Republican who also worked with Democrat Eliot Spitzer as downstate chairman of the Empire State Development Corporation. Wrote the Observer in 2008: “Mr. Foye, once a member of the Conservative Party and a Republican donor, was brought in by Mr. Spitzer during his campaign. An acquaintance of both Mr. Spitzer and his wife Silda from his days at [law firm] Skadden Arps, Mr. Foye joined the governor in his rhetoric of parsimony with state dollars, keeping subsidy amounts to a minimum.”

Foye will take the helm at the Port Authority at the end of the month.


Amid Christie and Cuomo Raids, Port Authority Plans Huge Fare and Toll Hike

The Port Authority has planned massive fare and toll hikes for the PATH and its bridges and tunnels, made worse by billions taken from the agency by Governors Christie and Cuomo. Photo: Terraplanner via Flickr.

Crossing the Hudson River will get much more expensive under a proposed Port Authority plan to sharply increase tolls and fares on its four bridges, two tunnels and the PATH train. The increases are a result of the poor economy, the costs of rebuilding after the attacks of September 11, and the expensive repairs needed on the agency’s aging infrastructure, said the Port Authority. Left unstated was the enormous cost of raids on the agency by the state governments of New York and New Jersey.

Under the Port Authority proposal, the cost to drive a car across a bridge or tunnel would increase by $4 this September, with another $2 increase in 2014. Tolls will increase the most on the costliest users. By 2014, the peak E-ZPass toll would be increased by 75 percent. Off-peak tolls would be doubled.

Truck tolls will nearly double during most times of day, reflecting the exponentially greater wear and tear inflicted by heavier vehicles. The Port Authority also hopes to disincentivize cash payments by tacking on a $3 surcharge, rising to $5 in 2014, for those who haven’t switched to E-ZPass.

PATH riders will also be forced to pay. The base fare will rise from $1.75 to $2.75; with discounts, the average fare will increase from $1.30 to $2.00 per trip. PATH riders will be spared from additional fare hikes in 2014.

To sell the toll package, which needs approval from both Governor Andrew Cuomo and Governor Chris Christie and is sure to be a heavy political lift, the Port Authority is broadcasting both its record of fiscal responsibility under popular but politically threatened executive director Chris Ward and the necessity of the projects the toll increases would fund.

The agency’s operating budget has been flat for three years, they said, while the capital budget has already been cut by $5 billion. That comes even as the costs of rebuilding at the World Trade Center have topped $11 billion and extra security requirements have added another $6 billion to the agency’s costs. The proposed toll increases, including those scheduled for 2014, would raise roughly $1 billion, according to the New York Times.

But Christie and Cuomo also bear responsibility for the Port Authority’s budget.

Read more…


If Cuomo Fires Chris Ward, NY and NJ Will Lose a Proven Leader

Chris Ward may only have a few months left as executive director of the Port Authority despite a record of success. Photo: Port Authority via NYT

Chris Ward may only have a few months left as executive director of the Port Authority. According to a report in the New York Post, Andrew Cuomo intends to replace the Paterson appointee this fall, once the ceremonies marking the tenth anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks have passed.

Ward has been widely lauded for his stewardship of the Port Authority. Before Cuomo took office, the Tri-State Transportation Campaign urged him to keep both Ward and MTA chief Jay Walder in their positions. Now in response to rumors that the governor may fire Ward, environmental and transportation advocates are rallying to his side.

“The Port Authority is cleaner, greener and more efficient thanks to Chris Ward’s leadership,” said Tri-State Executive Director Kate Slevin.

“He stands up for the public interest, whether that’s with the real estate industry, the construction industry, or other agencies,” said Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Paul Steely White. “He’s looking out for the public, whether that’s bus riders or bike riders.”

Rumors of Ward’s ouster come at an important moment for the Port Authority. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has for months been trying to use Port Authority funds to pay for local road projects that would normally be funded by the state department of transportation. If successful, Christie’s plan would transform the Port Authority from an agency dedicated to regional planning and long-term investment into a piggybank for the two states. Bus riders would be hit especially hard as potential investments in projects like a larger Port Authority Bus Terminal get postponed and neglected.

