Press Release Article

Port Authority Executive Director Anthony E. Shorris Remarks New York Building Congress Breakfast June 19, 2007

Date: Jun 19, 2007
Press Release Number: 0-2007

When I first got appointed to this job about six months ago, I was really pretty excited

Spitzer had been elected by record margins, in an election with a national profile

At the same time, Corzine had already proven himself New Jersey’s most honest and thoughtful leader in many years

And Bloomberg’s position in the first ranks of New York mayors was well established

So yeah, I felt pretty good about myself, taking the helm of a big, powerful agency that spans both states and engages every day the life of this great City

But then I started having this conversation everywhere I went:

“What do you do?”

“I run the Port Authority”

“Must be cool to run the bus terminal”

So, cool as it really is to run the bus terminal, the biggest and most complex facility of its kind in the world, I had to realize that a lot of people don’t understand what the Port Authority does

They don’t know that we run the airports, the trans-Hudson bridges and tunnels, and the PATH system

But what’s most tragic to me, as an armchair historian of Port Authority lore, is that they don’t realize we have always been first and foremost a building agency

The entire reason the Port Authority exists, the reason its governance and funding streams are kept separate from those of the two states, is to provide for the patient capital and technical expertise that are required to make dramatic, aggressive investments in major infrastructure

Now, to be fair to my fellow New Yorkers, we’ve spent a lot of years without flexing our building muscle

In just the first 20 years of the Port Authority’s existence, it built the George Washington Bridge, the Bayonne Bridge, the Goethals Bridge, the Outerbridge Crossing, the Lincoln Tunnel, and the old Port Authority Commerce Hall – then one of the three biggest buildings in the world

When I think about that, of course I have to ask myself what we’ve built in the last twenty years, and my answer tells me that we haven’t lived up to that part of our legacy

In part, though, I think we haven’t built because we haven’t had to

The region hasn’t needed massive infrastructure construction the way that it did in the first half of the twentieth century

There’s a great book about the history of the Port Authority called “Empire on the Hudson” and on the cover is a picture of the early days of the GWB

On the whole bridge you can only see – I really counted – 23 cars

These days, about 250,000 cars go over the GWB every day, so it’s a fair bet that you’d see more than that in just about any photo
We can see in that image the daring and foresight that once characterized the Port Authority

They didn’t build for their moment, they built for generations – which has meant that, for generations, we haven’t had to build again

But any of us who have waited to get over the GWB or onto a plane at Kennedy today know that we have just about wrung all the capacity out of our current infrastructure that we’re going to get

We can see delays mounting on our roads and rails, and at our airports

In an economy where our success hinges on our ability to move everything – goods, people, and, now, ideas – with unprecedented speed and precision, we can ill afford these slowdowns

So we’ve reached, I think, the perfect time for the Port Authority’s second act

It’s time to return the agency, which has acted for so many years mainly as a facility operator, to its role as one of New York’s great builders

I’m not the first person to come to this realization

Indeed, people who have been paying close attention will have seen this coming

The agency’s chairman started us on the road a few years ago, pushing for a strategic plan that emphasized growth and expansion

That plan, completed last year, called for $26 billion in capital investments over ten years, and you can already see its influence in a new, more aggressive posture at the Port Authority

You can, by the way, see this same logic at work elsewhere in the region; Lee Sander is here from the MTA, and from the Second and Seventh Ave subways to the Tappan Zee Bridge, it’s clear that they’re not resting on any laurels

For the first time in a long time, all of us infrastructure agencies are pulling out our t-squares and getting to work

We’re building

At the airports, we’re increasing capacity from about 100 million passengers per year to about 150 million

That means not only new, multi-billion dollar terminals for JetBlue, American, and Continental, but roadwork and parking garages to match

We’ve just purchased Stewart Airport, our first major new facility in more than a quarter century, for which we have $75 million of improvements planned for the next several years

Stewart will never be another Newark or JFK, but it will divert several million passengers a year from northern Jersey and upstate away from our overcrowded airports and airspace

Similarly, at our bridges, tunnels, and terminals, we’re starting to think about our next hundred years

Best known, of course, is the Access to the Region’s Core, or ARC project, which will build a massive new rail tunnel under the Hudson, doubling current rail capacity

The Port Authority has already pledged $2 billion for that project, and, with our partners at NJ Transit, have engineers and planners busily working to have shovels in the ground by 2016.

But there are other projects going on for commuters too
We’re in negotiations with a group of private developers to sell the air rights over the bus terminal, and will use the profits from that deal to completely ravamp the facility – providing more capacity, and the world class service you’d expect from a terminal that brings 270,000 people per day into the heart of Manhattan’s business district

The way I look at it, if I’m going to be the guy who runs the bus terminal, I’m going to run a really nice bus terminal

And at the same time, we’re looking into similar deals that would give us the capacity we need to rejuvenate the George Washington Bridge Bus Station and some of our PATH hubs

As the need for environmental sustainability becomes more and more apparent, the argument for this kind of transit-oriented development just gets better

It has the potential to take thousands cars of the road and tons of greenhouses gases out of the atmosphere every day

In that sense, it would be hard to justify doing anything else

Finally, of course, and most visibly, we’re building downtown

For half a decade, the project was mired in politics and bureaucracy

Now, just a year after the Port Authority took over the majority of the building, the project is moving

You’re all in the business so I’m sure you can see and understand what’s going on down at the site better than I can

You know what it means to see the cranes moving and the structural steel going up

This is, quite simply, the biggest, most complex urban development project ever undertaken

$16 billion of investment on 16 acres

Half a dozen world-class, LEED Gold certified skyscrapers built over major inter-state and intra-city transit hubs, a museum, memorial, and a performing arts center

For me, though, the center of the project isn’t in the towers, or even, in a way, at the memorial – though the memorial is in many ways the project’s heart, and its presence will ensure that the shine off the new construction will never obscure the solemn lessons of the site’s history

To me, the center of the project is in the beautiful new train station designed by the great Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava

Architects have always loved building train stations, because they embody so much of what is noble about democratic societies – their openness and unrestrained mobility.

No architect captures these themes better than Calatrava, and he was at his best when he sketched the open oculus that will make up the great hall of the World Trade Center station

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