A plan to transform the nation's busiest bus terminal from a crumbling eyesore in the heart of New York City into a gleaming new facility stalled on Thursday as transit officials rejected the approximately $9 billion price tag and demanded cheaper options.
Commissioners of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which runs area transit hubs, revolted against the Manhattan bus terminal proposal presented by agency officials, saying they need to go back to the drawing board and consider other options, including building the new terminal in New Jersey and creating a rail link to Manhattan or finding a cheaper place in the city for construction.
The Port Authority Bus Terminal, long considered an embarrassing stain on the city's mass transit system, is located in Times Square near some of the city's most famous attractions, including Broadway, Carnegie Hall and Madison Square Garden. It suffers from cracked floors, crumbling ceiling tiles and severe overcrowding during rush hour.
Commissioners acknowledged for years the terminal needs to be replaced, but the project never took off amid the bistate agency's political scandals and increasing financial burdens.
"Either we are going to build a 21st-century bus terminal or abandon our bus passengers to a Fourth World commuting experience," Commissioner Kenneth Lipper said.
The cost estimates, ranging from about $8 billion to nearly $10 billion, are more than twice as expensive as the $4 billion World Trade Center transportation hub, which was criticized for running over budget. Commissioners suggested selling off Port Authority property, including the World Trade Center, could help pay for the new bus terminal.
The 65-year-old bus terminal, which handles 220,000 riders a day, is on a long list of priorities for the Port Authority. The agency has funneled billions of dollars to fund structurally deficient bridges and tunnels and the World Trade Center site after it was decimated in the Sept. 11 attacks.
The internal study, which began more than a year and a half ago, produced five possibilities for how to rebuild the bus terminal. All would build the new terminal on Manhattan's far west side near Times Square and would take 12 to 15 years to complete. Some include developing commercial and residential towers nearby to help fund construction.
Chairman John Degnan said he was frustrated the plan didn't include a proposal he favored involving a property transfer with a Manhattan developer.
"It would potentially facilitate the availability of a plot of land to help with the terminal," Degnan said. "It needs to be considered. It got dropped."
The project cost estimate is so high partly because the terminal must be built with thousands of tons of the world's heaviest structural steel to support 30-ton buses driving across its ramps, said Mark Gladden, an expert from Skanska, a development and construction group working with the Port Authority on the proposal.
"They are the most expensive fabricated pieces of steel available, and they are required for this project," he said.
Visibly frustrated board members agreed to form a subcommittee to oversee a new study. Degnan said he wants the board to commit to a plan to replace the terminal by the end of the year.