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Today we will be talking to Rob Menendez, a member of the Board of Commissioners of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. We will be discussing a major intermodal transit hub in Manhattan’s Times Square, serving 65M people per year, known as the Port Authority Bus Terminal. Located in the heart of Times Square, this project is not only the nation’s largest bus terminal but the busiest in the world. As Rob notes, the current plan for the project’s expansion tackles the need to make transit more environmentally friendly in the face of the current climate crisis.
In the last 24-hours, New York City has witnessed an unprecedented amount of rainfall with massive flooding overnight in the state as a result of Hurricane Ida. Join us on this week’s episode as we speak to Rob about how he plans to tackle the rising concerns of the climate crisis, including what the future may hold for green bus transit. We will also discuss how he plans to coalesce the need for minimizing the harmful effects of carbon emissions with The Port Authority.
Rob Menendez is a lawyer by trade as well as being a counsel at Lowenstein Sandler, where he focuses on investment management clients, particularly early-stage companies. He also does pro-bono work through the Lowenstein Center for Public Interest, particularly in voter rights, and is a board member of the Hudson School in Hoboken. As the son of U.S. Senator Bob Menendez, he grew up in Hudson County and has always had a profound fascination for real estate and public policy. He seeks to incorporate design elements that will improve the experience of individuals by adhering to the latest and best trends of sustainable architecture.
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[00:00:00] Announcer: What goes into making an iconic building in America? What are the stories and who are the people behind the next generation of architecture? If your work touches the real estate industry in any way or you’re just curious about what goes into one of a kind cities and towns all across our country, join us on the American Building Podcast.
In season two, we learn about everything from skyscrapers to single family homes. From the famous and soon-to-be famous designers and developers responsible for them. This season focuses particularly on the pandemic and how our buildings will change in response. Our sponsor is the iconic design firm, Michael Graves Architecture & Design. And now your host award-winning architect-turned entrepreneur Atif Qadir, AIA.
[00:01:07] Atif Qadir: This is American Building, and I’m your host Atif Qadir. We are recording from the historic home, of world-renowned architect, Michael Graves in Princeton, New Jersey. Check out this amazing space for yourself at the Michael Graves Architecture & Design YouTube channel. Now let’s build something.
Today, our guest is Rob Menendez. Rob is a member of the Board of Commissioners, of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. This is a role he was recently appointed to by New Jersey, governor Phil Murphy. So congratulations Rob. He, along with the other commissioners oversee the work of the Port Authority, which has a budget of over $7 billion this year.
Rob is a lawyer by trade and he is the first lawyer we have had on American Building. He is a Counsel at Lowenstein Sandler, where he focuses on Investment Management Clients, particularly early-stage companies like my FinTech startup REDIST. He also does pro-bono work through the Lowenstein Center for Public Interest, particularly in voting rights. And he is a board member of the Hudson School in Hoboken.
We’ll be talking about the Port Authority bus terminal, a major intermodal transit hub in Manhattan’s Time Square. Which serves 65 million people every year. The Port Authority has an ambitious plan to build a new, expanded terminal on the footprint of the existing one.
At the core of that plan is how to make transit more environmentally friendly in the face of climate crisis and that is something we will also be focusing on today. So, thank you so much for being here with us, Rob.
[00:02:49] Rob Menendez: Thank you so much for having me and for the opportunity to discuss one of the Port Authority’s, incredible projects. Let me just say it’s an honor to be the first lawyer you’ve had on American Building. I remember when you first mentioned having me on the podcast, my initial reaction being, “Are you sure?” It really is an honor and I’m glad I can join you here today. And I hope everything goes well, so you’ll consider having other attorneys on the podcast?
[00:03:16] Atif Qadir: I hope so as well. So let’s get started. So, Lowenstein Sandler is a preeminent law firm based in New York. And there you’re focused on Investment Management Clients, like I mentioned. How did you then become interested in real estate and public policy?
[00:03:32] Rob Menendez: Sure. So my interest in real estate definitely pre-dates my joining the firm. And I think it really started growing up in Union City, New Jersey. Which is one of the most densely populated cities in the State, and I believe in the country. So thinking about how you maximize space in an urban setting was a fundamental element of my understanding and appreciation for real estate. And the same is true for all of Hudson County, where my family’s roots are, and where I live today with my family.
