Port Authority Chief Fires Back at Mayor; For First Time, Names the Names of Projects Sacrificed to WTC Financing

The Port Authority’s executive director swung back Thursday morning against attacks from Mayor Bloomberg, painting a picture of his agency as a cash-poor entity that already must scale back and scrap major projects including a major renovation at LaGuardia airport and a new midtown bus garage.

Earlier this week, the mayor went on the offensive against the Port Authority, attempting to have it back the financing for two private office towers at the World Trade Center. The move is demanded by private developer Larry Silverstein, who says the Port Authority has a responsibility to allow him to build now because of its own delays.

At a breakfast forum in the new Newsweek building (where the New York and Vicinity Carpenters Labor Management Corporation has its offices), Chris Ward, the agency’s executive director, told the union-backed Business and Labor Coalition of New York that the recession has caused the agency’s infrastructure spending to shrink by billions over the next decade. The implication was clear: Any more money devoted to the World Trade Center already committed—he put the price tag at $12 billion—will mean more cuts elsewhere.

 “We had $29 billion and now we’re down to effectively a $25.5 billion plan,” he said. “I can tick off to you the things we’re not doing. And you can take that $12 billion I’m describing for downtown, and we get to an understanding of the implications for this region.

“We’re not rebuilding LaGuardia; we’re not doing the new Delta terminal at Kennedy Airport; we’re not expanding Stewart Airport; we are not redoing the Goethals Bridge. We are not doing those. We have no money in our budget right now for the Bayonne Bridge; we are not building an auxiliary bus garage in midtown Manhattan.”

The long list of cuts hadn’t been made public or even approved yet—the Port Authority’s 10-year capital budget isn’t up for a revision until December—so one probably can’t treat Mr. Ward’s word with finality (the governors of New York and New Jersey make the final calls on these matters). But, based on what he said, it seems the Port Authority has cut out of its spending plan almost any expansion or anything new other than the money toward the World Trade Center and the $3 billion for the new New Jersey Transit tunnel under the Hudson River, a priority for Governor Corzine. The LaGuardia project, for instance, envisioned a redo of the Central Terminal Building at the airport, and, at least until the recession, the agency had $1 billion in its capital budget for it.

With that said, it’s important to note that this comes in the context of a heated negotiation—or battle, as it seems—between the Port Authority and the city over whether or not the agency should back the financing of Mr. Silverstein’s towers, which have no private tenants. 

Update 3:25 p.m.

Here’s the Port Authority’s latest capital budget, updated a year-and-a-half ago. The plan, at the time, was sized at $29.5 billion, with $8.4 billion for the World Trade Center. Last fall, the agency acknowledged it would need about another $2 billion to cover cost overruns on its delayed projects, bringing the total over $10 billion. Like some of the other numbers and projects mentioned here, the $12 billion figure Mr. Ward used doesn’t appear to have been approved by the agency’s board, in which case it’s no done deal and presumably includes some of the money the Port Authority would put up Mr. Silverstein’s Tower 4 as part of his financing counterproposal.

ebrown@observer.com Port Authority Chief Fires Back at Mayor; For First Time, Names the Names of Projects Sacrificed to WTC Financing