Report on Port Authority of New York and New Jersey suggests governors use it as piggybank

A report says "regional projects" and the PATH rail system's deficit are draining Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
By Frances Burns  |  April 1, 2014 at 2:59 PM
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The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has financial problems because the governors of both states rely on it to fund pet projects, a new report says.

The report by the Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management at New York University is to be released this week, The New York Times reported.

The authors, Mitchell Moss, the Rudin Center director, and Hugh O'Neill, a former Port Authority executive, say the bi-state agency spent $800 million between 2002 and 2012 on non-revenue producing "regional projects," like industrial parks sought by New York and New Jersey governors. In addition, the Port Authority has had to cover the deficit of the PATH rail system, estimated at $400 million in 2012.

The spending is draining revenues from the Port Authority's bridges and tunnels, Moss and O'Neill said.

“It is no longer possible for the Port Authority to adequately fund its own facilities and services while simultaneously allocating hundreds of millions for non-revenue-generating state projects,” the report said.

The Port Authority was created in 1921, at a time when there were no roads and few rail links across the Hudson River. At the time, rail freight was unloaded in Jersey City and barged across the river.

Within a decade, the agency built three bridges between New Jersey and Staten Island, along with the George Washington Bridge, which opened in 1931 under budget and ahead of schedule. The Port Authority now operates five airports, six bridges and tunnels, two bus stations in Manhattan and the World Trade Center site.

But this year, the Port Authority has become notorious for the "Bridgegate" scandal -- the closing of approach lanes to the George Washington Bridge that caused four days of traffic chaos in Fort Lee, N.J. The closing was allegedly carried out by appointees of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie as an act of political payback.

Both Christie and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo have suggested they are open to changes at the Port Authority. Christie has said the agency could be broken up with its responsibilities split between the two states.

Christie has pushed for more money for New Jersey projects, including getting the agency to fund work on the aging Pulaski Skyway.

Stephen Berger, the Port Authority's executive director in the late 1980s, said the governors have not focused enough on the agency's financial setup.

“It’s like telling Dracula he’s got to leave the blood bank,” he said.

[The New York Times]

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