As components of the World Trade Center project near completion beginning in 2013, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey will realize a “peace dividend, just as our nation did when our troops left Vietnam in the 1970s,” says Patrick J. Foye, PANYNJ executive director. After paying about $7 billion of debt incurred to fund WTC construction, the will dividend will allow the agency to return to its core mission of transportation infrastructure and economic development, he says.

Photo by Bob Wallace

“While it’s early, my own preliminary conclusion having been at the authority for just shy of 100 days now, is that over the last ten years, the agency … has experienced mission-drift, and a diversion of focus from its core mission,” Foye told attendees at the New York Building Congress’s 2012 Annual Membership Meeting and Luncheon Forum on January 23.

The authority’s board of commissioners are reviewing and auditing its operation and financial practices, including a review of the history of the WTC site, cost of completion and schedule, as well an analysis of the authority’s compensation practices and long-term capital plan. The first phase of the analysis, led by governors Andrew Cuomo and Chris Christie, is expected to be completed in the next few weeks and will be followed by a full report by mid-year, Foye says.

“I expect that review will lead to significant reforms in how the Port Authority operates,” Foye said.

The authority’s current focus includes repairs to the Goethals Bridge, which are expected to begin in 2013 and create about 2,500 construction jobs; and a $1-billion project to raise the Bayonne Bridge roadway from 151 ft to 215 ft, which is scheduled to break ground in mid-2013. Foye says the authority will also look into diversifying the workforces of the ports on both sides of the Hudson River.

Foye has also issued a challenge for the authority to meet a goal of reducing the cost and time for regulatory review of its projects by 25% each.

Separately, the authority has announced a plan that will save E-ZPass customers up to 50% on tolls when crossing the authority’s Goethals Bridge, the Bayonne Bridge and the Outerbridge Crossing in Staten Island. The discount, which follows the authority’s August 2011 toll increase for Hudson River crossings, goes into effect Feb. 1.

“This discount strikes a common sense balance between the Port Authority’s need to invest in its interstate transportation system and meeting the needs of frequent customers,” says Gov. Christie.

Meanwhile, the WTC site has had some setbacks in recent weeks including financial issues for DCM Erectors, New York, the steel contractor for 1 WTC, and a work slowdown at the 9/11 museum on the site.

The American Automobile Association is in the process of suing the Port Authority over the August toll hikes and both groups presented their arguments in a Manhattan federal court hearing Dec. 8. Judge Richard J. Holwell will rule.