I mean, as you know, I went to high school in Hoboken at the Hudson School. And had the opportunity to experience, on a daily basis, the beauty of urban architecture being in such close proximity to the ground stones and incredible homes on Castle Point that have drawn people to Hoboken for some time now.
And while I enjoyed near the beauty and serenity of a non-urban setting while an undergrad at Chapel Hill, which I know you just recently visited. I knew I wanted to come back home to New Jersey. And so I attended law school at Rutgers in Newark for the opportunity to study real estate and redevelopment through legal lens. One of the State’s largest city, one professor described as a constellation of neighborhood.
It’s an expression that stayed with me because I think it’s so beautifully captures the greatness of American cities and what they’ve come to represent. And with respect to public policy, my law school studies definitely made me more aware of the various policies that shape, and continue to shape the communities we are all a part of. And from there the more I continued to stay the more interested in those policy decisions,
[00:05:09] Atif Qadir: And then the process of becoming a commissioner at the Port Authority. So how did that actually happen? What are the logistics of being a commissioner? Things like, do you get paid? Do you get driven around in a black SUV? How does it all work?
[00:05:24] Rob Menendez: Yes, so there’s no black SUVs for me. Before becoming a commissioner, and before the current global pandemic with COVID, when everyone was still working in the office. I relied on the PATH to go to and from work. So when I was appointed to the board, I knew that was something I wanted to continue to do.
So most of our meetings are at 4 World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan. So either my wife and daughter drop me off at the Grove Street PATH Station. And I take the PATH, and then from there well, I use the light rail to get to exchange place and commute over. Something that was like important to me when I had the opportunity to become a commissioner,
[00:06:07] Atif Qadir: Especially because the Port Authority is responsible for both the light rail and the PATH Subway.
[00:06:12] Rob Menendez: For the PATH, yeah. The light rail is NJ Transit. I mean, it is a humbling experience to take one of the ports facilities to a board meeting. You come up from the platform at World Trade Center, up until the Oculus.
And so before every meeting that we have there, to really have that experience and take in what that particular facility means for not just the Port Authority, but the entire region is something that really helps me settle me I think, fully appreciate the importance of this role.
We are uncompensated appointees. I had the privilege of being appointed by Governor Murphy, and we appeared before the New Jersey State Senate Judiciary Committee. And I thankfully was unanimously confirmed by the New Jersey Senate. I was fortunate to go through the process with two incredible individuals, Dana Martinotti and Michelle Richardson, who I now serve on the board with.
Both the governor’s office and Chairman O’Toole’s office were fantastic during the whole process. I mean, it truly is an honor. As I mentioned earlier, I grew up in Hudson County and I lived in an area that relied heavily on a variety of Port Authority’s facilities. The Lincoln and Holland tunnels, the bus terminal, which we’ll discuss today, the PATH, Newark airport.
And then law school, I had the opportunity to spend some time with the Port Authority as a Eagleton Fellow. And from those experiences, I developed an immense appreciation for an incredible organization the Port Authority is. I think aside from playing professional baseball for the Yankees, this is a treatment
[00:07:53] Atif Qadir: Because of your next career?
[00:07:56] Rob Menendez: I’m still leaving out hope that my body won’t give in on me before I get the call. But it’s a developed just sort of so much appreciation and it really is a dream come true to be involved with the organization in the capacity that I am. I’m going to say this multiple times today, but the Port Authority is made great by its dedicated staff. They’re just sort of, the commissioners are all fantastic, but the dedicated staff, the professional staff are truly in a class of their own.
So it’s an incredible organization. I’m extremely honored that the governor gave me the opportunity to play a small role in it, and it’s something I deeply appreciate it.
[00:08:35] Atif Qadir: So I think, it’s important to point out the scope, and the breadth, and the depth, of what the Port Authority does. I think if you live in New York or New Jersey, and perhaps even Connecticut, it’s a name that pretty much everyone as metropolitan area knows. For our listeners who may not necessarily appreciate what it is that the Port Authority does, could you explain what it actually does?
