Streams

Port Authority Head Rips Tight-Fisted Politicians

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Chris Ward, Head of the Port Authority Chris Ward, Head of the Port Authority (Stephen Nessen/WNYC)

A week after being forced to accept a smaller revenue package than he wanted, the executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey launched a full-throated broadside against politicians who say the government must reduce all spending. 

In an address at the New York Building Conference billed as a talk on the future of the World Trade Center site, Christopher Ward quickly shifted gears from the reconstruction of Ground Zero to the political process.

"For all his vaunted optimism after the Carter years, Reagan also launched a darker strain in American politics, that somehow government itself is the problem, and that you can always do more with less," Ward said, going on to mention Newt Gingrich's Contract with America and the Tea Party as Reagan's ideological heirs.

Ward said American infrastructure is crumbling, and likely to deteriorate further because  of the rise of conservative political movements, beginning with the election of 1980.

"Today, we are truly seeing the consequences of that slow deterioration of what we have always assumed would be there — that social contract," Ward said.

Ward explicitly connected conservative politics to his failure to get higher tolls on bridges and tunnels like the George Washington Bridge.

"In an instant, we became subsumed in the political environment I have been describing – one with little capacity to support the investment our region’s economic backbone so desperately needs."  

Responding to widespread outcry from the public, governors Chris Christie and Andrew Cuomo persuaded the Port Authority to accept a smaller toll and fare hike. Hudson River crossings will cost as much as $9.50 for most travelers, instead of $12, for example.

Ward expressed understanding for the governors' position.

"We live in the reality of practical decision making and decisions were made for what can in fact be a level of tolls that work within this region," Ward said. "And the governors showed their leadership."

While the executive director of the Port Authority is appointed by the governor of New York, the position is not considered political.

Ward said the lower revenues from tolls will mean delays in improvements to LaGuardia Airport and the Port Authority Bus Terminal.

In recent weeks, there have been rumors Ward would not stay with Port Authority much longer. After the speech, Ward was asked whether he had any plans to run for office, and he responded categorically: "Never."

Ward took over rebuilding at the site in 2008, after the project had become bogged down. He said an overemphasis on symbolism and scale — what he called "monumentalism" — held up rebuilding in the years immediately after the attacks.

The World Trade Center site will be closed to most of the public on September 11, 2011. But the city is making tickets to visit available by reservation, starting the next day.

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