Friday, September 12, 2008

Chris Ward, Port Authority ED, Speaks Out

Chris Ward, 53, addressed a breakfast group this morning sponsored by the New York Law School and the Murray Goodgold Foundation. Governor David Paterson appointed Ward Executive Director of the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey earlier this year. Ward served at the Port Authority under Governor Pataki and was then tapped by Mayor Bloomberg to head up the Department of Environment Protection, where his work was generally praised. He left the City to work for a private company and then became managing director of the General Contractors Association. His appointment by Gov. Paterson to his $286,702/year Port Authority job is considered nonpolitical.

Ward's talk is focused around four questions: (1) What will the urban machine be that drives jobs and wealth creation in the NYC area over the next 30 years? (2) How does the development of port facilities help? (3) How will a regional rail system help? (4) How will the airport system help?

His biggest eye-opener upon taking the job, he says, is that "$29 billion doesn't buy you very much." The Port Authority must therefore prioritize. He is also looking to the Federal Government to support rail freight projects as they have supported passenger travel via the highway system and Amtrak.

He argues, switching the usual project ownerships, that New Jersey's planning for the ARC tunnel will rejuvenate the NYC railyards, while bringing rail freight access to NYC will help take many trucks off New Jersey's highways.

Ward credits Congress- man Jerry Nadler for asking good questions about rail freight in the Congress. Nadler, who is in the audience, in turn praises Ward for the direction he is taking the Port Authority.

With a few pointed words, Ward takes issue with the Bush 43 Administration for understaffing the FAA and trying to promote market-based auction systems instead of addressing the capacity problems of airports in the NYC area and elsewhere. "We need a GPS-based system. The market is not going to solve the airport congestion problem."

In a movie released three weeks ago, I.O.U.S.A., I watched several New Yorkers (Doug Durst, Pete Peterson, David Walker and Robert Rubin) take issue with the string of federal budget deficits under Bush 43, after a sring of budget surpluses during the Clinton years. To my mind the doubling of the official federal debt (in round numbers, from $5 trillion to $10 trillion) is only part of the tragedy.

The two other big parts of the debt tragedy are (1) we borrowed the money overseas, avoiding debate at home about the war and putting power in the hands of our creditors, and (2) how little we have to show for the money we have borrowed.

Think what we could have got for $1 trillion of transportation infrastructure for U.S. ports, airports and rail. Look, as Ward tells us we should, what Dubai is buying now in international connectivity. Compare what we got in Iraq for $1 trillion and many thousands of lost lives.