Pity the 67 million commuters stuck using the Port Authority's bus terminal every year. Pity, more, taxpayers saddled with its anticipated $10 billion replacement cost.
The Record's Paul Berger has the story:
Five years ago, the George Washington Bridge Bus Station was a mess. Its dingy, un-airconditioned concourse was stifling in the summer. Storefronts were vacant. Television monitors that showed buses arriving on the platform failed regularly.
“The seating area was so small you usually had to fight for a seat,” said Laura Vogel, a commuter.
Still, the building provided the basics. You could buy a snack, grab a bottle of water, and ride an escalator to the bus platform above or to the subway station below. That was until a few years ago, when the Port Authority shut down the stores and, soon after, closed down large parts of the station for what was supposed to be a quick renovation.
Apart from the thousands of commuters who use it daily, few people pay attention to this bus station in northern Manhattan.
But more should.
The past 10 years of setbacks, delays, cost overruns and passenger struggles are a warning of the potential hazards facing hundreds of thousands of bus commuters waiting for the replacement of the Port Authority’s landmark bus terminal near Times Square.
The Port Authority Bus Terminal serves 67 million passengers per year. Its replacement, billed by the agency as “one of the largest, most complex transit terminals in the country,” is expected to cost about $10 billion. The chairman of the Port Authority, John Degnan, has vowed to replace the midtown terminal in the next seven to 10 years. But it has taken the agency about as long to perform a $200 million renovation on this small station in Washington Heights, which serves about 5 million passengers annually.
“This is not a complicated project and it’s not about building lots of new infrastructure — it’s about making improvements to an existing facility,” said Rich Barone, director of transportation programs for the Regional Plan Association. “Something like that should be measured in a matter of a few years; it shouldn’t take almost a decade. If it takes that long, how long will it take to get these really big projects done?”
Today, at the temporary George Washington Bridge Bus Station, there’s nowhere to buy a drink or a snack. The ticket office, waiting room and bathrooms are in a trailer on Fort Washington Avenue. There are no escalators. Passengers must trudge up and down a three-story staircase to reach the street and then walk another block or two to the subway where they face several more flights of stairs.
Although the Port Authority offers street-level bus pickup for people with disabilities who call ahead, on most days physically challenged passengers, as well as mothers with children and people with luggage, can be seen hauling themselves up the steep staircase to their bus.
“A lot of people avoid the station,” said Vogel, the commuter. She is 60 and lives in Englewood. “I don’t want to do those stairs any more.”
The agency’s chairman, Degnan, visited the George Washington Bridge Bus Station last year to see the project for himself after receiving complaints from state Sen. Loretta Weinberg, D-Teaneck, whose residents, especially older residents, were struggling at the station.
“Frankly, the Port Authority has not coated itself with glory in the way this project been managed over the long period of time it’s been under way,” Degnan said on Wednesday.
“We’ve got to do a better job in the future of managing these kinds of projects. I have no excuse why it’s taken 10 years to get this done.”