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Port Authority commish wants new bus terminal, not WTC; 7 train to NJ - not dead yet.

Posted by Gold_12th on Wed Mar 26 15:44:36 2014

After years of complaining about the ever-longer lines of buses queued up to get into the overcrowded Port Authority Bus Terminal, local landlords, residents and transit advocates picked up a powerful ally. He is Kenneth Lipper, a former Wall Street executive, deputy mayor under Ed Koch and board member since June of the terminal's owner, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

"We have to bring an end to the idling of all these buses on the streets," Mr. Lipper told Crain's. "I would like to see a brand-new bus terminal, a 21st-century terminal that would be an economic catalyst for the whole development of the West Side as well as a facility that would better accommodate the 65 million riders that come into it each year."

Building it, however, would take $1 billion or more. That is money that the Port Authority—which has already lavished $7.7 billion on rebuilding the World Trade Center site and is funding everything including a massive rehab of LaGuardia Airport and three major bridges—can ill afford.

The need, however, is clear. Opened 64 years ago, the terminal struggles to accommodate the roughly 8,000 buses—as many as 400 an hour--that enter and exit it daily, carrying more than 200,000 mostly New Jersey-based commuters.

But during rush hour, particularly in the evening, 175 or more buses emerging from the Lincoln Tunnel roll not into the terminal but onto surrounding streets. There, belching diesel fumes, they wait their turn to enter, according to Christine Berthet, chairwoman of Community Board 4.

"The amount of buses in the area in recent years has gotten larger," said Ms. Berthet, who lives just two blocks south of the terminal. She said the growing number of businesses and people moving into the area have added their voices to the chorus of complaints.

Now proponents of a fix hope that Mr. Lipper's position could draw attention to the tide of buses parked illegally along West Side arteries, such as 10th Avenue from West 35th to West 42nd streets, snarling traffic and blighting the streetscape. For years, the problem could be brushed off because the Hudson rail yards lay at the periphery of the city, but no longer. Last week, work began on what will become the largest construction project in the country—beginning with a $700 million platform over the eastern rail yards on which the Related Cos. will build millions of square feet of new office, retail and public space.

7-line extension
"Would people tolerate this if it was happening on Park Avenue? Absolutely not," said Jeffrey Katz, chief executive of Sherwood Equities, a real estate investment and development firm that owns several properties in the Hudson Yards area. "It's very impactful to have an important person like Ken Lipper highlight this issue."

Mr. Katz and Ms. Berthet and others hope that Mr. Lipper's comments will also be a harbinger of an about-face for the Port Authority. Although an agency study of potential improvements to the terminal is due next year, the authority failed to fund any upgrades to the facility in its recent $27.6 billion, 10-year capital plan.

Mr. Lipper wants the agency to do it in part by shifting money away from the World Trade Center site. There, the authority is weighing a proposal to provide a guarantee of nearly $1.2 billion in order to allow construction of another office tower, 3 World Trade Center.

Additional money for the terminal project could come from the sale of the millions of square feet of commercial air rights over the bus terminal to developers and through federal transit funds.

"I believe we could put a credible financing package together," Mr. Lipper said.

An ad hoc group of executives and community leaders who have spearheaded opposition to the bus traffic have their eyes on an even more dramatic fix.

The group--which includes Mr. Katz and Ms. Berthet as well as Ann Weisbrod, former head of the Hudson Yards Development Corp., and Jerry Gottesman, chairman of Edison Properties—is trying to raise support for a multibillion-dollar plan to extend the No. 7 subway line under the Hudson River to Secaucus, N.J.

According to Sandy Hornick, a former planner at the Department of City Planning who is also part of the group, if that extension were built, as much as 20% of the New Jersey buses that pile into the terminal could avoid ever having to cross the river, depositing riders instead at the Secaucus depot for a train ride to Manhattan.

"That's a lot of buses that would disappear," Mr. Hornick said. "It would free up everything: the streets, the terminal, the Lincoln Tunnel. It's the best solution for the long term."

The group successfully lobbied Mayor Michael Bloomberg to fund a $250,000 preliminary study of the tunnel and extension that was released last year. It is now looking for $2 million to conduct a more in-depth study that would be a necessary prerequisite for the project to move forward.

Official response
So far, the group says Mayor Bill de Blasio has not expressed interest, nor have other key officials, such as Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Members of the panel are optimistic, however, that government leaders will begin to take notice and act.

"Getting the No. 7 extension to Secaucus off the ground is a big undertaking," said Mr. Gottesman, who owns property in Secaucus and on the West Side. "But I am convinced that after a year or two of lobbying, we'll begin to gain traction, or else I wouldn't be doing this."

For the time being, Mr. Katz and Ms. Berthet are also lobbying for short-term fixes—particularly better, more centralized management of the bus traffic.

"Right now it's like [the Port Authority] is operating an airport without an air-traffic controller," Ms. Berthet said.

Mr. Katz said he spoke with officials from the Port Authority and New Jersey Transit, which runs the majority of the commuter buses coming to the terminal, but has not been able to get them to alter their parking habits.

Buses frequently sit at the curb in front of a West 35th Street parking lot that Mr. Katz owns, on which he hopes to eventually build a residential tower. Cars are blocked from using the lot as a result.

"We don't want to sue, but we absolutely will if we have to," Mr. Katz said. "Hopefully, all the parties will be able to figure out a better solution."



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