New Jersey

Bridge, tunnel toll hikes headline Port Authority’s $8.3B budget

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is so large that its $8.3 billion budget for next year is larger than the combined operating budgets of eight other states.

Ok, they’re not gigantic or densely populated states, but it’s still a sizable amount for the agency that controls the metro area’s airports, container ports, bi-state bridges and tunnels, and rapid transit system (PATH).

The 2023 budget consists of $3.7 billion for operating expenses, $2.9 billion for annual capital project work, and $1.6 billion for debt. The commissioners agreed unanimously on Thursday. The 2022 budget totaled $7.9 billion.

The 2023 release includes a $1 increase in bridge and tunnel tolls, effective January 8, automatically triggered by an increase in the consumer price index. The agency projects it will generate $1.91 billion in toll revenue in 2023, an increase of $62 million, or 3%, from 2022, budget documents said.

Inflation also prompted an increase in AirTrain fares at the airport — they will rise 25 cents from $8 to $8.25 on Jan. 8, said Elizabeth McCarthy, chief financial officer.

“Budget is challenging after a $3 billion drop in sales (due to COVID-19 declines),” said Kevin O’Toole, chief executive officer. “It’s a very responsible budget.”

Total operating income is forecast at $6.4 billion, an increase of $467 million, or 8%, compared to 2022. Overall, the increase can be attributed to air travel revenues resulting from the ongoing recovery in passengers.

Air travel was 99% of pre-COVID 2019 levels and is expected to surpass next year, said Executive Director Rick Cotton.

Revenue also reflects some rent increases, World Trade Center campus revenue, and the toll increase. Airport passenger facility charges total $369 million, with a projected increase of $183 million, or 98%, in 2023 compared to 2022.

The budget does not provide for any new permanent positions, so the number of employees in the authority remains unchanged at 7,955 people. It is funding 89 new temporary, project-based positions for the JFK Redevelopment Program and for the installation and rollout of a new and modern PATH fare system.

Capital expenditures total $2.9 billion in budget 2023, an increase of $719 million, or 33%, over the 2022 plan.

Not surprisingly, the largest amount of investment goes to aviation, which is the largest source of revenue. Aviation projects total $1.45 billion and include the Newark AirTrain replacement program. Other costs include the completion of the Whole New LGA project at LaGuardia Airport and Phase 2 of Newark’s new state-of-the-art Terminal A. Construction activity is also ramping up on the JFK redevelopment program.

The opening of the first phase of Newark’s new Terminal A has been delayed from December 8 due to fire and security alarm issues. It was scheduled to open in the first few weeks of January, Cotton said.

Bridges & Tunnels has the second highest tier of capital acceleration in 2023 at $633.48 million.

This includes continuing work on the George Washington Bridge suspension cable replacement project, and design work and completion of an environmental impact study for the new Port Authority-Midtown bus terminal.

Commuters and drivers will see the first work on a new terminal next year when two bus parking decks are to be built over the Manhattan entrances to the Lincoln Tunnel. The deck replaces a bus stop area being built for the new terminal. Upon completion of the new terminal, the decks will be converted into 3.5 acres of parking space for the neighborhood, said Steven Platte, chief of major capital projects.

PATH has the third-highest total investment at $510.79 million, which includes the opening of Harrison Station’s reconstructed southwest headhouse. Additional new railcars are expected to be delivered in 2023 to support 9-car operations and increase capacity on the Newark to WTC route. Passengers will also see the start of phased work to replace the outdated PATH fare collection system with a modern system supporting contactless card and phone payments in the second half of 2023.

Ports, which set new records for freight moved in 2022, will see construction begin on Port Street Corridor improvements in Port Newark to ease truck congestion. It also includes the continuation of design and construction activities to carry out condition repair work on the port facilities, including the rehabilitation of berths E-1 and E-2 at Port Jersey. Officials expect cargo volumes at the port to continue setting records after seasonal declines.

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Larry Higgs can be reached at [email protected].

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