New Newark AirTrain could alter Port Authority capital program

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A proposed $2.1 billion replacement for the AirTrain system at Newark Liberty International Airport could reshape the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s long-range infrastructure plans.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy urged the Port Authority Tuesday to replace the 23-year old monorail that links terminals and a Northeast Corridor train station at Newark Liberty and create a brand new AirTrain to complement a $2.7 billion renovation of the airport’s main terminal launched late last year.

The governor said during a press conference Tuesday at one of the AirTrain’s terminal stops that it would cost more than $400 million to just keep the current system running for the next decade.

“It is past time…. for the Port Authority to replace the AirTrain with a new and modern system that can better handle the needs of a growing airport,” said Murphy, noting that the system transports 11 million riders a year. “Let’s not waste money keeping it on life support, let’s invest in a modern and reliable AirTrain.”

Murphy said replacing the AirTrain could be self-financed through various revenue generators. The Port Authority’s 10-year capital plan from 2017 to 2026 allocates $380 million for AirTrain repairs and maintenance, but the agency’s executive director Rick Cotton said there is flexibility to change course.

“We are in the process of refreshing the capital plan,” said Cotton. “As we prepare our staff recommendations and analysis before the board’s consideration, we will embrace and recognize and give high attention and visibility to the priority of the Newark airport.”

Funding for a replacement requires approval from the Port Authority’s 12-member board of commissioners that is split equally between New Jersey and New York. Murphy said approval of the project may delay the Port Authority’s plans for extending its PATH transit service to the Northeast Corridor AirTrain station, which is more than a mile from the Newark Liberty terminals, because of potential logistical challenges. The bi-state agency budgeted $1.7 billion for the PATH extension in its 10-year capital plan.

“If we get PATH extension before you get AirTrain replaced you are going to get an explosion of people at the connecting transit point,” said Murphy. “Sequencing that properly is something we have to be very careful about.”

The Port Authority is one of the nation’s largest municipal bond issuers with roughly $21 billion of outstanding bonded debt projected at the end of 2018, according to the agency’s latest budget document. The agency, which runs all three major New York-area airports along with other transportation assets, has debt ratings of Aa3 by Moody’s Investors Service and AA-minus by S&P Global Ratings and Fitch Ratings.

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Infrastructure Transportation industry Phil Murphy Port Authority of New York & New Jersey New Jersey