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Wednesday, November 7, 2001

Attacks hasten PATH projects

NEWARK, N.J. -- To ease the way for commuters and provide better security at its airports, marine terminals and tunnels and bridges, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PATH) has come up with $864 million in projects it hopes to complete within a year, the New Jersey Star-Ledger reported.

Some of the projects, like new ferry terminals on Staten Island and in Fort Lee and Yonkers, were already in the works but took on greater urgency after traffic congestion worsened following the terrorist attacks. Others, like $240 million in upgrades at the airport and $170 million for marine terminals, now add enhanced surveillance cameras and screening equipment for baggage and freight as a direct result of Sept. 11.

Ronald Shiftan, acting executive director, said the to-do list was the first step in revising a five-year, $9.5 billion plan to improve and expand its facilities in both states. The agency adopted the plan earlier this year after increasing the PATH fare and tolls to help pay for the work. But the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11 have prompted the agency to re-assess the schedule in light of dips in revenue, declining air travel and heightened security concerns.

That process is continuing, but the six-page listing of "near-term economic stimulus projects" was assembled in response to inquiries by members of Congress as to how the federal government can aid the bi-state agency. "These are highly visible things we think are do-able," Shiftan said. "Obviously any help we can get from the federal government helps us do more sooner."

The authority, which once considered selling its remaining helicopter, is now hoping to buy a second for aerial patrol and surveillance at an estimated cost of $5 million. Another $1 million would pay for two harbor patrol boats.  Other security enhancements include $800,000 for two buses to transport police to emergency scenes, $500,000 for supplemental equipment for police responding to chemical or biological incidents and $300,000 to buy an armored personnel carrier "for an airport."

But the most spending -- $281 million -- is aimed at helping commuters by providing additional ferry and PATH service to make up for connections lost when the World Trade Center station was destroyed. The terminal was the busiest on the line and was knocked out of service by the collapse of the Twin Towers.

Depending on whether its structural integrity remains sound and how long it will take to remove debris, the Port Authority estimates it will take up to two years and $1.7 billion to restore PATH service to downtown. The price includes making the terminal a downtown Manhattan transportation hub by providing direct links to nearby subway lines.

In the meantime, the short-range list includes projects it hopes will mean easier trips not only for the 66,000 displaced PATH commuters but also new riders commuting from New York to New Jersey. 

According to the Port Authority, PATH ridership is up 91 percent on its 33rd Street line to 176,000 passengers daily. During rush hours, trips to New Jersey on the uptown line have increased three-fold to 16,000 riders since Sept. 11 while New York-bound riders have more than doubled to 35,000.

Short-term solutions to alleviate overcrowding include $71 million for a rail cross-over that would allow PATH to resume service to Exchange Place in Jersey City. The station, now closed, was the last New Jersey stop before World Trade Center-bound trains headed into the tube beneath the Hudson River. Reopening the station, which is in the heart of "Wall Street West," could spare commuters a ride to Pavonia-Newport and a back-tracking trolley ride.

The project would take about a year to complete and would be carried out along with a project to construct new entrances at Grove Street in Jersey City and Christopher and Ninth streets in Manhattan at a cost of $38 million.


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