NY-NJ Port Authority needs toll hikes for projects: consultants
(Reuters) - The long-awaited World Trade Center should be finished within its $14.8 billion budget, but the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the agency rebuilding the site, still faces major shortfalls in cash flow in coming years, a consultants' report said on Wednesday.
As a result, the Port Authority not only must rely on planned toll increases, but also must find additional ways of raising money - from advertising to public-private partnerships - which could produce about $150 million a year, said consultants at Navigant Consulting Inc and Rothschild Inc.
The Port Authority has $44 billion in expected capital needs, officials said. Its capital program for 2011 to 2020 totals $26.9 billion, and officials told reporters on a conference call that they would be "reprioritizing" their list of planned improvements. They did not name specific changes.
The report also said the bi-state authority will need to make significant repairs to its bridges and tunnels, many of which are at least 80 years old.
The Port Authority announced in 2011 that it would raise tolls on cars by $1.50 in September - and by 75 cents each December from 2012 to 2015. The increases were smaller than what was initially sought. Those toll hikes had prompted such a public outcry that the governors of New York and New Jersey, Andrew Cuomo and Chris Christie, lowered the increases and commissioned consultants to analyze reforming the authority, which they jointly control.
The first consultants' report issued in February faulted the agency for allowing the cost of the World Trade Center rebuilding to soar by nearly $4 billion, from $11 billion in 2008, describing the agency as a "challenged and dysfunctional organization."
Port Authority officials said the new report acknowledged the progress they have made since then by finding savings - including requiring non-union employees to pay for health insurance for the first time, to save $41 million over 18 months.
Officials pledged to find hundreds of millions of dollars of additional savings.
"We understand there are no blank checks," said Vice Chairman Scott Rechler.
The Port Authority traditionally has focused on transportation, but it also has a role in economic development. The World Trade Center project, in the eyes of some critics, has pulled it too heavily into real estate development.
(Reporting By Joan Gralla; Editing by Andrea Ricci and Dan Grebler)