[00:08:57] Rob Menendez: Sure. So, a hundred years ago, the Port Authority was created as a bi-state agency of New York, New Jersey to oversee operations in the port district. And so for the last hundred years, the Port Authority has grown, now overseas wide range of facilities from the region’s major airports: Newark’s Liberty, JFK, LaGuardia. The largest bridge in the set of facilities, the GW, the Lincoln and Holland tunnels, the PATH, the port itself. So in New Jersey and New York, different shipping container sites, as well as The World Trade Center, in addition to the bus terminal, which we’ll discuss today. So it’s, when you think about the region and how the region moves and the facilities people rely on to travel in and out of the region to commute in and out of the region, it plays a part in almost every single aspect of it.
[00:09:53] Atif Qadir: The past year has been particularly challenging for the Port Authority. There has been an unprecedented drop in ridership because of COVID, and then the huge budget shortfalls from $3 billion in lost revenue, including aging infrastructure and all of these are huge challenges. O what do you see your agency’s focus being in the next six years, which I believe is the term of your commission, right?
[00:10:22] Rob Menendez: Yeah. So each term is for six years, but you’ve come in sort of were appointed at a particular jury point in that term so it’s not exactly a six-year term. But let me just sort of, before we dive into the particulars of the Port Authority’s operations. As you mentioned earlier, I’m a lawyer by trade. So I feel obligated to offer a disclaimer, that views I represent today are my own and not necessarily that of the Port Authority or my fellow commissioners.
[00:10:50] Atif Qadir: We’ll make sure to include that in the show notes as well. So yeah,
[00:10:52] Rob Menendez: I will appreciate it. I just can’t help it I just had to get it out there. So listen, the agency’s core mission is to keep the region moving.
[00:10:59] Atif Qadir: Mh-hmm.
[00:10:59] Rob Menendez: Obviously COVID had immense impact and the Port Authority’s operations. But as the agency always has its dedicated staff deliver through a crisis once again, to remain operational and deliver essential services during unprecedented times. As for the next six years and for Authority’s in the midst of an ambitious ten-year capital campaign, and has continued to move forward with projects that will completely reshape the fabric of the region’s mass transit system.
[00:11:28] Atif Qadir: Including the bus terminal?
[00:11:30] Rob Menendez: That will be if there’s money allocated to it from the capital campaign, but sort of, it’s still in the planning phase. But I mean, we’ve done our new facilities at the region’s three major airports; LaGuardia, and Newark Liberty, and JFK. The LaGuardia facilities is phenomenal.
[00:11:49] Atif Qadir: Have you had a chance to go there yet?
[00:11:51] Rob Menendez: Yeah. And I look forward to when people continue to feel more and more comfortable traveling and taking flights both on domestic and international basis. Because, with respect to LaGuardia, it’s truly incredible and they’re not going to recognize it, it’s a completely new facility. And it’s something that I know the folks at the Port Authority are extremely proud of and excited for JFK and Newark Liberty to also represent a state-of-the-art facilities. And listen, it’s something that the region has needed.
As I mentioned earlier, I grew up in this area. So I think it’s, it’s been some time that the Port Authority, and they realize this when they started out on the capital campaign, was that a lot of these facilities have outlived their useful life from when they built and it’s time to rebuild them with an eye towards future. And that’s what the port authority does every opportunity it has to either rehabilitate an existing facility or to develop a new one. So in short, it’s an incredible time to be a part of what is happening at the agency and what it means for the region. And all the individuals who rely on the port authority’s facilities.
[00:13:02] Atif Qadir: That is where I want to transition into this bus terminal. This large facility right in Times Square. So it’s the largest bus terminal in the Western hemisphere and the busiest in the world. So that means busier than the massive Mofussil Terminal in Chennai. Bigger than the Woodlands Interchange in Singapore and Millennium Park in Delhi. And these are three huge, huge, huge cities. And I just want that to settle in because that is just utterly incredible that the Port Authority is busier than all of them. So tell us some more about the numbers related to this project.? So our podcast listeners can get an accurate picture of what it’s going to be.
[00:13:50] Rob Menendez: Yeah, so it will be a state of the art facility. It will be exceptional. The plan for the new bus terminal provides for a nearly 40% increase in capacity. Calls for a new bus storage and staging facility that responds to community concerns, which we’ll touch on. Incorporate sustainable design elements as almost every single Port Authority project now does. And will enable 100% electric bus operations.
[00:14:17] Atif Qadir: 100%?
