OP-ED: Happy 102nd anniversary to PANYNJ

May 12, 2023
April 30 marked the 102nd anniversary for creation of the PANYNJ.

April 30, 2023, marked the 102nd anniversary of the creation of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ). Most of the positive accomplishments since the PANYNJ was founded in 1921 took place decades ago, including construction and opening for the Bayonne Bridge (1931), Goethals Bridge (1928), George Washington Bridge Upper Level (1931) and Lower Level (1962), Holland Tunnel (1927), Lincoln Tunnel Center Tube (1937), North Tube (1945) and South Tube (1957), Outer bridge Crossing (1928), New York 42nd Street Bus Terminal (1950) and Expansion (1979), George Washington Bridge Bus Terminal (1950) and Renovation (2017) and Journal Square Transportation Center (1975).

PANYNJ deserves credit for managing and funding sufficient maintenance to keep all of these investments in transit service. All of these projects continue to make a positive contribution for mobility and economic vitality of the Metro New York Region.

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo failed to sign two proposed reform bills in 2015. This would have introduced transparency and accountability to the PANYNJ. Many believed at the time they would have made little difference. Both, at best, were a band aid approach to a bigger problem.

Breaking up is hard to do but sometimes necessary. On a bipartisan basis, members of the PANYNJ Board are appointed by New York and New Jersey governors. For decades, funds have been misappropriated. These are generated by tolls for non transit related projects such as the original One World Trade Center and economic development projects. All had little to do with the PANYNJ basic agency mission. These funds should have been used for maintenance, state of good repair and safety projects for PANYNJ bridges, tunnels, airports and PATH. These expenditures of funds for non transit related projects added up to billions of dollars. How many projects were completed years late and over budget with significant contract change orders?

The new PANYNJ PATH World Trade Center Station had an original start date of 2003, with a completion date of 2009 at a cost of $2 billion. PANYNJ subsequently signed a construction agreement with the Federal Transit Administration (FTA). This made up to $2.2 billion in federal funding available for the World Trade Center permanent new PATH Terminal. The grant agreement between PANYNJ and FTA was awarded in December 2003. It included a commitment to start construction in the beginning of 2006, with completion on or before June 2011.

Most construction was completed in 2016 years beyond the original promised scheduled date. At $4 billion, the cost was double the original $2 billion. The FTA provided approximately $1.9 billion. No one should be proud of the project delays and cost overruns. There was also a problem with the ceiling after opening with periodic leaking after any heavy rain that required a fix. It was a sad commentary on the mismanagement of taxpayers funds used for a major transportation project.

Other major projects are progressing at a snails pace. There is only $70 million for advancing an environmental study for the Cross Harbor Freight Tunnel within the PANYNJ $36 billion 2017 - 2026 Capital Plan (The concept was proposed 100 years ago and was suppose to be the No. 1 priority for the agency). This leaves a $9.930 billion shortfall to complete this project. Claims there is real progress for this project lack credibility. It is still stuck in the federal National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review process. Perhaps the Federal Highway Administration will issue a NEPA finding in 2023.

The proposed new 42nd Street Midtown Manhattan Bus Terminal has been considered for decades. Finding the resources to pay for the new proposed $10 billion PANYNJ midtown Manhattan Bus Terminal is easier said than done. The estimated price tag has grown from $7 to $10 billions over recent years.

The current 10-year PANYNJ Capital Plan provided only $3.5 billion toward construction of the new $10 billion 42nd Street PA Bus Terminal. The $70 million planning study started in 2019 was just the first down payment. It has assisted in laying the ground work for compliance with the federal NEPA environmental review process. PANYNJ must now be granted admission by the FTA to enter the New Starts or Core Capacity programs. The 2023 annual FTA New Starts Report for federal fiscal year 2024 sent to Congress did not include admitting this project into the program. There are many other transit agencies around the nation who are seeking FTA funding under these programs. No one can predict the final cost and completion date for the new bus terminal.

In 2014, the cost for the LaGuardia Air Train was $450 million with a completion date of 2019. PANYNJ has budgeted $2.05 billion of funding within the $37 billion 2017 - 2026 Capital Plan for the project, with a completion date of 2025. The project was subsequently cancelled by New York Gov. Kathy Hochul.

There have been several increases in PANYNJ bridge and tunnel tolls along with PATH fares. How much of these funds were diverted to cover the multi billion dollar PANYNJ cost overruns at various World Trade Center projects?

For decades, political appointees by both governors of New York and New Jersey following the direction of their sponsors have instructed the port authority to spend billions of dollars on projects, which had little to do with the original basic mission of the agency. These expenditures should not have been diverted from funding maintenance, operations, state of good repair, safety and other legitimate investments necessary to keep the existing bridges, tunnels and PATH functioning at peak conditions for users paying the bills.

How many times have we read about excessive numbers of PANYNJ employees making six figure incomes plus very generous perks, medical plans and incredible retirement packages especially for members of the PANYNJ police force?

Commuters, who, in many cases, make less than PANYNJ employees, continue picking up the tab for this long term neglect and misappropriation of funding.

Cumulative annual income from bridge and tunnel tolls over decades have far exceeded the original costs for construction and maintenance for these assets. Some say they would have paid for each bridge and tunnel several times over.

Authorities are created by governors for a reason. When successful, they take credit. When failures occur, they claim lack of agency control. Authorities never seem to sunset after accomplishing their original mission.

After 102 years, perhaps it is time to move in a new direction.


Larry Penner is a transportation advocate, historian and writer who previously worked for the Federal Transit Administration Region 2 NY Office. This included the development, review, approval and oversight for billions of dollars in grants which provided funding for capital projects and programs to the NY MTA, NYC Transit, Long Island and Metro North Rail Roads, MTA Bus, NYC DOT, NJ Transit and more than 30 transit agencies in New York and New Jersey.


About the Author

Larry Penner

Larry Penner is a transportation advocate, historian and writer who previously served as a former director for the Federal Transit Administration Region 2 New York Office of Operations and Program Management. This included the development, review, approval and oversight for billions in capital projects and programs for New Jersey Transit, New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority, NYC Transit bus, subway and Staten Island Railway, Long Island and Metro North railroads, MTA Bus, NYCDOT Staten Island Ferry along with 30 other transit agencies in New York and New Jersey.