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Bridgegate Fall Guy Was Inside Man

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Unearthed calendars from David Wildstein show he had more contact with Chris Christie's inner circle than the governor has previously acknowledged. 

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Transportation Nation

PATH Train Connecting NY - NJ Gets Fare Hike Tonight

Sunday, September 30, 2012

(New York, NY -- Johanna Mayer, WNYC) The heavy rail transit system connecting New York City with Northern New Jersey is getting more expensive. The price of a ride on the PATH train will rise by quarter, making it the same as the NYC subway with which it connects. Soon though, the PATH system will cost more than it's big brother transit network as the agency that runs it, the Port Authority, seeks to stave off financial troubles brought on, in part, by the cost of rebuilding the World Trade Center.

The second in a series of fare hikes that were passed in 2011 comes into effect Monday morning. Fares will increase every year until 2015, when the price will reach $2.75 per ride.

“Income is already limited, and then they just dip into your pocket a little deeper,” said John Cooper, who is an every-day rider of the PATH.

Kyle Barry, who takes both the PATH and the NYC subway to work, was understanding about the fare hike. “I have no problem with the increase as long as it means, maybe, trains run more often,” he said.

Riders can use the same Metrocard to ride the PATH as the NYC subway. Last year, Port Authority Chairman David Samson justified the hikes by saying they were a result of the economy, rebuilding the World Trade Center, and investing in infrastructure for the future. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, a multi-state agency that oversees bridges and tunnels in the NY metropolitan area, as well as sites like the World Trade Center

The Port Authority, facing fiscal troubles, also voted to raise tolls on several bridges and tunnels in 2011. Then, earlier this week, Moody's downgraded the Port Authority's credit rating citing the high cost of World Trade Center rebuilding. That could potentially increase borrowing costs for the agency, and make capital improvements, for properties like the PATH, more expensive.

For the riders who use the PATH to cross theHudson River from New Jersey, even a 50 cent increase still means the service is a steal compared to other alternatives like driving. Nicholas Stango, who rides the PATH every day said “I mean, it’s fine. The PATH, if they need more money and, like, they’re going to use it to make the PATH better, then I’m ok with it.”

For the history of the PATH train and a nice vintage pic, head over to this PA NY/NJ site.

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Transportation Nation

Port Authority Pushes Back on Scathing Audit, But Acknowledges Need for Reform

Thursday, February 09, 2012

(photo: Port Authority Chairman David Samson address the media (Janet Babin/WNYC)

UPDATED WITH MORE ON PA STATEMENTS ON WTC & TOLL HIKES (READ A BIT INTO THE POST) The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is defending the expanded costs for the World Trade Center project, but it also admits it needs to become leaner and more transparent.

The agency addressed the project’s costs at its first public Board meeting since an outside audit released earlier this week.  The interim report revealed that costs at the World Trade Center project had ballooned to $15-billion dollars, up from about $4-billion in 2008.

But Port Authority Chair David Samson said the figures did not reflect cost overruns at the World Trade Center.  “The numbers that provide an increase in the original cost estimate were not on cost overruns, and they were not over budget....there was a cost estimate increase,” said Samson.

The Board said that the project’s expanded costs were simply not included in the original cost estimates created in 2008.  “They were mostly costs associated with One World Trade Center and retail, like tenant improvement costs, financing costs, and leasing commissions,” said Vice Chairman Scott Rechler.  He said these were things that would normally be included in a project cost estimate.

The Board said any cost overruns at the World Trade Center site were due to expanded work on the transportation hub, and the accelerated speed of the project.  Some work was fast tracked in order to complete the 9/11 memorial in time for the ten year anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks.

The audit, by Navigant Consulting, was commissioned by NY Governor Andrew Cuomo and NJ Governor Chris Christie after the Board voted to increase bridge and tunnel tolls last August.  Board Chair  Samson said those toll increases are here to stay.  He also maintained the toll revenue is not linked in any way to the World Trade Center project.  “There was never a statement made that linked the toll increase to paying for the World Trade Center redevelopment,” said Samson.