[00:14:19] Rob Menendez: 100%. It’s part of what the forward-thinking ideas for a lot of port authority facilities and for the fleet of vehicles that are either within the port authority’s fleet or use Port Authority, facilities. It calls for a complete replacement of the existing terminal building, which is ambitious and I look forward to discussing and a new ramp. So it’s all three components of the ramp they take as you exit the Lincoln Tunnel, that sort of goes over and through New York City streets. To the storage facility where buses are coming in operating, and then the main terminal.
So approximately three and a half additional acres of new green space in the local community. Which was one of the many things that in listening to what were local concerns and wants was a part of. When you think about that section of Manhattan, it’s has most of Manhattan now is extremely dense with limited green space, public green space. So creating those spaces for the public as they go to and from the bus terminal. I’m sure in numbers it will be five floors of bus gates, more than 160 gates. Approximately 2 million square feet, be fully ADA compliant, and as I mentioned earlier, 100% designed to accommodate electric buses.
[00:15:39] Atif Qadir: So I’m just going to come out and say it I’ve used the terminal for over 15 years, mostly for the subway and the NJ Transit buses, and just once for the express bus to Newark Airport. And let’s just be honest, it’s a dump. So, what do you think of this terminal separate from your role as a commissioner, and being responsible in terms of its public face as just like a regular dude that just uses the terminal. What are your personal impressions of it?
[00:16:08] Rob Menendez: I mean, anyone that’s had to interact with the bus terminal in it’s current iteration knows that it’s outdated and I’m very familiar with it. I’ve taken it as a commuter. I took commuter vans in and out of New York, when I was living in New York City, working in New York. I used it to get to Hoboken for our board meetings at the Hudson School. Visit family in different parts of the State.
From that vantage point I’m very happy that there’s a plan to create a new facility for commuters and travelers who rely on it. And I think there’s definitely a realization that it’s outlived its useful life in its current iteration and that’s why there’s plan to replace it. Because there’s a realization both as folks who just use it and have to interact with it, and those that have to plan for the long-term usefulness of it, that it’s time to replace it.
[00:17:01] Atif Qadir: So the upkeep of the complex is a huge task. And there’s a lot of deferred maintenance, which kind of relates to what you just described, the way maybe more colorfully described on my impressions of the many previous iterations of renovations. And a lot of that is a big part of why the port authority feels that now is the time to do this. Could you tell us more about why this particular time is the one to do it? And why you think this approach is the right approach for addressing the next generation of transportation needs for the metropolitan area?
[00:17:38] Rob Menendez: Sure. The existing terminal was built in 1950. The history of it you get into the Robert Moses days of New York city, it’s fascinating. It was expanded in 1981 to the facility that we all know today. It has 186 gates, 20 bus carriers. It has been used at capacity for several years now.
And I think it’s totally fair to say that today’s terminal has outlived its useful life and simply not designed for today’s volumes or modern buses. And thankfully I think by then the public mass transportation continue to be a large part of this region’s future. To reduce the number of individual vehicles on the roads. Having people use clean green buses is going to be an important part of how people commute in the region.
And so when you couple that there will be an increased demand for the bus terminal moving forward with the current state of the existing bus terminal. There’s just no better time to address the situation head on. And for sure for a while there was band aids and temporary fixes that were applied to it. And those are no longer adequate for what we forecast the future use of a bus terminal being.
[00:19:00] Atif Qadir: And you talked a lot about the numbers associated with it. Could you talk about the design, the architecture. And I know that there’s most likely going to be a large drawn out process for that. But what do you imagine the emotion? What is the look, the feel that you imagine this place is going to be like in its next iteration?
[00:19:20] Rob Menendez: I think it’s completely different. And I sort of think about that often, because as we’ve discussed earlier, growing up with these facilities and the experiences that we had versus the experience that folks have now. When they leave the World Trade Center platform on to the Oculus and having that reaction to this magnificent, beautiful facility. That incorporates design elements, aesthetics, and a functionality, is something that I think, folks across the board have always wanted for their facilities that accommodate mass transit. But that is a constantly shifting and evolving thing.
And I think as you see the new Port Authority facilities, you see that the Port Authority understands that, is responding to that. And not just the aesthetics and enjoyment and interaction that people should have with these facilities, but also the expectation that they will meet and we’ll touch on this later, but they will meet the changing demands based on the next 100-year storm like we saw with Superstorm Sandy. And also be accountable as a public agency to adhering to the latest and best trends in sustainability.
