Home>Highlight>The O’Toole Chronicles: End of Year Letter to New Jersey Legislators

Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Chairman Kevin J. O'Toole. (Photo: PANYNJ).

The O’Toole Chronicles: End of Year Letter to New Jersey Legislators

By Kevin O'Toole, December 27 2022 12:01 am

When I sat in the Assembly and then the Senate, one of the recurring frustrations legislators expressed was a lack of accountability from public agencies. In the case of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey – a bi-state agency charged with operating and maintaining much of the region’s critical infrastructure – those frustrations had come to a head shortly before I became Chairman of the Port Authority.

It was not just me seeing this structural flaw within the Port Authority. Rick Cotton, who as the Port Authority’s Executive Director has become my most valued partner at the Port Authority, saw it as well. We came to the Port Authority at an inflection point in the life of the then-nearly 100-year-old agency and we made a pledge to work together – one voice for a public agency serving two great states.

I’ve said it before: Rick Cotton is without question the most decent, extraordinarily focused, and hardest-working public servant I have ever met. He never loses sight of the objectives needed to be achieved. He never compromises on integrity and he never forgets that the Port Authority has a sacred compact with the public it serves. His leadership is a beacon through good and hard times.

I am also bolstered by the women and men who serve as Commissioners of the Port Authority alongside myself. We, as a board, while nominated by governors from two states, work not as New Jersey or New York commissioners, but as Port Authority commissioners. That comity among board members has not always existed, but it is my hope that the bar these commissioners have set will be forever the standard  at the Port Authority.

When I was confirmed as a commissioner – now more than five years ago – by my former colleagues in the Senate, I made a pledge to them – and to all members of the Legislature – that I would report back to you annually on the accomplishments of the previous year.

As 2022 comes to a close, I renew that pledge in this End-of-Year letter. I have said often over these past five-plus years, that as much as I thought I knew about the Port Authority from my years as a legislator and, also, as a former North Jersey mayor and resident, I had little clue about the breadth of the Agency, of its mission, and key to all of it – the extraordinary commitment, focus and grit of its 8,000-person workforce.

As a result of the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center, many of us lost friends, neighbors, and professional colleagues. But few of us saw or could understand how the Port Authority could both grieve and move the Agency’s mission forward in the darkest of hours.

We saw that dedication again in March of 2020 as the region shut down in the face of a global pandemic. As the region shut down, the Port Authority did not. It kept critical infrastructure open and operational, following best practices for health and safety throughout.

River crossings and tunnels remained open. The region’s seaports took on unprecedented volumes of cargo to the point that since August of this year the Port of New York and New Jersey has been ranked the busiest seaport in the nation, surpassing the Port of Los Angeles, and that growth is expected to continue. PATH service continued between New Jersey and New York enabling essential workers to reach their jobs each day. And our airports, remained open, moving passengers and essential cargo through the region.

That is not the whole story – particularly at two of the Agency’s three major airports: LaGuardia and Newark Liberty. During the pandemic, work continued at LaGuardia which was being completely transformed and this year the results were stunning: The new Terminal B was completed and the new Delta Terminal C opened. Here in New Jersey, the extraordinary new Terminal A – double in size from the existing Terminal A at Newark Liberty and filled with world-class concessions, passenger amenities and art created by local artists – welcomed many of you in November for a ribbon cutting and will welcome passengers in the coming weeks.

New Terminal A and its connected new public parking/consolidated car rental facility is just the first jewel to be set at Newark Liberty. A new AirTrain is being planned to replace the outdated existing AirTrain, and a Newark Visioning Plan is being developed that will include planning for a new Terminal B, and importantly, will include feedback from elected officials, airport stakeholders, and the communities that surround the airport.

Port Authority capital projects provide job opportunities – good, local jobs – and the Port Authority remains committed to seeing that women and minority-owned businesses are well represented, and that even the concessions at our new airports, reflect a local “sense of place.”

New Jersey is an equal partner in the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and I promise to never lose sight of that. Beyond the redevelopment of Newark Liberty, there are great milestones ahead.

In 2022, the renowned architecture firm Foster + Partners was chosen to assist in the design of a new Midtown Bus Terminal. This new terminal will serve the commuting needs of New Jerseyans, while respecting the needs of the people who live and work around the Bus Terminal and its supporting new infrastructure. It will be a world-class, 21st century transportation hub – a phrase that may sound strange attached to the Midtown Bus Terminal – but I say to all of you, look at what we just did at the new Terminal A at Newark.

The Port Authority is delivering on its commitment to the region, and New Jerseyans will continue to see and experience the benefits.

Below you will find an impressive snapshot of 2022 milestones.