As executive director, Ward has perhaps attracted the most attention for his successful guidance of the World Trade Center reconstruction, which has made significant progress recently. His skills as a financial steward extend to the Port Authority’s transportation business as well. The development of a plan to build a new Goethals Bridge under a public-private partnership could serve as a model for future infrastructure projects across the region, said Slevin.

In an era of tight budgets, Ward put forward a 2011 budget for the Port Authority with no growth but didn’t lose sight of the need for investing in the region’s future. In part, Ward struck that balance by eliminating wasteful spending where he could find it. He cut consultant spending by 32 percent and overtime by 20 percent, said White, but “nobody would say that the Port Authority is doing less.”

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Public-Private Plan for Goethals Trades Higher Costs for Faster Construction

The Port Authority will pay extra for a new Goethals Bridge to be built under a public-private partnership so that it can be completed sooner. Image: Port Authority via SI Advance.

Public-private partnerships, or P3s, have been repeatedly held up as a way for New York and other states to replace crumbling infrastructure despite enormous budget deficits. The Port Authority recent announced that it will use a P3 to finance the new Goethals Bridge, an important development that’s sure to be closely watched by the state’s transportation officials.

The Port Authority will be paying a premium to get a new Goethals sooner, which will in turn save the agency from spending large sums to maintain the old bridge. It’s a Plan B made necessary by the authority’s inability to use traditional financing methods immediately. It’s not a source of free money or huge efficiencies.

Under a public-private partnership, a private company would design and build the new Goethals and maintain it for a set period of time. The Port Authority wouldn’t put up any money up front, but instead would pay back the company a bit each year. The Port Authority would still own the bridge and have the ability to set tolls.

According to agency spokesman Steve Coleman, the Port Authority received eight proposals when it put out a request for qualifications last year. Now it is working to whittle those eight down to four finalists and will ask them for formal proposals later this year.

In terms of financing, said Coleman, there isn’t a major difference between this particular P3 approach and traditional bonds. In both cases, the Port Authority would get a capital infusion up front and pay it off, with interest, over decades.

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Chris Christie Expected to Kill ARC Transit Tunnel

Gov. Chris Christie is expected to kill the critical ARC transit tunnel project, reports say. Photo:

Gov. Chris Christie is expected to kill the critical ARC transit tunnel project, reports say. Photo: Star-Ledger.

The largest federal transit investment in American history is on its deathbed, reports Andrea Bernstein at Transportation Nation. Three sources have told Bernstein that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is ready to pull the plug on the plan to double rail capacity under the Hudson River this week, though Christie denies his mind is made up.

We’ve already outlined just how important this project is to the future of New Jersey and how shortsighted this decision would be for the Christie administration, so with this devastating news, the only thing we can do is look forward.

First, the predictable stuff: If ARC dies, New Jersey will keep its $2.7 billion share of project funds, which Christie is expected to use to patch up the state’s Transportation Trust Fund for a couple of years so that he doesn’t have to raise the gas tax to pay for the state’s roads. The Port Authority will recoup its $3 billion, some of which will end up back in New Jersey and some in New York. The authority’s capital plan currently calls for no new pieces of infrastructure, so it’s possible this money will fund necessary repairs on existing bridges and tunnels.

The wildcard is where the Federal Transit Administration’s $3 billion winds up. When New York City activists defeated the Westway highway project 25 years ago, House Speaker Tip O’Neill managed to capture a large share of its funding for Boston’s Big Dig. The $350 million that US DOT offered New York to help implement congestion pricing in 2008 almost ended up paying for a Chicago BRT system, though Chicago ultimately balked as well.

Who will get the billions of dollars that Christie is on the verge of passing up? Place your bets — or vent your anger — in the comments.


New York Transportation Officials: We’re Broke


In the absence of funds, transportation agencies are looking for cost-effective ways to move people. The Port Authority suggested it would be open to increasing Holland Tunnel capacity with a bus lane, for example. Photo: keithlam via Flickr.

The state’s top transportation officials delivered some tough news to the construction industry Friday: Public agencies are so cash-strapped they don’t even have enough money to maintain existing infrastructure.