(That's actually not accurate.  An August 5, 2011 press release announcing the proposed hike specifically cited "the overall cost of WTC rebuilding" as pressuring the authority's finances.  "Faced with three unprecedented challenges at once," the statement said – "(1) a historic economic recession that has sharply decreased revenue below projections, (2) steep increases in post-9/11 security costs, which have nearly tripled, and the overall cost of the WTC rebuilding, and (3) the need for the largest overhaul of facilities in the agency’s 90-year history – the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey today proposed a two-phase toll and fare increase to fully fund a new $33 billion ten-year capital plan, which will generate 167,000 jobs."

To be sure, after being sued by the AAA, the Port Authority has maintained that no funding from the toll increase actually goes directly to the World Trade Center, a position the Chair restated Thursday.  Samson said said he "disagreed" that the Port Authority had raised the specter of WTC reconstruction as driving the toll hike, saying that press release was instead painting "a general picture of the financial position of the Port Authority." )

The audit also described the agency as dysfunctional.

The Board blamed that on prior leaders.  Vice Chairman Rechler said that the last ten years at the Port Authority have been “destabilizing.”  The agency lost 83 employees during the 2001 terrorist attacks.  The Board went through seven different executive directors over the past ten years.  “We feel confident now that there’s new leadership,” said Vice Chairman Rechler.

The Board said it’s finding ways to move forward.  It pointed to a new joint venture with Westfield Group as a positive sign. “Our agreement with Westfield leverages public and private sector money that allows us to pursue our core mission: to stimulate job creation and economic activity for the New Jersey and New York region,” said Samson.

The Board said it will also focus on improving capital planning and financing for big projects.  It will also tackle employee compensation.  The audit found that the average Port Authority employee earns about $143-thousand dollars a year.  “We need to better align our compensation and benefits packages to appropriate public employee standards, “said Samson.

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Transportation Nation

Port Authority Audit: World Trade Center Price Tag Increases By Almost $4 Billion

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

One World Trade Center (photo by Stephen Nessen/WNYC)

A scathing new audit of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has found that costs at the World Trade Center now top $14.8 billion dollars. That’s an increase of $3.8 billion since the last public forecast in 2008.

The audit cited the Port Authority for a lack of consistent leadership, poor capital planning, insufficient cost controls, and a lack of transparent and effective oversight for problems at the World Trade Center. The audit also identified approximately $1 billion in additional cost overruns that it says will happen unless the Port Authority finds a way to trim costs.

The audit, performed by Navigant Consulting, outlined other problems at the agency. It found that 93% of Port Authority employees make no contribution to their health care.  The average total compensation for a Port Authority employee exceeds $143,000 annually, with little evidence that compensation is tied to performance. The audit also found that average overtime or other add-on compensation in 2010 topped $20,000 per employee.

Another finding: the Port Authority’s exposure to debt has more than doubled over the past ten years, from about $9.1 billion just over a decade ago to $19.5 billion at the end of last year. Future cash flow from operations alone will not be able to fund ongoing capital projects, according to the interim report.

Port Authority executive director Pat Foye acknowledged the problems in a statement on the agency’s website. “The consultant’s preliminary review underscores the need for the Port Authority to refocus,” said Foye.  “A poorly coordinated capital planning process, insufficient cost controls and a lack of transparent and effective oversight of the World Trade Center program that has obscured full awareness of billions of dollars in exposure to the Port Authority all played a role in getting us to where we are today." Port Authority vice chairman Scott Rechler also made a statement on the agency website: “For too long, the Port Authority has followed past historical management and financial practices, and the time has come for that to change."

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie requested the audit after the agency voted to raise bridge and tunnel tolls in August. In a joint statement, the two said: “This record of historic failure must be reversed.”

You can find the audit here.

 

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Transportation Nation

NY Governor Cuomo's Schedule Shows Few Meetings on Transit, Transportation

Thursday, September 22, 2011

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (photo courtesy of Gov. Cuomo's flickr page)

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo met repeatedly in the first eight months of the year on marriage equality, the property tax cap, and even farmer’s markets. But his schedule from January 1- August 31, made available online Thursday, shows no meetings or phone calls with Port Authority chief Chris Ward or Metropolitan Transportation Authority CEO Jay Walder.

The two men run powerful, multi-billion dollars transportation authorities, and are appointed by the Governor.