So how I imagine is people having a very positive experience. And not just being a source of pure function, but incorporating design elements that will really improve the experience that people have with our facilities.
[00:20:51] Atif Qadir: So open, bright signage, easy-to-get around, and accessible, those are all kind of I’d imagine, words that would be in your mind.
[00:21:00] Rob Menendez: Absolutely. And I think it’s an important thing when you go back and look at the process that went into deciding on the building place design. It was with a lot of community input, I think there was over originally 30 designs. And there were two essential elements in that each design had to measure up against. One was meet forecasted, ridership demand. So the forecast, I think for 2040 passenger demands for 30% increase in capacity. We’re looking at a 40% increase in capacity based on the current design.
And it may not jump out as obvious, but the no condemnation of private property. And when you think about what the current footprint of the bus terminal is there’s not an abundance of available space to create the scale of a bus terminal that will meet that forecasted increase in ridership. And, for all those falls, and there are many, with respect to the current bus terminal, it’s extremely accessible. There are I think 12 subway lines that connect right to it, about five, I think, MTA city bus lines that connect to it. So it’s not the perfect facility, but the location itself is extremely ideal. And when you compare that to, I think some of the other plans that were put forth, moving a little farther west in Manhattan.
Great options, I understand the thinking behind them, but you would like probably have a less convenient trip for most daily commuters or for even people visiting the region. And so when you couple those things together, the build in place design was met all of the requirements, and will enable people to continue to have the ease of transfer to other mass transit options.
[00:22:51] Atif Qadir: And so that said building-in-place is a mind boggling task. Because the idea is that people would still be able to come to work, to travel through this terminal during the course of likely a ten-year development cycle of this project maybe plus or minus a couple of years. But how do you keep a facility like that operating during the course of likely the largest construction project in the United States for that entire duration?
[00:23:23] Rob Menendez: First, I told you I was going to do this multiple times. I mean, the professional staff at the Port Authority is exceptional. I’m a lawyer by trade, so I’m impressed by basically everything, that I see happen at the Port Authority and the way they think about these designs, the implementation of them.
So first is that the Port Authority look at its current footprint across, what they’re doing at LaGuardia. Now, LaGuardia has been fully operational while they’ve developed a completely new terminal. The same will be true for Newark Airport, JFK. You just don’t have the luxury of shutting down operations to complete planning. And you don’t have this mass amount of space to have temporary operation. That would allow you to use a different facility for a temporary basis while you build out this new facility.
So the way the Port Authority has thought about it is, there’s three-parts to the existing structure. The ramps that come at the Lincoln tunnel up into the bus terminal.
[00:24:21] Atif Qadir: Are those coming down to?
[00:24:22] Rob Menendez: They’re going to be rehabilitated and reconfigured, and that will be part of phase ine is working on those. And then part two is there’s a storage and staging facility. And one of the things I don’t think is fully appreciated is the current design, the Port Authority in terms of the user experience, isn’t ideal we’ve discussed that. But also the amount of space, for when you think about there’s two peaks in the daily commute. It’s well, where do you keep all the buses that come in during the morning rush hour, when they’re not going to be fully utilized until the evening rush hour, right? So currently you have, because there’s a lack of space they go back through the tunnel. Empty buses going through the tunnels it’s not a great environmental outcome.
So the thinking in terms of a green sustainable futur is having a storage site that can accommodate those buses. So there’s the ability to not run empty buses back through the tunnel. And that’s part two. So you’re sort of moving out of the tunnel into Manhattan. And when that is complete, it will become also a staging site. And the terminal operations will be moved there on a temporary basis to accommodate building out the new terminal on the existing terminal site.
So it moves in three parts. Listen, there’s going to be some inconvenience to riders. But the end of the day, they will still have that direct access to the other modes of transportation that they’ll likely need to get to work.
