History of the Port Authority Bus Terminal

historic photo of the billboard announcing the new site of the Port Authority Bus Terminal, circa 1950

Building Blocks

By 1939, growing interstate bus traffic was causing chaos in New York City. Buses would drive to and from eight separate bus terminals scattered throughout Midtown. Congestion was a major problem, and the City needed a good answer.

Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia appointed a committee of City officials to resolve the issue. The committee arrived at several solutions, which were quickly shot down by the City's smaller bus terminals. That's when the Mayor asked the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, established in 1921, to promote and protect the commerce of the bistate region, to evaluate the concept of consolidating all smaller bus stations into one central terminal.

Late in 1946, Mayor William O'Dwyer supported legislation that prohibited the proliferation of individual bus stations in Midtown Manhattan. This resolution enabled the Port Authority to construct a Midtown bus terminal that would soon occupy an entire city block and elevate the efficiency of bus operations to a level unparalleled in the country and the world.

Laying the Foundation

On January 27, 1949, ground was broken at the site bordered by Eighth Avenue, 40th Street, Ninth Avenue and 41st Street. During the next two years, 9,000 tons of structural steel and more than two million bricks would be used-more than the amount used for the conventional Manhattan skyscraper-to build one of the greatest transportation facilities in the world.

On December 15, 1950, after a construction period of close to two years-and an investment of $24 million-the Port Authority Bus Terminal was born.

Expanding the Vision

The bus terminal's first major expansion project was initiated in 1960. Three parking levels were added to the roof of the original structure, creating space for 1,000 cars.

The vertical expansion of this 800-by-200-foot structure was completed in 1963 -- with no interruption in daily service. This was the beginning of an expansion that would more than double the Port Authority's financial commitment, to over $52 million.

By 1966, the bus terminal was operating at full capacity and then some. More than 2.5 million buses and nearly 69 million passengers used the facility that year, and more than 650,000 cars used the public parking area.

A Time for Change

By 1970, bus traffic volume was at its highest ever. To alleviate the congestion, the Port Authority devised an innovative plan that had great impact and is still successful today. A two-mile exclusive bus lane (XBL) was constructed on the New Jersey approach to the bus terminal, allowing buses -- and the commuters inside -- to reach the City faster. The XBL has enjoyed tremendous growth over the years. At the end of its first full year of operation in 1971, the lane accommodated approximately 206,000 buses, and 8.7 million passengers. Today, over 100 bus carriers use the XBL today compared to 25 in 1970. By using the XBL, commuters save an average of 15-20 minutes when compared to traveling on the normal Route 495 lanes.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the bus terminal was expanded by 50 percent to further meet the growing traffic volume. The new expansion offered 52 new bus-loading platforms and a unique weather-controlled mall with 70 shops. The new North Wing expanded the building north to 42nd Street. And a new facade with red diagonal girders changed the way the bus terminal looked to the world.

One Millennium Comes to an End and a Next One Begins

In the 1990s, as the nearby theater district saw a massive revitalization, the Bus Terminal followed suit with a revitalization of its own. The Port Authority dedicated significant efforts and resources to strengthen the Bus Terminal's reputation as a first-class transportation center.

Operation Alternative was put into place to ensure a safe and pleasant customer environment at the terminal. Its main thrust was to offer assistance to the homeless by guiding them to shelters and safer dwellings. This effort, coupled with increased security at the facility, boosted customer satisfaction to all-time highs.

Today, we have a unique ramp system from the Lincoln Tunnel to the bus terminal that helps mitigate traffic congestion on the streets by providing buses direct access to the upper bus levels, and cars with a direct link to the public parking levels.

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