The Port Authority didn't mislead anyone last summer when it raised the specter of a large price tag for rebuilding the World Trade Center while arguing for steep toll hikes for its Hudson River crossings.
That's according to Chairman David Samson, who says the authority's been clear: it needs the money for its transportation network.
"Do I think there was consistency? Yes," said Samson after a Port Authority Board meeting Thursday. "Do I regret that somebody may have misunderstood that, in some of the public statements? If there was misunderstanding, on the point of view of the listener, sure I regret that."
Samson's remarks came just hours after the AAA said in court on Thursday that the Port Authority's Interstate Transportation Network -- its revenue-producing bridges and tunnels -- is a cash cow. The motorist association says the Port Authority is using that money to pay for the financially draining World Trade Center rebuilding.
The Port Authority says the ITN is drag on its system and has operated at a deficit for half a century - since the agency acquired the PATH train system in 1962.
That's the issue at the heart of a lawsuit wending its way through federal court. AAA is suing the Port Authority over toll and fare hikes which took effect in September. The judge heard arguments today and said he'd issue a written decision, but gave no timetable.
The Port Authority's ITN consists of several bridges and tunnels, as well as the Port Authority bus terminals, the PATH train system, and trans-Hudson ferry service.
When the agency made the case for the toll hikes in August, it repeatedly talked about its 10-year, $25 billion capital plan. Forty-three percent of that amount -- or $10.7 billion -- is slated to go towards projects for the ITN, including hoisting the Bayonne Bridge, replacing the Lincoln Tunnel helix, and modernizing the PATH system.
The next big ticket item, coming in at $6.9 billion, is the cost of rebuilding the World Trade Center. The Port Authority insists it's funding the WTC rebuilding through borrowing, federal grants, and insurance -- not toll revenues.
Samson wouldn't comment on any of the specific details of the pending litigation, but he disagreed with the AAA's assertion that the agency had misled the public into believing toll revenues would support the WTC.
"I think we were pretty clear about what we were talking about at the time," he said. "There's no doubt that in discussing the proposed toll and fare increase, we attempted to describe the overall financial condition of the agency. Inevitably, if you're going to be talking about the overall financial condition of the agency, you're going to talk about security that was added post-9/11 and the World Trade Center redevelopment site. There was to my knowledge, no reference, no specific statement, that said the proposed toll and fare increases were going to some other use, or some other place, other than what the executive director said was the integrated transportation network."
Pat Foye, the Port Authority's executive director, wasn't heading the agency in August. But he said the Port Authority's message has always been consistent. And the bottom line, he said, was if the agency hadn't raised tolls this summer, "there would have been a drag in the amount of $3 billion dollars on the rest of the organization, the non-interstate transportation part of the organization. And the fare and toll increase reduced the drag, reduced the burden, on the rest of the organization."