Regional Plan Association Testimony on the Port Authority Bus Terminal Scoping Process

Good afternoon, I am Tom Wright, President and CEO of the Regional Plan Association. Thank you for the opportunity to submit written testimony on the Port Authority Bus Terminal planning level scoping process. Regional Plan Association is a non-profit civic organization that conducts research, advocacy and planning to improve mobility, economic opportunity and sustainability in the New York metropolitan region. RPA has researched and advocated for better mobility options across the Hudson River for decades, and believes that improving the Port Authority Bus Terminal is a vital component of a comprehensive long-term strategy. 

Transportation across the Hudson River is in crisis and better mobility is desperately needed

Public transportation across the Hudson River is in crisis. The Northeast Corridor, Penn Station, and the Port Authority Bus Terminal all suffer frequent service failures, serve many times the number of people they were built to handle, and need major repairs to prevent catastrophe. The Hudson River tunnels are over 100 years old and were severely damaged by Superstorm Sandy. Riders using the Port Authority Bus Terminal suffer from long lines, frequent delays and obsolete facilities.

Ongoing trends of job growth in the region’s center and housing growth beyond the center are not letting up the pressure on our overburdened facilities. While the pace of job growth in Northern New Jersey has picked up since 2015 (from 1.0 percent to 1.3 percent annually), and slowed somewhat in New York City (from 2.7 percent to 1.9 percent annually), the rate of growth in the City still outpaces rates across the river, and is taking place on a much larger base of employment. At the same time, in just the four years between 2013 and 2017, the combined populations of Hudson, Essex, Union, and Middlesex Counties in New Jersey grew by 100,000.

Additionally, the number of daily commuters traveling from New Jersey to Manhattan has grown substantially over the past few decades. Commuter rail trips in and out of Penn Station have nearly tripled in the last 25 years, bus trips have grown by 83%, and PATH ridership is up by 27% since 1990. RPA’s research projects that this trend will continue over the next two decades, requiring far more capacity than the existing facilities can provide.

Source: RPA, based on NYMTC Hub Bound data

The Solution

RPA has recommended a number of coordinated solutions to these challenges, with mobility and environmental benefits for New Jersey commuters and New York City neighborhoods: 

  • Building the Gateway Tunnel – the most important infrastructure project in the nation 
  • Rehabbing and expanding the Port Authority Bus Terminal and opening a smaller, second bus facility under the Javits Convention Center; 
  • Investing in the PATH system to provide longer trains, longer platforms, and more frequent service; and
  • Extending New York’s Penn Station to the south (“Penn South”) and expand Gateway to Sunnyside, Queens with a stop along the East Side of Manhattan, an action that by itself would increase the capacity of the Gateway tunnels by an estimated 38%.

As part of this longer term effort, we are pleased to see the Port Authority moving forward with a project to address conditions at the Port Authority Bus Terminal, a vital facility for 450,000 trips in and out of Manhattan each day. As the chart above illustrates, the bus terminal plays a vital role in the economic and environmental health of the region.

PABT Alternative 10, which creates a second bus terminal under the Javits Convention Center, must be given equal consideration 

RPA endorses the process the Authority has selected to move forward and is pleased to see an alternative we presented in our prior work (Alternative 10 in the scoping documents) moving on to further evaluation as part of the scoping process. Our analysis found that opening a new facility for intercity and long distance buses under the Javits Convention Center would provide a more redundant and resilient transit network. 

The benefits of an additional bus terminal located at the Javits Convention Center could be substantial:

  • Construction of a new facility at the Javits Convention Center could take place without disruption to existing commuters, and would create swing space for rehabilitation of the existing PABT, minimizing disruptions to commuters.
  • Relocating intercity buses from the PABT to the new facility would free up bus stalls to commuters on the ground floor and provide expansion capacity in the near term; and
  • Intercity bus travelers have significantly different support requirements compared to daily commuters, and a purpose-built facility could provide services and facilities currently missing from the PABT. As planning continues, the Port should use this as an opportunity to plan for the whole universe of buses, including intercity buses, to get bus drop offs and pick ups off of Midtown streets. This will improve safety and open up space for pedestrians. 

More detail needed on the feasibility of Build Alternative 3, the “Overbuild Option” 

RPA is concerned that the alternative being considered to simultaneously rehabilitate and expand the existing PABT is less feasible and more risky than Port Authority planning documents indicate. The environmental review should evaluate how driving piles through an existing structure to enable the addition of floors above could proceed without significant disruption to the PABT’s 450,000 daily bus trips -- especially since the bus terminal will be called on to provide additional services in the likely disruption of services on the Northeast Corridor.

RPA’s recent “Preventable Crisis” report documented a $16 billion hit to the national economy and a $22 billion property value losses as a result of a 4-year, planned rehabilitation of the existing Northeast Corridor rail tunnels under the Hudson River, if the repairs are necessary before the Gateway project has been built. Many of the negative impacts forecasted were to travelers who are not current rail riders, but travelers on existing systems whose commutes and business travel would be delayed by the addition of displaced rail riders onto already-badly-strained PATH, bus, and roadway systems.

The reconstruction of the PABT bus terminal in a “rebuild in place” scenario could have similar impacts to daily bus ridership and economic impacts to those forecast in the “Preventable Crisis” report, creating disruptions throughout the regional transportation network. A major repair and expansion of the 42nd Street bus terminal, while it continues operation, could increase hardship and delays for everyone traveling across the Hudson River.  

The PABT solution must be looked at holistically, with the condition of other Hudson River crossings

It is all the more a concern that impacts associated with a “rebuild in place” scenario could potentially occur at the same time as disruptions associated with the dilapidated Hudson River rail tunnels. For such impacts to occur simultaneously would be truly catastrophic for the economies of both New York and New Jersey.

Work to improve environmental conditions

The PA should monitor air quality and seek a solution that improves localized air quality for Hell’s Kitchen and nearby neighborhoods. 

Not precluding alternatives or predetermining outcomes

For these reasons, RPA urges the Port Authority to give equal consideration to all the alternatives available for rehabilitation of the existing PABT and expansion of bus capacity across the Hudson River, in particular the alternative that would relocate a portion of bus activity – primarily intercity bus service, tour buses, and selected NJ commuter buses serving Hudson Yards employment – to a new bus facility located at the Javits Convention Center. This Javits terminal could be developed first, and provide redundancy and flexibility as the existing PABT is reconstructed. 

The scoping documents also indicate a strong preference for the overbuild option (Alternative 3), and again, we have concerns this option will have more impacts and engineering concerns than currently detailed. The scoping document also lists property acquisition as a fatal flaw. For a project of this size, it is too early to make that final determination, especially so early in the process. 

Because the risks of disruption to New Jersey commuters and region’s economy from either a Hudson Tunnel shutdown or reduced PABT capacity – not to speak of both occurring at the same time – RPA urges the most serious, thorough, thoughtful, and open consideration of the terminal rehabilitation and bus capacity expansion alternatives before it. The vitality of the region’s economy is too critical to tamper with. 

Thank you for embarking on this process and we look forward to working with the Port Authority as the environmental review process continues.