With budgets battered by rising maintenance costs and recession-ravaged revenues, an industry-sponsored conference offered little prospect of further expansions to the state’s transportation system beyond the projects currently underway. Some combination of new revenue streams, cost-saving measures, and public-private partnerships will be necessary simply to keep New York moving, most suggested. Meanwhile, the cozy relationship between public officials and construction industry heavyweights was on full display, at times contradicting the general message of austerity.

Speaker after speaker laid out the costs involved just to maintain the state’s aging infrastructure. Joel Ettinger, the head of the New York City region’s metropolitan planning organization, said that over the next twenty-five years, “an amazing 98 percent of the money is going to go just to state of good repair and operations.” That’s a full $950 billion through 2035, he said.

Port Authority tunnels, bridges, and terminals director Victoria Cross Kelly presented her agency’s top capital project priorities, including billion dollar replacements of the Goethals Bridge, the George Washington Bridge suspender cables, and the New Jersey approach to the Lincoln Tunnel, as well as a number of smaller projects. “Each and every one of these has somewhere in their title ‘rehab’ or ‘replace,'” she said. “There’s no new added functionality.”

New York City Transit’s chief engineer, Fredrick Smith, pointed to the system’s dire need for new track signals. Currently, a quarter of the subway’s signals are over 70 years old. “How reliable do you think that is?” he asked. Unfortunately, the MTA capital plan for 2010-2014 is only funded through next year and the bulk of the signal work is theoretically scheduled for 2012.

Even for the basic tasks of keeping bridges up, roads paved, and transit running, current funding is inadequate. “Increased, stable resources need to be provided,” said acting NYS DOT director Stanley Gee. Gee singled out the project to rebuild the deteriorating Tappan Zee Bridge and add transit access across it as particularly problematic. “There’s no way that existing tolls can build that bridge,” he said.

As for where that money might come from, Gee was open to any possibility. “Pricing obviously is one,” he said. He also suggested a mileage tax to replace declining gas tax revenue. Gee isn’t counting on help from one potential savior, however: the federal government. “We don’t expect a long-term extension of federal funding any time soon.” Gee ultimately urged the audience, filled with politically powerful firms, to convince elected officials to fund transportation.

From a sustainability perspective, the upside of the funding scarcity is that many transportation agencies are looking to do more with less — and that can mean prioritizing transit. “We need to focus on making the best use of what lanes and tracks we have,” said Port Authority Director of Regional Development Andy Lynn. Calling the Lincoln Tunnel’s exclusive bus lane a great success story, Lynn said “We need more of that.” During the Holland Tunnel’s evening rush, he noted, buses make up less than three percent of the vehicles, but carry 48 percent of the people. There is currently no exclusive bus lane in the Holland Tunnel.

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The Financial Foolishness of Christie’s ARC Gambit


Without ARC, these century-old tunnels will remain the only way for NJ Transit commuters to get to Manhattan. Photo: NJ Transit via Second Avenue Sagas

Two weekends ago, construction on New Jersey’s most important transit project was called to a temporary stop by Governor Chris Christie. He declared a thirty-day review period for the ARC tunnel project, which would build a new rail tunnel below the Hudson and double commuter rail capacity from New Jersey. Many worry the review is just a prelude to axing the $8.7 billion project altogether and using the money saved to patch up New Jersey’s Transportation Trust Fund for a couple of years.

Advocates are now mobilizing to save ARC. People who live, work, or attend school in New Jersey can send a letter to the Christie administration through the Tri-State Transportation Campaign’s “We Need ARC” petition.

Currently, only a single pair of century-old tunnels carry New Jersey Transit trains into Penn Station, and with NJ Transit ridership more than quadrupling since the 1980s, those tunnels are at capacity. “Every two minutes, a train enters Midtown Manhattan from New Jersey,” said Juliette Michaelson of the Regional Plan Association. “That capacity cannot increase.”

Without a new tunnel, commuter rail in New Jersey simply cannot expand. If ARC is built, however, it would be expected to carry 100,000 more commuters into Midtown, more than doubling capacity. Estimates suggest 22,000 cars would be taken off the road as a result. “It’s a game-changer,” said Michaelson.