The Governor did meet with Transportation Commissioner Joan McDonald on more than one occasion on the Tappan Zee Bridge, which is in need of replacement. He held a meeting in March on unspecified “Transportation and Infrastructure” issues, and had several appointments and public events surrounding an initiative to crack down on texting while driving.

The New York Times reported last month on how Walder and Cuomo only met once – but the schedules reveal in fresh detail a governor consumed with issues other than transit and transportation. He held dozens of meeting on marriage equality, the budget, and ethics reform. His public schedule lists in detail attendees at meetings on economic development, and Medicaid reform. When he meets with local legislators, religious leaders, or union brass, every name is detailed.

To be sure, the Governor’s schedule does not indicate every individual staffer he met with or every issue he discussed. There are numerous entries that just say, for example, “conference call with staff.” But a read through the documents (which show his prepared schedule, and are not a complete record of actual events) shows issues that have held his sustained attention, including the budget, property tax caps, and especially, marriage equality. There are no entries that say “transit,” and just one that says MTA – a call on August 26 on preparations for hurricane Irene.

An MTA spokesman referred questions on the schedule to the Governor’s office. The Governor’s spokesman, Joshua Vlasto, would only say, “the Governor and his administration spoke with officials at the MTA and the Port Authority frequently.” Vlasto did not respond to a follow-up question of how frequently the Governor personally spoke or met with MTA or PA officials.

The schedules include the period when MTA chairman Jay Walder announced he was leaving for a job in Hong Kong and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey raised tolls for Hudson River bridges and fares for the PATH train. They show a dinner with NJ Governor Chris Christie at Beacon Restaurant on July 29, two weeks before the toll proposal was announced.

Both governors initially denounced the proposal, then came around to supporting it in modified form. Tolls were raised last weekend.

Cuomo has appointed a wide-ranging search committee to replace Walder, who is leaving next month. The Governor has kept thoughts about the replacement to himself, saying only he’d like to announce a replacement before Walder leaves on October 21. He has appointed a real estate executive, Howard Millstein, to head the NY Thruway Authority, and has appointed two real estate executives, Scott Rechler and Jeffrey Lynford to the board of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Cuomo appointed the former Bronx Borough President and democratic mayoral nominee, Fernando Ferrer, to the MTA board earlier this year.

 

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Transportation Nation

Riders, Drivers Will Get To Sound Off On Proposed NY-NJ Port Authority Toll Hikes

Monday, August 15, 2011

The George Washington Bridge, a NY-NJ Port Authority Crossing. (Photo by wally g / Flickr)

(New York, NY - WNYC) The New York-New Jersey Port Authority will hold public hearings tomorrow on a proposal for steep toll and fare hikes that could take effect as soon as next month. The increases were announced ten days ago, with a vote by the authority's Board of Commissioners scheduled for August 19. But first, riders and drivers will have a chance to express their feelings about PATH trains costing a dollar more per ride and Hudson River bridges and tunnels going up to 15 dollars per round-trip.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie call the proposed hikes "indiscriminate and exorbitant," though it's an open question about whether they will accept a scaled-down version. (A New York Times editorial was hardly alone in characterizing the initial remarks as "gubernatorial theatrics.")

Neither governor is ruling out the toll hikes altogether.

Other editorial writers have labeled them "grotesque" and "a heavy burden." And Automobile Association of America spokesman Ron Sinclair told TN that, "Our members are contacting us and telling us it’s very unfair, it's outrageous, it's a burden that's going to be tough to bear during a difficult economy."

But labor unions, and business and trade organizations, say the hikes are needed to keep the port and airports running, bridges standing and progress moving on a rebuilt World Trade Center.

The Port Authority says they're needed because it's been hit with a triple-whammy: a recession that has caused lower volumes of toll-paying traffic on its crossings to the tune of $2.6 billion; post-9/11 security costs that have driven up the budget of the World Trade Center rebuilding; and "the need for the largest overhaul of facilities in the agency’s 90-year history."

(Go here for the authority's justification of the hikes. And here for Andrea Bernstein's analysis of the politics behind it.)

Tomorrow, the authority will host hearings in New York and New Jersey to learn whether their customers think that's worth the increased tolls and fares they may soon be required to pay.

