Home Asides A brief thought on the price tag for a new Port Authority Bus Terminal

A brief thought on the price tag for a new Port Authority Bus Terminal

by Benjamin Kabak

Except for this guy profiled by The Times today, no one in New York City has particularly kind words for the Port Authority Bus Terminal. It’s ugly inside and out and attracts all types of shady characters. It’s a grim place to wait for and board a bus, and practically, it’s at capacity. The Port Authority has plans to rebuild and replace, but how committed it is to those plans remains a mystery.

Last year, when the PA announced a $90 million bandaid to spruce up the bus terminal, the agency made clear that it had a long-term goal to build a new bus station. The project would take around a decade and could cost upwards of $1 billion. With potential air rights or development opportunities, the dollars didn’t seem too extreme. But a new estimate blasts that figure out of the water. As both The Wall Street Journal and Capital New York reported, a replacement PABT could run anywhere from $8-$11 billion — or essentially the bulk of a new trans-Hudson rail tunnel or 2-3 phases of the Second Ave. Subway would cost.

The number is appallingly large even as the Port Authority claims it wants to fast-track this project. But transit advocates are eying it skeptically and instead feel the new price tag is both completely divorced from reality and an attempt to torpedo the project before it becomes. Stephen Miller at Streetsblog followed this line of thinking. He spoke to Veronica Vanterpool at the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, who, citing ARC and the transit options across the New New York Bridge, said, “There’s a tendency to over-inflate transit costs just to kill them.”

The Port Authority flaks had almost nothing to add. “We look forward to updating the board on this critical project and continuing to engage the public and other stakeholders on ways to improve the bus passenger experience in the region and meet the demands of the future,” a spokesman said. But as the PA tries to find creative ways to wiggle out of another core-mission project, everyone agrees the PABT can’t withstand the crowds and isn’t designed to keep pace with transit growth and future demands. It shouldn’t though cost $10 billion to replace it, and a tenfold increase in costs even for an agency that plays as loose with dollars as the Port Authority deserves a deep, deep examination.

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lawhawk March 19, 2015 - 12:07 pm

For $10-11 billion, you could probably get a new PABT, a new dedicated tunnel to the PABT for buses only in addition the existing 3 tunnels to NYC, and spare change.

There’s no reason at all for the project to cost anywhere near this amount. You can’t tell me that most of this amount will be land acquisitions, especially if you’re going to sell air rights.

It does seem that this cost estimate originated in the same place as Cuomo’s Air Train to LGA estimate.

Thin air. I’m thinking helium. Because the outcome is a joke, even as the needs are all too real.

Peter L March 19, 2015 - 12:24 pm

“There’s a tendency to over-inflate transit costs just to kill them.”

Oh, please. These are the exact same people who spent Four Billion with a B dollars on a *single* subway station and didn’t even have the courtesy to increase the capacity.

Because of that, the new PABT will be *at least* $10B and that doesn’t even include the Calatrava-sty that will be on top of it.

Eric March 19, 2015 - 12:39 pm

“There’s a tendency to over-inflate transit costs just to kill them.”

Which is why projects like SAS, the 7 extension, ESA, and the WTC stegosaurus all end up costing below the projected costs. Oh wait…

Justin Samuels March 19, 2015 - 1:54 pm

With that in mind, 10 billion is likely an understatement of how much it would really cost.

I suppose what really matters is what kind of revenue the Port Authority is expecting from the Bus Terminal given long term increase in commuters. If their projected revenues are enough they’ll simply issue bonds to cover the cost of the new facility, and then pay it back from fees charged to the buses to be allowed to stop at the terminal. And of course they make money from renting out to businesses as well.

However if future revenue projections don’t justify it, the Port Authority will not be able to bond out this much money and we will simply keep the existing bus terminal. The people Ben cites may be right, perhaps the Port Authority has no intention of doing anything beyond basic upgrades to the PABT.

Eric F March 19, 2015 - 3:14 pm

It sounds like a conservative estimate. I’m not sure why people draw from that the notion that the estimate is designed to kill the project, but of course that’s the effect it would have. There’s no way the PA has the ability to finance a check that big.

Eric F March 19, 2015 - 2:23 pm

Is there any link to the report with the basis for the $10 billion? The cost is so huge I wonder if it includes a tunnel tube. It certainly should. They should build a new tube from the Turnpike spur all the way to Manhattan purpose built for XBL lanes both ways.

lop March 19, 2015 - 4:14 pm


They’re taking comments.


I don’t think they’ve released a more detailed analysis just yet.

adirondacker12800 March 19, 2015 - 5:31 pm

A rail tunnel would cost less and have more capacity. Which is the conclusion every study comes to, going back to the one New Jersey commissioned in 1959.

Bolwerk March 19, 2015 - 11:26 pm

Busway fetishists are never constrained by pesky details like users’ needs or, well, reality.

That said, the Lincoln Tunnel looks like it has plenty of room for an extra bus lane or two before we bother shelling out billions for more road capacity.