Christie’s decision to halt all work on the project for thirty days has put the project in grave peril.

Read more…


Port Authority Chief Calls for Green Overhaul of Region’s Freight System

CarGoTram.jpgPort Authority exec Chris Ward pointed to Dresden's CarGoTram as a sustainable freight mover that the region could learn from. Image: Wikimedia.
In a region where passenger transportation is being reimagined, freight needs to catch up. That's the message Chris Ward, the executive director of the Port Authority, delivered in a "call to arms" at Baruch College this morning. After outlining the importance and challenges of moving freight, Ward put forward the beginning of a plan to rationalize cargo movement, calling for a combination of new infrastructure, new pricing schemes, and centralized distribution centers scattered across the New York region. 

Ward's speech marked the release of the Port Authority's report "Freight and the Region's Future," a preliminary document that is part of a multi-year analysis of goods movement. But before Ward began to offer solutions, he impressed upon the crowd the urgency of the problem, which he called "likely the number one economic challenge facing this region." 

Freight feeds the region, both economically and literally; one quarter of all trucks crossing the Hudson east are carrying food. But that lifeline is being choked by the region's own prosperity, argued Ward. In the next 25 years, he said, truck loads are expected to grow by 39 percent and vehicle hours of delay by 57 percent. In contrast, population and employment are expected to grow 15 and 19 percent, respectively. The region will need to shed that economic dead weight in order to continue to prosper, Ward argued.

What's more, freight movement uses some of the dirtiest vehicles on the road. Calling air pollution a "public health crisis," Ward wondered why "we tend to disassociate it from goods movement." Any discussion of emissions or sustainability needs to include freight.


Port Authority Commits to Agency-Wide Plan for Better Bike Access

BikeRacksPATH_1.jpgBike racks, like these at the Grove Street PATH Station, could be a more common sight at Port Authority facilities. Image: City of Jersey City

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is a huge player in the region's transportation system. It manages the PATH train, the world's busiest bus terminal, all the major airports and seaports, and the bridges and tunnels between New York City and New Jersey. Now the Port Authority is adding one more mode to its portfolio: the bicycle.

In a statement earlier this week, Port Authority executive director Christopher Ward announced the agency's intent to support cycling "wherever operationally and financially feasible." 

Ward's March 29 bulletin, posted by the Century Road Club Association, signals the Port Authority's new commitment to get behind the region's upsurge in cycling. Wrote Ward:

Bicycling is a rapidly growing mode of transportation and the New York-New Jersey region is facing increased demand for expanded bicycle infrastructure, safer bicycle routes, access to transit connections and secure parking facilities. While we recognize that many Port Authority facilities currently provide some accommodations for bicycle users, we need to prepare more systematically for the growing use of bicycles as a mode of travel within the regional transportation system.

Ward then listed ways in which the Port Authority plans to promote cycling, from rewriting rules about bike access to the Port Authority's bridges, trains, and terminals, to adding bike lanes and parking at new and existing facilities and developing multi-modal transit hubs. The Port Authority will also use its power as a major landlord in both states -- most famously owning the World Trade Center site -- to work with tenants on becoming more bike-friendly. A Port Authority bike master plan is due by the end of September.

For current and would-be cyclists in New York and New Jersey, the Port Authority is a very important ally.


Infrastructure Bigs: To Compete, NYC Needs Congestion Pricing, Tolls

Holland_Tunnel_tolls.jpgTolls at the Holland Tunnel. Now the Port Authority is looking for the next financing model. Image: Library of Congress.

At a panel put on by the New School last week, some of New York's biggest players in transportation and planning came together to discuss the future of the city's infrastructure. They all seemed to agree: The city can't keep up with its global competitors without new sources of revenue.

Christopher Ward, the executive director of the Port Authority, framed the stakes: "We have to ask, what builds wealth?" The other panelists concurred: New York's health and economic dominance won't continue without consistent investment in its infrastructure, particularly its transportation network.

Seth Pinsky, the president of the New York City Economic Development Corporation, put it more directly. "We have spent the last 20 years trying to get our infrastructure back to pre-1970 levels," he said. Without moving further, "We will not be able to compete with other world cities."