They will be able to rely and have Port Authority’s bus terminal function as it has. And at the end of the day, sort of as you asked me earlier, as someone that uses as a commuter, I would very much understand and appreciate the fact they were trying to build a great facility. And if there is some short-term changes that have to be made and it will be worth it for the long-term and have that great opportunity twice a day. You start your day, you end your day in that Port Authority’s facility and having a much more positive experience. I think is the most important thing that we can do for the users that currently use it and what we expect the 40% increase folks who will use it. So giving them something that’s state-of-the-art, fantastic facility, is a must for us.
[00:26:40] Atif Qadir: And what’s the timeframe that New Yorkers and people from New Jersey should expect that this project will be happening? Like what are the years that they should have in their head?
[00:26:51] Rob Menendez: That’s still in development. I mean, this started in 2013, thinking about the various plans and part of being diligent about the process requires input from different constituencies. And then also aligning it with other Port Authority projects to ensure that each gets the appropriate attention that they need.
This is on the immediate horizon. What I’ve learned, in my short time as a commissioner, is that the runway for these project is extremely will. I mean think about the development that you do on a one family home in Hudson County and all sorts of the steps, you have to go through to make that a reality.
And then you think about completely redeveloping a three-block bus terminal on its existing footprint, it’s an incredible undertaking. But the Port Authority has shown time and time again, it is extremely well-equipped to take on these types of projects and deliver great, great final outcomes for the folks and the region.
[00:27:48] Atif Qadir: So would you imagine that final, fully operational people using it would be 2030, 2035, 2040?
[00:27:57] Rob Menendez: I wouldn’t want to set a timeframe for it. But again, just because of the balance of the entire portfolio of projects that the Port Authority currently has in queue or already online. But people fully appreciate that this is a priority for both New Jersey and New York.
[00:28:16] Atif Qadir: So I’m going to take a break here to mention that later this season, we will have on Structural Engineer, Yasmin Rehmanjee. Who is a partner and the head of the New York City office of the preeminent design engineering firm Buro Happold. She’ll be talking about another monumental urban redevelopment. This is the J.L. Hudson Tower in Detroit.
Subscribe at americanbuildingpodcast.com. So you don’t miss any episodes like this one. The terminal in Times Square is actually just one of the three bus terminals that the Port Authority operates in the greater New York City area. The others are the George Washington Bridge Station in Upper Manhattan and theJournal Square Center in Jersey City.
How do the three buildings relate to each other and what is in store for them? Because you mentioned that the need of balancing the capital expenditure requirements for the main bus terminal in Times Square with other capital projects.
[00:29:21] Rob Menendez: First, I think, because people are so familiar with the Midtown Terminal. They perhaps forget that there’s two other existing bus terminals in the region. I think when you think about where they’re located, the one outside of the George Washington Bridge and the other Jersey City, in New Jersey. You triangulate the different access points for folks in the region. So not everyone is coming into the midtown location.
I think the important feature about all of them in their current iteration is that they connect to means of public transportation. Which is the interconnectedness that folks really require or need as part of the system. As Port Authority works with its local counterparties to ensure a seamless transportation system, that really accommodates different commutes, different needs for transportation.
And that’s how they work all together. For the other two facilities, they will have updates as needed. There’s going to also be forward-thinking about every Port Authority facility about elements of sustainability and enabling a greener fleet of buses.
I’m sure all those are in play for any Port Authority facility, but especially these two other bus terminals.
[00:30:47] Atif Qadir: So there are two big questions that I want to dig into. First, terminals like the Midtown terminal are huge sources of carbon emissions and that’s the idling diesel buses, those moving back and forth waiting. Is it possible to imagine a green bus transit terminal and what does that look like? You had mentioned the switch to a 100% electric vehicles, could you explain why that matters? And then are there other aspects that are making this project and environmentally sustainable one.
[00:31:25] Rob Menendez: Yeah. I mean, absolutely. I think first, there’s an increasing expectation of the general public that public agencies would be moving in this direction. And the Port Authority has made it a part of its mission. As you mentioned and as I mentioned earlier, the new Midtown bus terminal will be built to accommodate entire electrical fleet of buses.
The Port Authority has already introduced a good percentage of electrical vehicles to its fleet. In 2020, the .agency completed six months ahead of schedule. Sometimes these large projects seem to always get delayed, but as often as the case, the Port Authority delivered on one of its priorities ahead of schedule.
