Testimony at the NJ Senate Legislative Oversight Committee on the Port Authority of NY and NJ

Testimony of RPA New Jersey Director Mark Lohbauer at the NJ Senate Legislative Oversight Committee on the Port Authority of NY and NJ on January 17, 2017

Thank you for this opportunity to testify about what we consider should be important goals of the Port Authority of NY & NJ regarding regional transit.  We applaud this Committee for demanding enhanced public transportation for New Jerseyans, a cause that we strongly support. 

In our view, not enough spending is dedicated to public transportation in our State, particularly in that part of the Northeast Corridor that falls within the jurisdiction of the Port Authority.  I have brought some slides to illustrate why we believe that a significant increase in investment is justified in that area to support: 

  • Economic growth for NJ;
  • An enhanced environment less impacted by motor vehicles;
  • Better access for NJ residents to jobs in the NYC market; and
  • Greater mobility for New Jerseyans throughout the region.

There are three Port Authority projects that I will discuss with you: Gateway, Port Authority Bus Terminal, and the PATH Extension to Newark. 

I have three basic points to make about those projects:

  1. RPA believes that the Gateway project and the Port Authority Bus Terminal projects are of paramount importance not only to NJ, but to the national economy. The PATH Extension project is also important to the regional economy. 
  2. We also believe that any new Port Authority bus terminal needs to be planned in an integrated way with the Gateway project, and the planning for a new Penn Station train terminal. Together, these projects will determine virtually all access into Manhattan for NJ commuters, and they should not be planned in isolation from one another.
  3. Finally, there need to be resources to make these investments. The economic multipliers make each of these good projects, and we shouldn’t accept a future where we are constrained by our current under-investing.

By public transportation, we mean both bus and rail transit. Let me show you why: 

This map illustrates the rail service lines that exist in the 31 counties of our region. 14 of those counties are in NJ. Like the spokes of a wheel, all of these rail lines radiate outward from a central hub, which is the island of Manhattan, the heart of our metropolitan region.   

This dot-density map, produced by the Port Authority, graphs the results of the most recent U.S. Census travel survey, showing the various modes of transportation used by commuters in the region. People who commute by car are shown by red dots, and you can see that those are distributed everywhere, but for Manhattan. The other colors represent public transportation choices: 

  • Purple dots for ferry riders;
  • Green for subway riders;
  • Yellow dots for bus commuters; and
  • Blue for rail passengers

If you just look at the counties of NJ, you can see that the yellow of bus commuters, and the blue of rail passengers are both striking in their dominance. It’s also important to note that many of these bus riders are originating from denser parts of the state – in Hudson, Essex, Bergen and Passaic counties. 

New Jerseyans clearly rely heavily upon public transit to get to Manhattan. 

Of course, Manhattan is an island, and it is necessary to cross the Hudson River from NJ to get there, or the East River and Harlem River to get there from Long Island, Connecticut, or the outer boroughs. This chart shows that by far, the least number of crossing options are available to cross the Hudson from NJ: there are only 6 crossing structures that cross the Hudson: 1 bridge (the GWB), and 5 tunnels. However, there are 15 crossing structures that cross the Harlem River, and 18 across the East River… each with about 3 times as many structures as the Hudson. Put another way, only 15% of the crossing structures that carry people into Manhattan cross the Hudson River into NJ. Also, most of these crossings are designed for rubber-tired vehicles – autos and trucks. 

This imbalance in crossing points is exacerbated when you consider the level of traffic flowing across each of these rivers: there are over 9,300 express buses that enter downtown Manhattan every day. Over 82% of these—7,389—come from NJ and cross the Hudson. That’s quite a disparity.

A survey completed  in 2013 (HUB BOUND) shows that of all the daily transit riders who crossed the Hudson river, 47% of them traveled by bus. In fact, of all the choices available—PATH, NJ Transit, Amtrak, ferry boats, and buses—the single largest rider choice was buses across the Lincoln Tunnel (43%). Bus transit is clearly an extremely significant component for NJ transit riders. 

As we know, the existing Port Authority Bus Terminal is deteriorated, and inadequate to comfortably serve current ridership demand. Nor does it connect the majority of NJ’s bus commuters to their ultimate destinations in the city. A new bus terminal and more balanced service is critical to better serve the 43% of NJ commuters that use this mode.

