FROM THE GROUND UP: It Takes a Lot of Zeros to Rebuild Ground Zero
When the Port Authority proposed raising fares on its PATH trains and hiking tolls on its bridges and tunnels by $6, it set off a minor tsunami a month ago, sparking waves of denunciations at a series of public hearings that apparently no one from its board of commissioners actually attended.
To the rescue rode New York and New Jersey’s governors, and the commissioners responded to their entreaty and reduced the increase to $4.50 over the next five years. The first hike of $1.50 has just kicked in. One commissioner praised the governors as “remarkable public servants” and “unique leaders” in an over- the- top Aug. 19 press release.
The Daily News and other media outlets denounced the whole process as a sham because it gave Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Gov. Chris Christie “the chance to play the hero” when they knew all along the fix was in because the Port Authority was in a very deep financial hole because of the ongoing recession and its $11 billion commitment to rebuild the World Trade Center. The Authority also has to replace the 80-year-old suspension cables on the George Washington Bridge, raise the Bayonne Bridge to accommodate super tankers coming through a soon-to-be widened Panama Canal and redo the 1937-era helix entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel, to name a few of the much-needed and long-deferred capital improvements.
The Port Authority, established by an act of Congress in 1921, collects no taxes from neither New Jersey nor New York, and must rely on fares, tolls and bonds. Without the added revenue, PA Chairman David Samson said in a press release, “The very moment, as a nation and as a region, we should be moving forward by investing in infrastructure, we would be shutting down. And at the very moment where the economy of New York and New Jersey needs the Port Authority the most, we would be abandoning our historic mission of economic leadership.”
Its real-estate partner at Ground Zero, Silverstein Properties, Inc., is not so sympathetic to the authority’s fiscal plight, said a source at the company who asked not to be named because he wasn’t authorized to speak on behalf of the big real estate developer.
“Since 9/11,” he says, “Silverstein has paid the Port Authority $3 billion in rent and in insurance proceeds for a hole in the ground.”