WWS Blog

Graduate Workshop Reimagines the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey

Apr 6, 2017
Published by:
Mel Policicchio
Reforming the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey

As one of the country’s largest infrastructure joint ventures, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ) manages the bridges, tunnels, airports and transit in New York City and Northern New Jersey. Established in 1921 through an interstate compact authorized by Congress, today the Port Authority struggles with financial and political challenges, from insufficient funding to debates over who will pay for maintenance and new services.

Professor Tom Wright’s fall 2016 graduate workshop, “Reforming the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey,” asked students at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs to research the institutional and financial structures of the PANYNJ, including qualitative research involving extensive interviews.

These interviews with PANYNJ staff and those at other entities such as the Port of Seattle, Transport for London and Singapore Mass Rapid Transit allowed students to uncover the challenges of working in and managing a transportation infrastructure as large as that of the PANYNJ.

“Speaking to people within PANYNJ was very informative,” Richard Todd MPA ’17 said. “PANYNJ has become the body we look to to finance major infrastructure in the region, but the tools that we have given it are no longer sufficient to deliver the infrastructure that the region needs. Politically, the body has shown itself to be too vulnerable to capture by state interests at the expense of the region, and will struggle to retain the trust of those it is meant to serve.”

Todd has always been interested in urban policy, specifically infrastructure development, funding and operation, and hopes to build a career in urban policy. This course offered a close look at a local example.

“This is a pressing topic, and the workshop format allowed us to engage with it practically,” Todd said. “Professor Wright’s wealth of connections was invaluable in gaining exposure to practitioners and thought leaders in the region.”

Workshop students also examined cities with strong transportation infrastructure, such as Los Angeles, Seattle, London, Singapore and Hong Kong, and considered how to best apply ideas from those areas to the area covered by PANYNJ.

The workshop culminated in a student-authored report outlining specific recommendations for reforming and restructuring the agency. Five students presented the workshop’s proposal at a discussion panel on Feb. 10. Some of the suggestions included: 1) moving PANYNJ to an electoral board model to ensure representation and accountability to the people the Port Authority is meant to serve; 2) giving PANYNJ the ability to capture the value it creates with infrastructure investment, including through tax-increment financing and potentially a general sales tax levy; and 3) bringing greater transparency and autonomy to the functioning of business units.

Students in Professor Wright’s workshop included: Graham Campbell MPA ’17, Crystal Godina MPA ’17, Elaine Golden MPA ’17, Annie Khoa MPA ’17, David Peterson MPA ’17, Ewan Rankin MPA ’17, Milan Reed MPA ’17, Kevin Rosenberg MPA ’17, Ryan Stoffers MPA ’17 and Richard Todd MPA ’17.

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