Here is the Port Authority's August 16 public hearing schedule:

Newark Liberty International Airport
1 Conrad Road
Building 157, Bay 3
Newark, NJ 07114
973-961-6161
8 a.m.

Port Authority Technical Center
241 Erie Street, Room 212
Jersey City, NJ 07310
201-216-2700
8 a.m.

Port Ivory/Howland Hook
40 Western Ave.
Staten Island, NY 10303
718-330-2950
8 a.m.

Port Authority Bus Terminal
625 8th Avenue
Times Square Conference Room – 2nd Floor
New York, NY 10018
212-502-2240
8 a.m.

George Washington Bridge Administration Building
220 Bruce Reynolds Way
Conference Room
Fort Lee, NJ 07024
201-346-4005
6 p.m.

Holland Tunnel Administration Building,
13th Street & Provost Street
Conference Room
Jersey City, NJ 07310
201-360-5021
6 p.m.

George Washington Bridge Bus Station
4211 Broadway
Lower Level Conference Room
New York, NY 10033
201-346-4005
6 p.m.

John F. Kennedy International Airport
Port Authority Administration
Building 14, 2nd Floor Conference Room
Jamaica, NY 11430
718-244-3501
6 p.m.

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Transportation Nation

Check Out the Port Authority's New Times Square Look

Friday, June 24, 2011

New York's legendary Port Authority bus terminal is getting a modern facelift. It's actually a bit more like an LED veil. The 61 year-old building will have a jumbotron-sized mesh of programmable lights draped over the facade, allowing the agency to play high resolution images and messages.

The neon look catches the building up a bit to its glitzy neighbors, like the soaring New York Times building across the street, designed by star architect Renzo Piano. The moving stream of neon on the terminal's exterior serves to simultaneously, and contradictorily, give the notoriously bunker-like building brightness and life while reminding older New Yorkers of a time when the 24-hour glow of 42nd street was a beacon of the city's seedier subculture.

The 6,000 square feet of mediamesh--an LED light array that allows ventilation into the building while projecting images outward--will also earn the agency extra revenue. Along with advertising, the mediamesh will provide information during emergencies and periodically promote charitable causes.

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Transportation Nation

Senator Schumer And Governor Christie Trade Rhetorical Blows Over ARC Tunnel

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Sen. Schumer to business breakfast: NJ Gov Christie's pulling the plug on ARC Tunnel was "terrible decision."

(New York - Jim O'Grady, WNYC) If U.S. Senator Charles Schumer was spoiling for a fight when he addressed a business breakfast this morning about regional transportation policy, he got one--from New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. That's because the heart of his forty-minute speech was a scathing critique of Christie's decision to kill the $9 billion ARC rail tunnel under the Hudson.

"I believe pulling the plug on ARC was a terrible, terrible decision," Schumer said.

He pointed out that bridge and tunnel crossings between New York and New Jersey are now at capacity as more than a quarter million people commute from and through New Jersey to New York each day, a number that is expected to grow at least 25% in coming decades. He also said the tunnel would have brought thousands of construction jobs to the region and raised property values in large parts of New Jersey. And construction on it had already begun.

"This was not just a project in the planning stages," Schumer said. "There were explicit funding commitments from the Port Authority and the federal government. It was the largest public works project in the country, coming right here."

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Transportation Nation

NJ Transportation Plan Draws Fire; Some ARC Money Goes to Roads

Friday, January 07, 2011

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation)  New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's announcement yesterday that he was putting forward a "responsible transportation capital plan," drew a quick torrent of criticism from transit advocates already stung by huge fare hikes and, later, the death of the trans-Hudson passenger rail ARC tunnel.

Christie's move does seem to take NJ transportation funding back to the future -- to a time when road-building was prioritized over transit.   In the 1950's and through the end of the twentieth century, U.S. transportation policy favored road funding over transit funding at a ratio of about eighty to twenty percent.  In the last decade, everyone from urban planning graduate students to President Barack Obama have decried the sprawl such funding formulas created.

But for Christie, the ARC tunnel was an unsustainable project, getting built as NJ's Highway Trust Fund was broke and roads were falling into disrepair.   By re-purposing this funding, Christie says, he's taking the fiscally responsible route.

