Building Trades

Jobs in Jeopardy as Port Authority Faces Budget Shortfall

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey now employs thousands of construction workers through its capital plan – providing much needed employment in tough economic times. But the jobs might not last. The Authority confronts a shrinking budget as it struggles to meet the growing transportation needs of the region and rebuild its aging infrastructure. Union activists call for new investments in the region’s infrastructure that can keep the Port Authority’s capital plan on track and keep union workers on the job.

“We have a national and regional crisis with our infrastructure. We are looking more and more like a Third World nation,” said Robert Ledwith, business manager for Local 46 of the Metallic Lathers and Reinforcing Ironworkers speaking at a June 25th meeting of the Business and Labor Coalition of New York. Hundreds of his members are now working on Port Authority projects.

It’s been a pretty good year for the Port Authority so far. The Authority’s capital plan has created 58,000 jobs in 2010 alone, with $3.1 billion in new investment. Almost half of that work – 46 percent – is in lower Manhattan at the site of the World Trade Center. Tower One, formerly called the Freedom Tower, continues to rise and the World Trade Center Memorial is now scheduled to be completed in time for the 10-year anniversary of September 11th next year, according to Chris Ward, Executive Director of the Port Authority.

Also, demand for the downtown office space is stronger than expected – great news for construction workers, since slack demand for office space is one the factors that could still potentially delay work on later phases of the World Trade Center. The Port Authority is now in negotiations with magazine publishers Condé Nast, among other potential tenants, according to Ward.

But the year could have been much better. For example, the Port Authority has not benefited as much as it might from the $819 billion federal Stimulus package. The Stimulus favored “shovel-ready” projects that could get started almost immediately, and the New York region had relatively a few projects with approvals already in place. “We are doing culverts and small projects because we didn’t have anything ready to go,” said Mary Ann Crotty, president of Macro Associates.

Also, in the long-term the Port Authority faces serious problems. Expenses, such as the cost of operating the Port Authority Bus Terminal, are rising, while income continues to fall. “We are in the cost disease business,” said Ward. “Everything we do has a requirement for delivery, but the costs are increasing.

In response, the Port Authority has cut back on planned projects, including a plan to replace suspension cables on the George Washington Bridge and a planned central terminal for LaGuardia Airport. The Authority is also looking for ways to cut staff.

July 15, 2010

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