NEWARK, NJ — Standing before the unfinished Newark Liberty International Airport’s Terminal One redevelopment site, Rick Cotton, executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, detailed the drastic losses the government agency suffered as a result of the coronavirus.
With a 97% drop in passenger volume at Newark airport alone (the difference between 75,000 and about 2-3,000 per day), the normally self-sustaining, self-governing entity is asking the federal government for help to stop up the $3 billion hole the pandemic has blown through its revenue.
“We drive our own revenue, but this is a time of crisis,” Cotton said on Wednesday.
During the stay-at-home orders enacted in both New York and New Jersey, only essential workers have been permitted to report to work, dramatically reducing the number of people using public transportation. Many have otherwise avoided trains, planes and buses due to how easily germs can spread on them.
Cotton said that without the funding, $20 billion worth of capital spending originally planned for economy-driving projects at Newark, LaGuardia and JFK airports would be in jeopardy.
These projects, he said, would not only generate tens of thousands of construction jobs but support local industry. At a time when millions of New Yorkers and New Jerseyans are out of work and small businesses are hanging by a thread, Port Authority’s role will be crucial to recovery.
“These jobs buy supplies and do business with fabricators and companies who are manufacturing steel to glass windows and everything that goes into construction,” Cotton said. “And we focus enormously on sourcing local materials from New Jersey businesses, New York businesses that operate in neighborhoods around the airport.”
Port Authority’s aging facilities are long overdue for upgrades and nowhere near what they should be, Cotton said. Port Authority had been building momentum with the announcement of the Terminal One project, as well as optimism that the region would finally have quality airports and terminals.
Both state’s Congressional delegations are showing support for the Port Authority’s ask, with Congressmen Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and Albio Sires (D-NJ) leading a bipartisan group of members in a letter to Congressional leaders urging financial assistance for the struggling agency.
"The Port Authority supports thousands of jobs in our region and facilitates millions of dollars in daily economic activity," Rep. Sires said in the letter. "This work done by New Jerseyans and New Yorkers helps keep the country's economic engine running and it is imperative that the Port Authority receive the financial assistance it needs to weather the ongoing public health crisis."
While the federal CARES Acts provided $450 million in aid to Port Authority airports, Port Authority does not receive transit rail assistance grants, and CARES does not begin to cover the losses sustained. As a means of staunching the bleeding, Port Authority closed efficiencies at all its airports, taking an estimated $200 billion out of its expense line.
Cotton is confident that the agency will rebound from the crisis, just as it has from periods like 9/11 and the Great Recession. How quickly that recovery happens, he said, is up to Congress.
“We’re right at the absolute bottom, it’s hard to see the light. It’s the speed of the recovery that’s at stake,” he said.