The acquisition of 36 regular route shuttle buses at JFK, Newark Airport, and LaGuardia. So you’re seeing that already at the three major airports. And this represents the largest airport electric bus fleet on the East Coast, and we’ll eliminate 1600 tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year. Cut local pollution by about 1200 pounds of nitrate oxide, and 900 pounds of vehicular matter annually.
The Port Authority’s vehicle electrification agenda also includes the goal of electrifying 50% of the agencies light duty vehicles by 2033. And this will result in electrification of between 600 to 700 vehicles. The agency has acquired 158 light duty vehicles as of the end of last year 2020. With a clear path towards hitting that 50% target ahead of schedule.
I just need to take of one step back in terms of thinking about this holistically. The Port Authority committed in 2018 to embrace the tenets of the Paris Climate Agreement. Becoming the first public agency in the U.S. to do so. The Port Authority started aggressive, interim greenhouse gas reduction target of 35% by 2025, a long-term target of 80% by 2050.
So this is now at the core of Port Authority’s Mission. It’s in the fabric of every project that it undertakes and that’s the future. And that’s the expectation and Port Authority will meet that requirement.
[00:33:42] Atif Qadir: So that means the Port Authority chose to commit to the structure of the Paris Climate Accord, even though the United States, for some period of time was not a member of that Accord. So the agency actually took the step to do it separate from U.S. Government infrastructure.
[00:33:59] Rob Menendez: Well, like I said, they committed to in 2018. And that’s one of the things that makes the Port Authority an incredible organization.
[00:34:07] Atif Qadir: That’s incredible.
[00:34:08] Rob Menendez: There is the 1921, there’s an incredible book called The Empire on the Hudson, and it goes to extreme detail the origins of the Port Authority. But there was a goal of removing external political forces from the Port Authority’s mission. So I think if you ask most people, the Paris Climate Agreement makes a lot of sense. It sets parties to it on a greener future. And Port Authority remain committed to meeting certain tenets of that Agreement, and I think you see that in the various projects it’s undertaken.
[00:34:42] Atif Qadir: So given what you said, the importance of having good public policy separated from the tumult of politics. All the commissioners for the Port Authority are appointed by politicians. So in this case would be the governor of New Jersey or the governor of New York. In the decisions that you make as a commissioner, what are the ways that you’re able to stay above the waves and the winds of politics. To actually make good decisions for the next and the next generation of folks in this metropolitan area
[00:35:17] Rob Menendez: It’s an assignment we all take seriously. We take an oath as Port Authority commissioners to the Port Authority. Our mission is a regional mission. There are New York and New Jersey commissioners, but we’re all working towards the same goal. And I think when you have folks like we have there now in the top leadership, the Executive Director Rick Cotton. The Chairman of the Board, Kevin O’Toole, they are hyper disciplined and they are driving the Port Authority’s mission forward for the benefit of the region.
And that’s what we owe the professional staff who have committed their careers to advance and the Port Authority’s mission and is something that we were all onto it and there will always be external forces, but that is the mission of Port Authority. That is the obligation that we have as commissioners. And that’s something that we look to fulfill on a daily basis.
[00:36:11] Atif Qadir: So the other question that I wanted to ask besides the energy efficiency was the idea of Manhattan itself is a very low-lying place. And the building that you described was one that is meant to address ridership for the next 20 to 50 years. The reality being that during that time there will likely be large parts of New York City that could be permanently underwater, depending on the trajectory of the way that climate change goes. How does the Port Authority visualize that risk for such a massively expensive project like this one? Or think about mitigating and preventing some of that potential challenge for a project like this, which is meant to function for several generations up?
[00:37:02] Rob Menendez: I Think at first, it’s just thinking agency work, we’re thinking about that. Port Authority has been in existence for a hundred years. It will be for a minimal a hundred more. So the Port Authority has taken strong resiliency actions to protect its facilities. Also not just ones that are, will be a new, but how we think about existing structures, new structures towards climate changes that are already occurring.
These projects reinforce the agency’s commitment to build and retrofit infrastructure that is resilient in the face of projected sea level rise and storm surges driven by climate change. When we, as commissioners get to visit all the different facilities, every conversation there is talk about “What happened during Super Storm Sandy?”
So that is something that the Port Authority has looked through in very recent history. They don’t treat it as an outlier that this was a rare occurrence. So we don’t have to think about what the next, a hundred year storm looks like.
