Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Cronyism Has Always Been Part Of the Port Authority's Problem

Cronyism and patronage jobs have long been a problem at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. It's due to the fact that this is a bistate agency where governors of two states appoint key positions and jobs often go to politically connected individuals who may or may not have the skills needed to run an agency tasked with running bridges, tunnels, airports, and ports along with the reconstruction efforts at Ground Zero.

So, I'm a wee bit amused at the fact that there are calls in the New York Times op-ed to end the cronyism at the Port Authority as though this is something new. The writer likes to think that the agency worked well and was largely insulated from political winds blowing in Trenton, Albany, and New York City but that glosses over that the authority's focus and direction remains at the whim of the political leaders in charge at the Port Authority who get their working orders from their respective political masters.

The situation has gotten noticeably worse as the states are constrained from building and rebuilding infrastructure because their tax base can't be grown further and they can't issue debt in the way that they used to; they are increasingly reliant on the Port Authority's tolling ability to fund new and expanded projects across the region.

The only way to rein in the Authority's patronage is to limit the scope of the Authority's operations and to require that the Authority funding go to Authority projects only. The Port Authority shouldn't be in the business of real estate and it should be forced to divest itself of the World Trade Center responsibilities - and to scale back the PATH terminal there that has gone overbudget by nearly $2 billion from its original projections. It should be in the business of maintaining its bridges and tunnels, port operations, and airports, and it's not doing a sufficient job on any of these projects.

There are key projects that must be accomplished to maintain the region's dominance in international trade and infrastructure - raising the Bayonne Bridge, replacing the Goethals Bridge, upgrading terminals at all three regional airports and expanding operations at Stewart Airport, and carrying out improvements to the George Washington Bridge. There is also the deferred plans to build a new parking garage for buses heading to the Port Authority Bus Terminal that would reduce congestion around the Terminal and improve air quality in the vicinity due to not forcing buses to idle waiting to get into the terminal or driving back to New Jersey empty because of a lack of capacity on the New York side.

These projects are at the core of the Authority's mission, and yet political leaders are eyeing the Port Authority for other purposes. That's got to end and the Authority must focus on doing what it's supposed to do.

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