BERGENFIELD, N.J. — Fumes, leaks, long lines: Bergen commuters told a Senate committee in Bergenfield Monday night they have a lot of complaints about the Port Authority bus terminal in Manhattan.
“Almost categorically, on Fridays you can’t get out of the terminal because buses can’t get in due to traffic,” said Deborah Bouchard of Bergenfield, longtime commuter.
She suggested parking buses in a lot now used by cars.
Bouchard and two dozen others testified before the Senate Legislative Oversight Committee at a hearing on the Port Authority’s 10-Year Capital Plan, which calls for a new Eighth Avenue terminal.
At the same time, like New Jersey lawmakers, they are wary that the $3.5 billion proposed to build the terminal won’t be enough.
And then what?
The hearing, which took place at the Bergenfield Municipal Building, was the second of two the committee held on the controversial plan.
A transcript of all residents' comments – and those of New Jersey Transit representatives and advocates who testified in the afternoon – will be presented to the Port Authority leadership.
A vote on the plan is scheduled for Feb. 16, though New Jersey officials are urging the Port Authority to delay it.
“For me, this hearing is key because it is essential that we hear from the customers of Port Authority,” said Sen. Bob Gordon (D-Fair Lawn), committee chairman.
More than 28 percent of those who use the terminal are from Bergen County, he added.
According to a Port Authority study, bus ridership is expected to increase 50 percent by 2040.
Projections also show that Manhattan will add 300,000 jobs in the next decade, according to Gordon.
“We want to make sure the New Jersey commute doesn’t become so onerous that at some point those jobs are going to be taken by people who move to Westchester,” Gordon said.
“Or, worse still, the companies that create those jobs may decide to move to Austin or Denver or some other place where the commute is less onerous.”
There’s widespread concern, Gordon said, that $3.5 billion will be inadequate to ensure construction will be finished in 10 years.
Any construction delay, he added, would have “long-lasting negative repercussions” for New Jersey.
Commuter Anne-Marie Romano of Bergenfield is worried.
“One of my main concerns is that the Port Authority underfunds the bus terminal and then the only thing that’s viable is to build a terminal in the Meadowlands, which is a terrible idea,” she said.
Bergen County Freeholder Mary Amoroso called for New Jersey and New York to take a holistic view of the needs of the region and serve the interests of the public rather than their governors.
“Failure to adequately fund the new bus terminal is blatantly disrespectful to New Jersey commuters and Bergen County commuters,” she said.
James Veach of Teaneck, who has a three-hour daily commute, urged the committee not to shortchange the new terminal when it comes to design.
“Good design is worth every penny,” he said, lamenting the fact that commuters now put up with a terminal that almost provides a Third World experience and then emerge into a city of fabulous buildings.
Other aspects of the 10-year plan now in play are adding PATH capacity by moving from eight- to 10-car platforms at stations and creating new public transport routes to airports, including a PATH extension to Newark Liberty International Airport.
Some questioned whether the money spent on a PATH extension to Newark would be better invested in the bus terminal.