2017/11 – Busy, Popular and Useful

Remarks to Port Authority Commissioners, 11/16/2017

Historian Jameson Doig listed “three enduring guidelines that have been crucial to ensuring the Port Authority’s continued political and economic vitality”1 By widening the George Washington Bridge paths, they abide all three.  They are:

#1 – To develop a portfolio of “urgently needed” projects.2

In this instance the urgency is climate change and the need to spur the growth of sustainable transportation across the region.

  • The 4th National Climate Survey details consequences ranging from catastrophic to biblical unless we drastically and immediately reduce CO2 emissions.3
  • 2016 was the first year since the 1970‘s where emissions from the transportation sector exceeded that of power generation.4
  • 94% of the Port Authority’s emissions result from “attracted travel” to its bridges, tunnels, sea and air ports.5 In the vernacular of Willie Sutton, “that’s where the money is.”

Over the next decade, the Agency is poised to spend $4 billion to support the growth of air travel at Newark and LaGuardia with new rail links moving 10,000 riders per day.6 For pennies on the dollar, it could create comparable zero-emission capacity across the GWB.7 

#2 – To balance the impact of Agency activity between states.8

New York City’s three quarter million cyclists9 gain safe and adequate access to bikeable roads west of the Hudson.

Cyclists crossing the GWB, 1946. Source Framepool.

North Jersey commuters get new commuting options and a critical piece of transportation resilience to help offset periodic, widespread disruptions to bus and rail service due to occur over the coming decades.10

Both states will experience significantly enhanced tourism, public health, affordability and competitiveness, plus a powerful impetus to build out a connected bike grid.11

#3 – To undertake construction of transportation facilities only if they could be expected, in the long run, to generate revenue, or attract outside funding, sufficient to meet costs.12

In 1931, the Agency charged bicycles 25¢ to cross the George13 or $4 today.  I don’t argue that you toll cyclists now – the need to grow sustainable travel is paramount.  But, years out, as mode share grows and if no external funding has been secured, that becomes a reasonable discussion.

But the project is fundable, given its outsized benefits.14 And with 210 organizations, businesses and communities calling for its implementation,15 the Agency should be able to negotiate reconsideration of other obligations, if not a tax incentive financing scheme (“TIF”)16 tied to growth of use.

Either way, the Agency is covered.  And on a facility with massively higher throughput than is possible with cars.

Thank you.

Neile Weissman, 2017

[1] Jameson Doig, Empire on the Hudson, pp. 259-260, http://tinyurl.com/y993epvc

[2] “In a friendly editorial in 1944, one local newspaper put the point in its most altruistic light: ‘God, give us some great new project which will keep us busy and popular and useful.’ ”, Ibid, pp. 259-260

[3] “Continued growth and CO2 emissions over the century and beyond would lead to an atmospheric concentration not experienced in tens to hundreds of millions of years. There is a broad consensus that the further and the faster the earth system is pushed towards warming the greater the risk of unanticipated changes and impacts some of which are potentially large and irreversible.” Fourth National Climate Survey, U. S. Global Chance Research Program, http://tinyurl.com/yc9aer9m

Screen Shot 2017-11-05 at 9.17.41 PM.png

[4] “U.S. CO2 emissions from the transportation sector reached 1,893 million metric tons (MMmt) from October 2015 through September 2016, exceeding electric power sector CO2 emissions of 1,803 MMmt. On a 12-month rolling total basis, electric power sector emissions are now regularly below transportation for the first time since the late 1970s.”; Power sector carbon dioxide emissions fall below transportation sector emissions, U.S. Energy Information Administration, http://tinyurl.com/y9gwrqpw

Screen Shot 2017-11-05 at 9.17.56 PM.png

[5] Greenhouse Gas and Criteria Air Pollutant Emission Inventory for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, 2008 Summary and 2006‐2008 Trends, PANYNJ, http://tinyurl.com/yc8d3wpa

[6] Commissioner Kenneth Lipper, 1/5/2017 Board Meeting, 0:40:40 to 0:50:26, PANYNJ Meeting Videos, http://tinyurl.com/znlnpjq

[7] “The price tag for bridge path widening is an additional $90 million.”, PANYNJ via New Jersey Bike & Walk Coalition, http://tinyurl.com/ycds56mh

[8] “Tobin and his associates realized that proposals to aid commercial vitality in New York must be balanced with projects to assist the cities of the Garden State, whose elected leaders would find a ready local audience if they denounced the agency for charging Newark and Hudson County citizens 50 cents a car to journey to Manhattan.” Doig, op. cit, pp. 259-260, http://tinyurl.com/y993epvc

[9] “25% of adult New Yorkers, nearly 1.6 million people, ride a bike. Of those, about three quarter million (778,000) ride a bike regularly.” Cycling in the City, 2016 NACTO-NYCDOT p. 5, http://tinyurl.com/ho9gvy5

[10] Latent Demand, Complete George, http://tinyurl.com/yb8atw8t

[11] “Creating an effective network also means improving existing trails and connections. In particular, the connections between the greater region and New York City include major bridge crossings – such as the Brooklyn and George Washington Bridges – that are likely to be in high demand by many users”; RPA Proposes Extending and Connecting Region’s Trails to Form a Unified Network, Regional Plan Association, http://tinyurl.com/ydba4gk5

Screen Shot 2017-09-24 at 2.41.38 PM.pngImage Regional Plan Association.

[12] “Under the ‘Edelstein principle,’ a public authority should not be limited to projects which individually would pay their own way; a wider perspective, which weighed the importance of the project, and the agency’s ability to absorb any deficits from its more ‘profitable’ programs, would be controlling. By 1945-46, a close look at political and economic realities convinced Tobin and his aides that they should retreat from Edelstein’s advanced position.” Doig, op. cit., pp. 259-260, http://tinyurl.com/y993epvc

[13] Comparative tolls for trans-Hudson crossings, 1931, Port Authority of New York

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[14] TIGER Discretionary Grants, U.S. Department of Transportation, http://tinyurl.com/zchdu94

[15] 210 organizations, businesses and communities calling for wider GWB paths; Supporters, Complete George, http://tinyurl.com/j2nbfj2

[16] “The PA should explore the use of tax incentive financing (“TIF”) to finance essential infrastructure projects. TIF is an increasingly common innovative financing mechanism used principally in redevelopment or improvement projects, particularly around mass transit.” Keeping the Region Moving, PANYNJ, http://tinyurl.com/y85sy2bg