John Douglas March 20, 2015 - 10:50 am

It sure does, as long as all the people in cars take buses instead. Or trains. Or ferries. Or something else.

I agree with you on busways – there is no visible suction for these, and it’s hard to make a case for the cost when the passenger volume is high enough to support fast rail.

Adirondacker is correct. PA should work really hard on new integrated bus/rail solutions on the NJ side of the Hudson.

Bolwerk March 20, 2015 - 11:41 am

Given traffic congestion, that doesn’t look like very many people anyway. At peak times buses are probably moving 5x as many people with something like 1/3 the lane capacity.

lop March 20, 2015 - 3:47 pm

Almost 8 times. 8-9am Lincoln tunnel moves ~4585 in autos, 36222 in buses.

Brooklynite March 19, 2015 - 3:26 pm

And they say there isn’t a construction cost problem in NYC…

But anyway. The PABT will soon either fall apart or need a rebuild. The Hudson rail tunnels are in pretty terrible shape after Sandy as well. We desperately need more crossriver capacity. But at this rate, Gateway will break $100billion and will take 50 years, so it won’t help.

John Douglas March 20, 2015 - 11:16 am

Yes, it’s almost impossible to solve this without the speed, efficiency, and capacity that rail provides. Study after study shows it. Yet existing studies still don’t seem to be looking at enough tracks for the long term. There are currently, what, 6 tracks between NJ and Manhattan? Something like 40 between Manhattan and the other boroughs? And 16 between midtown and southern Manhattan? (Imagine if THAT were constricted to 6 tracks.) The imbalance is staggering, and the source of other cascading problems.

It’s because we haven’t invested in seamless rail that we have all these other resulting issues. $4B on the WTC PATH station. A $10B bus stop proposal. Very inefficient travel time wasted, and bus energy use and emissions getting people to mid-town.

Imagine if the $4B for the new WTC PATH station had been spent on productive infrastructure instead of on decorative icing on top of an already functioning rail station that will not move 1 more passenger across the Hudson. The regional agencies’ inability to execute to address the big picture across the Hudson “boundary” staggers the mind.

Larry Littlefield March 19, 2015 - 4:06 pm

Other expensive projects that never happened and rehab happened instead: new MSG, putting the Gowanus Expressway in a tunnel, new Javits convention center.

Part of the cost is building an entirely new bus terminal, then tearing down the existing one, then building an new bus terminal on the site of the existing bus terminal. Because it will take 20 years.

Now if it could be done in, say, two years, then the buses could be rerouted to the street while a new terminal was built. It would be hell, but hell of a limited duration.

Maybe the PA is just being realistic about its powerlessness in the face of special interests and their politicians. Look at what happened at the WTC.

SEAN March 19, 2015 - 5:40 pm

What would the cost of a new bus terminal at Secaucus Junction be instead of rebuilding the PABT? I’m assuming additional tracks are built along with a new Portal bridge, but not nessessarily a Hudson tube to Penn for argument sake.

Benjamin Kabak March 19, 2015 - 5:52 pm

What good would a bus terminal at Secaucus Junction be? It certainly wouldn’t be a viable replacement for PABT.

SEAN March 19, 2015 - 8:14 pm

The only obvious benefit I can figure is – by building a terminal at SJ, you prevent bus delays at the Lincoln Tunnel. however I never said that such an idea was viable, but it is interesting & shouldn’t be overlooked.

adirondacker12800 March 19, 2015 - 10:05 pm

They examined 137 different options for ARC and decided that rail was the best alternative. Amtrak, NJtransit and the LIRR have been discussing the problem since the 80s and all those discussions concluded that rail is the best alternative. New Jersey commissioned a study in 1959 that concluded rail was the best alternative. How many more decades do we have to discuss it before it’s decided?

John Douglas March 20, 2015 - 12:55 pm

Of course it would be. I don’t care WHAT delivers me to 42nd street or elsewhere in the Manhattan street grid, as long as it’s fast, efficient, and provides a good user experience. And those are all three areas where the current service into PABT could be improved. I would certainly take a bus to an NJ terminal where the bus dropped me cross-platform from an express subway service into the city.

adirondacker12800 March 19, 2015 - 6:03 pm

New tracks don’t do much good unless the outside of the cars are covered with Velcro and the bus passengers are issued Velcro vests so they can hang off the outside of the trains. They need more tunnel so more trains can go to Manhattan.

SEAN March 19, 2015 - 8:19 pm

Velcro – not a bad idea! We’ll stick all of the tri-state polls to the Velcro & let the citizens do what ever they want to them since there’s no escape!

Bolwerk March 19, 2015 - 11:34 pm

HBLR-Vision42 hybrid?

HBLR is tantalizingly close to the Lincoln Tunnel, and spreads several miles in two directions. Buses all over NJ presumably intersect with it.

You’d think they’d at least mention it in the report.


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