[00:38:00] Atif Qadir: I was going to mention beyond the major storms, just this weekend, Tropical Storm Depression Henri. There’s flooding and evacuations in Newark, New Jersey, and Helmetta New Jersey, and parts of New York City. So it isn’t a hundred year thing, it’s probably much more frequent this is happening too.
[00:38:18] Rob Menendez: Yeah,1000%. And if you looked at the different, at least in the New York press conference, you see Rick Cotton, the Executive Director of the Port Authority there. Because we’re part of the region’s response to any sort of situation like we saw in the past couple of days where we had a tropical storm, that was ultimately what it ended up being when it came through the region. And we respond to them. Because that is just what is, at a minimum required. But we are also thinking about it on a forward-looking basis. Every project, every facility incorporates the agency’s internal engineering design standards, which are set to ensure resilience and protect against these changing conditions.
There are some elements that are outdated and I think you see that in the tunnels that the Port Authority operates. But they are in the process of rehabilitating them, post-Sandy, not just to fix, but to implement standards that will withstand whatever else the future has in store for this region.
[00:39:22] Atif Qadir: So we mentioned the electric buses. And I want to ask you, do you, or does the Board of Commissioners see opportunities for innovation in energy efficiency and climate resiliency for this project? So some of the things that I understand, but could potentially be considered are smaller buses, permeable concrete, demand-based scheduling. What are some of the other things that are in the works besides electric buses?
[00:39:49] Rob Menendez: Sure. So this past year, they Port Authority announced the implementation of the agency’s Clean Construction Program. Which is one of the most ambitious programs of its kind in the U.S. A program where we reduce carbon emissions throughout the design and construction processes. Ensuring that a minimum of 75% concrete, asphalt, and steel construction we use is recycled or re-used. The program builds on the Port Authority’s guidelines for sustainable design for buildings and infrastructure. Incorporating globally-recognized LED, envisioning the equivalent of sustainability standards. So three main points require the use of clean construction equipment for all projects.
[00:40:32] Atif Qadir: So that means like non diesel equipment?
[00:40:35] Rob Menendez: That’s my understanding. Reduce embodied carbon. The carbon emissions generated from the manufacturing and transportation of construction materials and on-site construction activity. And three, the circular economy and the reuse of materials to increase their effective lifespans, reduce air pollution from construction across all facilities through six specific initiatives.
[00:41:01] Atif Qadir: That’s a huge undertaking. You’ve mentioned it a number of times, the different divisions and the groups in the Port Authority. And there are divisions that focus on real estate transactions and also a one that focuses on the architecture and engineering of projects like the new bus terminal. I understand neither of them are currently hiring, but if someone that is interested in development or design, would the Port Authority be a good place for them to work?
[00:41:30] Rob Menendez: I think absolutely. I’m just you think about the scale of the projects we’ve discussed today. I know the bus terminal was the central project, but when you think about all the facilities within the Port Authority’s purview. You really have the opportunity to think in large scale, think about sustainability, think about long-term, how these buildings and facilities operate. And I’m glad I got one more opportunity to say it.
[00:42:01] Atif Qadir: I’ll charge you the next time you say it.
[00:42:03] Rob Menendez: But I mean, every time I get to interact with the staff of Port Authorities, it’s an exceptional group of people and there’s no other way to say it. I was there as I mentioned earlier, as an Eagleton Fellow during the law school. And I was in the Port’s Commerce Department, what was then called the Port Commerce Department, but truly the Port’s.
And I just remember everyone’s experience and dedication to the Port Authority. I think certainly the Port Authority, does its exceptionals people from different divisions work across into new entrance, new divisions. They take the experiences that they may have. And as part of the team at the GW Bridge and take it with them to the role in the Holland Tunnel or a role at the airport. And it’s such an interdisciplinary approach to how folks develop and become, stay a part of the Port Authority.
I think it actually creates an exceptional group of people. We’ve seen at different facilities, see the different things that work really well and use those experiences to forge a pathway forward. So yes, I would highly encourage it.
[00:43:08] Atif Qadir: Perfect. And, thank you so much for joining us today on the American Building Podcast. If you want to hear the behind the scenes stories of how iconic buildings in our country were designed and built, subscribe to this podcast on Spotify, iTunes, Google or wherever you like to listen.
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