Gov. Andrew Cuomo's announcement this week that Port Authority Executive Director Christopher Ward and Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman Jay Walder were being retained in their posts is good news indeed — both for these agencies and for the region. Both men are extremely good at their jobs, and have priorities and goals that suit the region. Keeping them on keeps the region on track to fulfill those goals.
The decision to keep Walder and Ward in their positions, even though they were appointed by a previous governor, also sets a good example for future governors and chief executives, in general, of keeping good people in place. It's an early indication that the new Cuomo Administration is placing a high priority on attracting top administrators to state agencies and public authorities.
Walder and Ward both face big challenges.
Jay Walder became Chairman of the MTA in 2009 and immediately faced one of the most severe budget shortfalls in the agency's four decade history. The former global leader of McKinsey's international transport consulting practice and before that a senior executive with Transport for London, Walder brought to the job a lifetime of hands-on experience in transportation management.
To close the MTA's yawning budget gaps, Walder has instituted a program of fare increases and service cuts as well as administrative reforms and payroll reductions. These changes have already resulted in the Authority saving $500 million a year. He has also begun to reform the Authority's communications with the public and its technology programs. In 2010, after years of delays, for example, the MTA started to install countdown signs in stations, telling straphangers when the next train is coming.
Chris Ward was appointed Executive Director of the Port Authority in 2008. Ward's most impressive achievement to date has been getting the reconstruction of the World Trade Center back on schedule by forging an agreement with developer Larry Silverstein to expedite construction of the WTC's commercial office buildings. Ward has also rebuilt the Port's top echelon of managers and professionals, and like Jay Walder, he has closed the gap in the Port's capital and operating budget.
RPA has had worked closely with both Walder and Ward to advance both agencies' capital programs. Through the RPA-led Empire State Transportation Alliance, we are working with the MTA to close a $10+ billion gap in the agency's current 5-year capital program. With the Port Authority, RPA is completing a long-range strategy for the region's airports (see article above) and is beginning a similar plan for the region's seaports. We look forward to continue working with both leaders and other stakeholders to advance the region's interests.