The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey will earmark about half a billion dollars to renovate the 80-year-old George Washington Bridge, using money from toll and fare increases the bi-state agency recently implemented.
Executive director Patrick Foye called the initiative “core to the mission of the Port Authority.” The related projects would cost between $460 million and $480 million, the authority said. Construction is expected to begin next year, with a second phase to start in 2015.
The agency’s board of commissioners on Monday approved a plan to rehabilitate the 178th Street and 179th Street ramps and street bus ramps, planning work for the rehabilitation of the Center Avenue and Lemoine Avenue bridges, and planning for rehabilitation on the bridge’s lower level.
The bridge, which is part of Interstate 80 and connects New York City’s Washington Heights neighborhood in upper Manhattan with Fort Lee, N.J., opened in 1931, with a lower deck added in 1962. According to the Port Authority, the lower span still contains much of its original lead-based paint. Roughly 300,000 people use the bridge daily.
In December, the board authorized a $20 million planning project to replace the bridge’s steel suspender ropes. It estimated the cost of that project at $1 billion and $1.2 billion.
The announcement came one week after an independent audit lambasted the authority as “dysfunctional from top to bottom.”
Navigant Consulting Inc. and Rothschild Inc. wrote the interim report. They said costs for redeveloping the World Trade Center site soared from an estimated $11 billion in 2008 to about $14.8 billion today, with the estimated net costs after third-party reimbursements rising to $7.7 billion from $6 billion. The report also said the authority underestimated about $1 billion of costs that private partners later identified.
The board last August approved a set of toll and fare increases, to be implemented in stages. Commissioners at the time cited a need for continued access to the capital markets.
Moody’s Investors Service in January had lowered its outlook for the authority’s bonds to negative. Moody’s assigns a Aa2 rating. Standard & Poor’s and Fitch Ratings both rate them AA-minus with stable outlooks.
The New York and North Jersey chapters of the Automobile Association of America are suing over the hikes, arguing in federal court that using transportation money to pay for the World Trade Center work is illegal.