Air

  • Celebrated with a ribbon cutting at Newark Liberty International Airport the completion of the marvelous 1 million-square-foot, new Terminal A and its connected new 2,700-spot public parking/car rental facility; initiated the new procurement process for a new AirTrain Newark to replace the outdated existing system; and awarded a contract to one of the world’s top aviation planning and design firms, and a world-class architecture firm to develop a Newark Vision Plan for the airport that will include planning for a new Terminal B, among other improvements.
  • Completed the rebuild of “A Whole New LaGuardia,” including the completion of the new Terminal B, the opening of Delta’s new Terminal C, and the completion of the new roadway network. Passengers now experience new, world-class airport facilities from curb to gate when departing from or arriving at LaGuardia.
  • Fully launched the historic $18 billion JFK Vision Plan, marked by (1) the November completion of the expansion of Terminal 8, (2) the October groundbreaking on the $9.5 billion state-of-the-art New Terminal One that will anchor the airport’s south side, and (3) the financial close on the $4.2 billion new Terminal 6 that will break ground early in 2023. Along with the ongoing expansion of Terminal 4, all four terminal projects at JFK are now either underway or complete.
  • Achieved cumulatively at Newark Liberty, JFK and LaGuardia, and the highest score yet – 4.05 out of a possible 5 – in the Airport Service Quality (ASQ) survey, which is conducted by Airports Council International and serves as an important industry benchmark for customer satisfaction.

Land

  • Advanced the replacement of the 72-year-old Midtown Bus Terminal with a new, state-of-the-art, 21st century bus terminal with the selection of the world-renowned architectural firm Foster + Partners and the design firm A. Epstein and Sons International Inc., to provide architectural design services throughout the design phase and the environmental review of the proposed project.
  • Achieved all-electronic tolling at all Agency crossings with the transition to all electronic tolling at the George Washington Bridge in July and at the Lincoln Tunnel in December.
  • Marked major progress at the World Trade Center campus, which came closer to realizing its full vision, with not only the consecration in July and the public opening in December of the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine, but also the completion of the facade and roof on the Ronald O. Perelman Performing Arts Center, which will enable the Center to open next year.
  • Relaunched an intense schedule of activations on the World Trade Center campus getting back to pre-Covid levels, including Smorgasburg, the farmer’s market, and the Oculus outdoor beer garden.

Rail                                                                   

  • Completed platform construction to accommodate longer 9-car trains at Newark, Exchange Place, and Grove Street stations, and received the first new PATH cars needed to operate 9-car trains.
  • PATH received the American Public Transportation Association’s 2022 Outstanding Public Transportation System Achievement Award for railroads with more than 20 million riders annually. APTA’s highest honor recognizes the Port Authority’s commitment to making PATH a reliable, 21st century rail service with a focus on increasing capacity, reducing delays and improving the customer experience.
  • Completion of additional resiliency projects, including seawall construction at the Harrison rail yard and the replacement of escalators at Exchange Place.

Sea

  • Handled the highest annual cargo volume in Port history, setting a new monthly volume record nearly every month of 2022; and in August surpassed the Port of Los Angeles as the busiest seaport in the United States.
  • Welcomed eight new shipping groups to the seaport.

Agency-Wide

  • Reached labor agreements with the final PATH unions working without a current contract, fulfilling a commitment made when we arrived in 2017 that all 23 Port Authority and PATH unions – representing the majority of Agency employees – would have a current contract. (Remember that in 2017, none of the 23 unions were working with current contracts.)
  • Advanced the Agency’s commitment to achieve the ambitious target of net-zero greenhouse emissions by 2050, with Agency-wide sustainability initiatives, including the completion of a solar array at LaGuardia on Terminal B’s parking garage, beginning installation of solar arrays on the roof of the new public-parking/consolidated parking facility at Newark Liberty, and beginning construction of light-duty chargers across Newark Liberty, LaGuardia and JFK Airports.
  • Awarded LEED Platinum Certification for JFK Terminal 4, the first pre-existing airport terminal in the nation to receive such recognition.
  • Received Board approval of an $8.3 billion 2023 budget that will prudently and responsibly help the Agency rebuild, sustain, and enhance critical operations and Agency projects.

As I noted above, this is but a snapshot of what was achieved in 2022. It was indeed an extraordinary year.

I am profoundly grateful to all Port Authority employees for their continued commitment and hard work, and I am grateful to the leadership of the 23 unions that represent the majority of employees for their partnership.

I am also grateful for the leadership of our governor, Phil Murphy, who has been a stalwart supporter of all the Port Authority has done, and also, for the collaborative leadership of New York Governor Kathy Hochul. Our two states are working together at all levels.

The collegiality among us strengthens the work of the Port Authority to build better and smarter for the 21st century. With your continued support, we will do just that.

I am humbled to serve as the Chairman of the Port Authority and honored to have your trust.

I close, as Rick Cotton and I do in a weekly letter to the Port Authority workforce: Thank you, thank you, and thank you.

Editor’s note: this column was originally sent as a letter to Senate President Nicholas Scutari, Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, and members of the New Jersey Legislature.

Spread the news:

 RELATED ARTICLES