At 8 a.m. Monday, the watch changes and Rick Cotton is piped aboard as the new executive director of the Port Authority. Let’s hope he’s wearing a life jacket.
Serving as Gov. Cuomo’s special counsel for interagency initiatives for the last two-and-a-half years after a long private career, Cotton is a guy who’s gotten some big things done.
He helped Cuomo get the Second Ave. subway and new Tappan Zee Bridge done.
He helped Cuomo get the transformation of the Farley General Post Office into the Moynihan Station and a new Penn Station started after 25 years of dithering.
He helped Cuomo get the overhauls of LaGuardia and JFK airports, and the expansion of the Javits Center, underway.
But all those jobs look easy compared next to the task of piloting the $5-billion-a-year agency founded in 1921 as the Port of New York Authority. The problem is that the decidedly junior partner in terms of population and economic strength, New Jersey, has half the board votes and each governor has a veto over all board actions.
That made it tough for the outgoing executive director, Pat Foye, who had to deal with three actual criminals, including Chairman David Samson, installed by Chris Christie. Even after Samson and Bridgegate felons Bill Baroni and David Wildstein were hauled away thanks to Foye’s whistleblowing, the replacement as chairman was the imperious John Degnan, who tried to blackmail New York to accept an overly expensive and elaborate bus terminal on the West Side.
Didn’t they learn anything from the overly expensive and elaborate $4.4 billion boondoggle that was the white marble PATH station at the World Trade Center, another Jersey special foisted on New York?
Besides watching the Port’s end of the Queens airport rehabs, Cotton must engage with our cross-Hudson friends on NJ Transit and Amtrak’s overly expensive and elaborate Gateway project to dig new passenger rail tubes into Penn.
New tunnels are imperative to help trains move through what are now choked arteries between Jersey and Manhattan. But as currently planned, Gateway is a mess.
Once priced at $20 billion, with $10 billion pledged from the feds and $5 billion per state, estimates have ballooned to $30 billion even as D.C. has seemingly reneged on its $10 billion share.
The answer is to push ahead on digging the tubes but otherwise cut Gateway way back. Scrap a plan to tear down a huge swath of Midtown for a new Penn South terminal costing $6 billion. And raise one instead of two new bridges over the Hackensack River, which will save another $2 billion. Maybe a smaller, smarter, cheaper and quicker Gateway can attract the feds.
Perhaps an even harder lift for Cotton will be to advance a rail freight tunnel from Jersey to Brooklyn. That was the raison d’être for the Port’s birth in 1921. To his great credit, Cuomo wants the tunnel to relieve the roads from punishing truck traffic and bring freight to New York with the same efficiency it gets most everywhere else in America.
New York should be as pushy when it comes to trimming back Gateway and boring the freight tunnel as Jersey has been over the years.
It’s long past time for the senior Port partner to start getting its way.