Port Authority to raze, replace “hell on earth” bus terminal

Sale of air rights for up to four towers will help fund massive project

New York /
Jan.January 21, 2021 06:03 PM
The bus terminal was built in the 1950s and designed to serve one fourth of the riders it sees today. (Getty)

The bus terminal was built in the 1950s and designed to serve one fourth of the riders it sees today. (Getty)

 

After years of being ridiculed as “hell on earth,” the Port Authority Bus Terminal will be torn down and rebuilt with street-facing retail, green space and several nearby towers.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey announced Thursday it will raze its 70-year-old facility to construct a five-story, 2 million-square-foot building on the same Midtown site.

The agency, which considered 30 options for the project over seven years, will keep buses running during the construction by first building a bus storage facility next to the existing terminal.

Officials declined to say how much the project will cost, claiming an estimate would be released when the agency gets more clarity on it. But an iteration some years ago was pegged at $10 billion, so this one is likely to cost more.

The Port Authority expects to fund the project mainly from four sources: $3 billion from its capital plan; the sale of air rights to allow for four new high-rise towers on surrounding parcels; payments in lieu of property taxes, or PILOTs, from the city; and federal infrastructure programs.

The development will increase the bus storage capacity by about 40 percent, reducing off-street parking by buses and sparing them from dead-heading to and from New Jersey in between the morning and evening commute, as they have for years.

The project’s initial, 900,000-square-foot building might be completed in 2028 and the replacement for the main terminal facing Eighth Avenue in 2030, according to documents obtained by Politico. The west end of the development will consist of ramps.

Built in the 1950s to consolidate eight bus depots, the hulking terminal on Eighth Avenue and East 42nd Street was designed to serve 65,000 riders a day. By the time the coronavirus hit, it was serving 260,000 — and not very well.

Severe overcrowding led to long lines and miserable experience for anyone who entered. When buses broke down, others could not get past them, causing cascading delays. The lack of street retail rendered the massive structure a monstrosity.

“Very few have anything good to say about it,” said Rick Cotton, executive director of the Port of Authority, on a call with reporters Thursday.

The project will use only existing Port Authority property, in deference to community leaders’ objections to the use of eminent domain. It will serve 12 subway lines and five city bus lines. It will also add about 3.5 acres of new green space on two parcels just south of the main terminal.

Riders’ preferences and the community’s objections to condemnation of property left the Port Authority with few options. Two of the three finalists involved building at the nearby Javits Center, but commuters did not want to be so far west, and locals did not want them riding and walking through the neighborhood twice a day, backing up traffic.

The news comes three weeks after the new Moynihan Train Hall opened. The project had been in the works for about 30 years and is now home to Amtrak and the Long Island Rail Road in New York City. It was a public private partnership between Vornado, Skanska, Related Companies and the state of New York. It was the first step in a possible redevelopment of Penn Station across the street.


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