New York’s Port Authority has become synonymous with 9/11′s Ground Zero and the rebuilding of the land which once was home to The World Trade Center. With construction well underway the first phase of the project is nearing completion. However, the PA original mission, ‘to purchase, construct, lease, and/or operate any terminal or transportation facility’ which serves both New York and New Jersey appears to have been relegated to secondary status. The construction and managing of office buildings has become a Port Authority priority and as a consequence, funding for necessary administration of some of the nation’s largest port facilities is nowhere to be found.
And notwithstanding a lot of political and fiscal machinations, there isn’t enough money to go round.
Sigmund, Carl and Alfred
New Yorkers have watched One World Trade Center gradually define the downtown skyline. The massive glass-and-steel building should reach its full height and be ready for tenants within 18 months. But to those tenants, One World Trade may come to symbolize not victory over terror but rather their own miserable commutes. Most of the white-collar workers who will stream into the tower depend on subways, buses, tunnels, and bridges to get to Manhattan. And over the past decade, the government agency in charge of much of the region’s transportation—the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey—has neglected that core responsibility in favor of rebuilding lower Manhattan.
The good news is that the World Trade Center project (technically, the first big phase of a larger, two-phase plan) is closer to completion than to commencement. Over the past three years, not only has the $3.9 billion One World Trade Center (known in the planning stages as the Freedom Tower) risen ever higher; other projects have taken shape downtown as well, including a $3.7 billion train hub, a vehicle security center to receive the trucks that will serve the new office towers, and a remade streetscape. Even a long-running dispute over who will run the 9/11 memorial and museum at the site has been solved.
Unfortunately, the Port Authority has barely begun to pay for all this rebuilding. Its share of the bill comes to $7.7 billion, which it has borrowed. And to repay that massive debt, the agency will have to divert toll revenue from bridges and tunnels and fee revenue from airports—money that won’t be available for the transportation projects that New York badly needs.
In the early twentieth century, editorialists, public officials, and good-government advocates fretted that New York’s port, facing competition from as far away as New Orleans, wasn’t reaching its potential. The chief culprit: bickering between New York and New Jersey. New York had the piers to receive ships, and New Jersey had the railways to move the ships’ cargo, but the two sides could never agree about how to invest in port assets. In early 1920, New York governor Al Smith urged lawmakers to do something. “Port development is critical,” he said. “It affects the cost of living; it affects the cost of doing business.” The New York Times agreed, arguing that “the port is a national interest, and it is economically wicked to divide it between New York and New Jersey.”