The executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey said an audit report that upbraided the bistate agency is an effective wakeup call.
“I think the Navigant report in hindsight will be viewed as a critical step in the reform of the Port Authority for the 21st century. We embrace it fully,” Patrick Foye said in an interview.
Consulting firm Navigant Consulting Inc., issuing last month what it called a Phase I interim report, called the Port Authority “an organization at a crossroads,” and urged a top-to-bottom overhaul of its management structure. It said costs related to the redevelopment of the World Trade Center site spiked from an estimated $11 billion in 2008 to roughly $14.8 billion, and said the authority underestimated about $1 billion of Trade Center-related costs.
Rothschild Inc. assisted Navigant in the study.
Foye, the agency’s executive director since Nov. 1, wants to shake up a sprawling organization he considers cumbersome. He also wants the authority to move more quickly on its own projects. For example, Foye has asked staff to reduce time and pre-construction planning costs by up to 25%.
“We’re too much about process. We need to be quicker and less bogged down by process,” he said, echoing comments he has made at board of commissioners meetings and in a speech he delivered in January before the New York Building Congress, a public-policy coalition of business, labor, professional and government organizations.
Foye said the Port Authority will explore sales of non-World Trade Center real estate holdings. “Assets in both states,” he said.
Moody’s Investors Service rates the authority’s bonds Aa2, with a negative outlook; Standard & Poor’s and Fitch Ratings each assign a AA-minus and stable outlooks.
Foye, previously secretary of economic development under Gov. Andrew Cuomo, said the $1 billion investment to raise the roadway of the Bayonne Bridge, which connects New York City’s Staten Island and Bayonne, N.J., will allow larger ships to enter the port. The Port of New York and New Jersey now handles 9,000 TEU (twenty-foot equivalent unit) ships, with cargo volume up 4% in 2011. The port expects to have a 50-foot channel by 2014.
New York State Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis, a frequent critic of the Port Authority, held out praise for Foye. Her district includes parts of toll-weary Staten Island.
“I think the new chairman is a wonderful leader. Based on my meetings with him, he’s been dealing with the [outer] boroughs. He’s beginning to invest further into infrastructure and is interested in selling some of the real estate,” she said. “I’m certainly hopeful that something positive can come out of the Navigant report.”
Foye was previously deputy county executive for Nassau County and the former downstate chief of the Empire State Development Corp. under then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer. “Look, I was honored when the governor appointed me,” he said of his new challenge. “There is no agency more important to transportation infrastructure needs.”
Meanwhile, New Jersey’s Senate transportation committee on Monday advanced a bill calling for transparency measures at the authority. Sponsored by Bob Gordon and Loretta Weinberg, both Bergen County Democrats, it would require additional public hearings before the next phase of a toll increase the Port Authority approved last summer, the posting of a meeting agenda five days in advance, and mandate some evening board meetings.
Parallel legislation is under consideration in New York.
Bill Baroni, the deputy executive director of the agency and a former state senator from Hamilton Township, spoke in Trenton against the bill, citing the changes in the works at the port. “Let us continue to reform this agency without the specter of this legislation,” he said. “This bill is redundant, this bill is political and this bill is dangerous. We don’t need this bill.”
The Port Authority board will next meet on March 29.