"Over each of the next five years the Christie Plan will increase cash contributions used to fund transportation projects while at the same time decreasing the use of borrowing.

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Transportation Nation

As Trans-Hudson Transit Tunnel Teeters on the Brink, Mayor Bloomberg Says City Can't Help

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) -- Supporters of the federal government's largest transit new start are steeling themselves for an announcement that could come this week that NJ Governor Chris Christie will not fund a transit tunnel under the Hudson River, the nation's largest transit new start project in the works.

Christie has said he's worried the $8.7 billion project could run over by as much as $5 billion, and that if that's the case, he says NJ doesn't have the funds to back it. And he's said, with the NJ highway trust fund broke, the roads need the money.

But though this project has always been more a child of NJ than NY, NYC stands to benefit by one of the tunnel's promises -- doubling the number of New Jerseyans who live within a 50 minute transit commute of New York City. That brings more workers and shoppers to the city, and serves an off-stated Bloomberg goal of reducing carbon emissions.

Today, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said, NYC won't step in and keep the project from dying, if that's what Christie decides.

"We are not party to this," the Mayor said at a City Hall news conference. "It is a Port Authority Project," he added, before saying some nice things about Port Authority staff. "They have their own financial problems, and they can afford some things and not others. "

The Port Authority, a bi-state authority, it should be said, is fully behind the project -- it's Christie who has indicated he may take his $2.7 billion and re-purpose it to roads.

The death of this project would be a major blow to the Obama administration, which has made quite clear that it believes that denser, more transit,oriented development, prioritized over road-based sprawl, is what's needed for a more sustainable future.

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Transportation Nation

Christie Casts Further Doubt on Transit Tunnel

Monday, September 20, 2010

(WNYC News) One week into a 30-day review a new transit tunnel connecting New Jersey to Manhattan, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie says he's not confident that the project will come in under the budget of 8.7 billion dollars.

"I've seen estimates that take this from 2 to 5 billion over budget. Where am I going to get this money? I don't have an answer to that. So I want to know exactly what I'm biting off before I take another bite and start chewing.]

Speaking on WOR this morning, Christie suggested that the federal government should consider stepping up with more money.

NJ Transit and the Port Authority are each contributing 3 billion dollars to the project, which is among the largest stimulus-funded initiatives in the country -- about another $1 billion.

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Transportation Nation

Why Was the Trans-Hudson River Tunnel Halted?

Monday, September 13, 2010

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) When the Newark Star Ledger reported yesterday that NJ Transit would be suspending activity on the so-called ARC tunnel (which stands for "access to the region's core") under the Hudson river, planners sat up in alarm.

The tunnel will allow NJ transit trains to effectively double their capacity into Manhattan, making transit an option for tens of thousands of NJ drivers, and bringing a steady stream of workers to midtown Manhattan ( Thirty Fourth Street and Sixth Avenue, to be precise). There, they'll be able to take the 34th Street bus rapid transit, planned for 2012, to gain access to a major new Manhattan development site, the Hudson Yards, on the far West Side.

The $8.7 billion project is funded half the the Port Authority, half by NJ Transit (which gets a dedicated stream of funding from Garden State Parkway Tolls), and is getting $1 billion in funding from the federal stimulus bill.

It's the largest single infrastructure recipient of stimulus funds under the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, or ARRA, and is seen as crucial the the New York-New Jersey region's economic development.

But -- shock of shocks -- it may go over budget, and hence, as the Ledger reported it: " The month-long suspension of all new activity - imposed by NJ Transit Executive Director James Weinstein in the wake of concerns by the Federal Transit Administration - will be used to re-examine the budget numbers."

In the planning community today, there's an awful lot of head-scratching.  Did this really come from the FTA, and was the FTA legitimately concerned about costs?

If so, why? Other huge Manhattan infrastructure projects, like the Second Avenue Subway, have proceeded without full funding, the theory being that a significant infusion of funds to get a project going ends up drawing down more funds in future, by creating momentum around a project.

Does this signify that NJ Governor Chris Christie is backing away from ARC, or that he'd like to see the Garden State Parkway revenue go to other projects? Christie has been an opponent of raising the gas tax, and NJ's highway trust fund, like the federal government's is broke.

We're trying to sort this out...let us know what you're hearing.

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