One of our key goals for 2017 at RPA is determine a plan and funding scheme for the new Port Authority Bus Terminal and get the environmental approvals process underway. We intend to work with public officials and business and civic groups to develop an integrated plan that meets the future travel needs across the Hudson River, including the size and location of a new bus terminal and other improvements. We recognize that the Port Authority has set aside $3.5 Billion in its current capital plan for this project, and that a design competition has produced several alternate plans for the Port Authority to consider. We respectfully suggest that further planning needs to be done before bus terminal designs are attempted or selected.  We believe that any new Port Authority bus terminal needs to be planned in an integrated way with the Gateway project, and the planning for a new Penn Station train terminal. Together, these projects will determine virtually all access into Manhattan for NJ commuters, and they should not be planned in isolation from one another.

The disparity that exists today in terms of access for NJ commuters into Manhattan is only going to get worse, if measures are not taken to improve access and provide better alternatives. This slide shows that over the past two decades (1990-2010), transit ridership to Manhattan grew slightly in Connecticut and in the Hudson River Valley, and stayed flat in Long Island… while ridership increased by 65,000 people coming from NJ. You may wonder whether that trend will continue. We are confident that the region will see even greater growth, and while I do not have specific projections to share with you today, we can preliminarily project a growth of NJ riders of about 100,000 between now and 2040. We will have more specific projections in our Fourth Regional Plan, later this year.

All of this growth is occurring at a time when we are facing a looming crisis in conveying transit passengers between NY and NJ. We have 2 tunnels to provide train service between Manhattan and Newark. Both are over 100 years old, and both were damaged by floodwaters during Superstorm Sandy. Salt and mineral deposits that coated the tracks and tunnel walls from the flood waters are still present, corroding the infrastructure. We need to stop that deterioration, but it will require closing each tunnel to do the work. This slide shows that closing one tunnel will reduce our rail capacity from the current 24 trains/hour, to a maximum of 6 trains/hour—one-fourth of what it should be. You can imagine what a disaster that would be to close a tunnel for one day, let alone for a year or more.  

To prevent that disaster, we need to build a new, 2-track tunnel under the Hudson, and support that new tunnel with related replacements of aging rail bridges that will increase train capacity, and avoid delays now caused by bridge openings. Once completed, the new Gateway project would allow for existing rail traffic to move through the new tunnel, while we close and repair the existing tunnels. As you know, this project is underway with the support of Governors Christie and Cuomo, the federal government, Amtrak, NJ Transit, and the NY Department of Transportation. The Port Authority has already set aside $2.7 Billion in their current Capital Plan for this project, which has been described by the federal Transportation Department as “the most important rail project in the United States.” 

One other Port Authority project that features in the Capital Plan, and is important not only to enhanced trans-Hudson access, but would also provide better rail access to an underserved urban neighborhood, is the Newark PATH extension. It would continue the PATH rail line south from its current terminus at Newark Penn Station, and extend nearly 2 miles south to Newark Liberty Airport. 

This slide shows the proposed line extension in pale blue. 

Bringing PATH into Newark’s South Ward will provide:

  • Improved access (and frequency of service) to Liberty Airport for residents across the region;
  • New access to better transit for residents of Newark’s South Ward, by creating a public train station at the Airport;
  • Better access to jobs around the region for all Newark residents;
  • Enhanced PATH train frequency thanks to a new rail yard that would allow for storage of more PATH trains. (This, in conjunction with Automated Train Control, which is already being installed on PATH trains, will allow maximum train frequency.)

Equally important are these other consequences shown on this table that we project that the PATH extension would have for other NJ communities. As the table shows, there would be dramatic increases in development that would bring new jobs and new residents to all 5 of the NJ PATH stations along the line between Exchange Place and Newark Airport. This investment would reap real dividends.  

In closing, the RPA would like to thank the Chairman and members of the Senate Legislative Oversight Committee for maintaining your vigilance in this most important area. We urge you to continue your support and scrutiny of these critical projects at the Port Authority, without which our regional economy might experience serious reversals. Thank you.