New York Executive Chamber

Port Authority Executive Director Pat Foye talks Trump, Gateway and reinstilling trust in the agency

Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo

C&S: President-elect Donald Trump’s administration has talked a lot about using public-private partnerships to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure. What advice would you give to the administration about the benefits and difficulties of such partnerships?

Pat Foye: In the last three years, the Port Authority has closed on two public-private partnerships – a $1.5 billion deal for the new Goethals Bridge, and the first lanes on that bridge will open in the first quarter of 2017, and in June we closed on the largest public-private partnership in the history of the country with LaGuardia’s Central Terminal Building. If you have driven by LaGuardia recently, you see the demolition and destruction being reaped on the airport, and it’s actually highly satisfying seeing it happen.

I don’t have any advice to give the Trump administration, or President Barack Obama’s administration for that matter, but I’ll make the following observations.One is that I think infrastructure is a bipartisan issue. It has been for a long time in this country. I think that the support of public-private partnerships is present and apparent in the current Obama administration, and they’ve been very supportive from a parochial Port Authority point of view both of Goethals and LaGuardia. President-elect Trump’s campaign website talks about public-private partnerships, about reform of the regulatory process and speeding the process up, and those are things the Port Authority is completely supportive of. I would expect that in the president-elect’s administration there will be a greater emphasis on public-private partnerships. Wilbur Ross, who is a leading financial service executive, was a money manager and restructuring expert at Rothschild, and is soon to be the nominee for commerce secretary; he distributed on behalf of the campaign an infrastructure proposal with a professor from the University of California, Irvine, which talks about a very extensive tax credit to enable and encourage private investment in infrastructure including in public-private partnerships. So I think there’s bipartisan support both on the Republican and Democratic side for public-private partnerships and I would expect the Port Authority and other agencies across the region and the country will benefit from that.

The two projects we’re working on, a couple of notes I’ll make. We enjoyed the full-throated support of Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Gov. Chris Christie for both projects, one obviously in New York and Goethals spans both states, so support from the governors was incredibly important. Two, public-private partnerships don’t fit every situation. At the Port Authority, we’re building two new bridges, in effect. We’re building a new Goethals bridge, doing that as a public-private partnership with about a $500 million TIFIA loan from the U.S. Department of Transportation. We’re also raising the roadway of the Bayonne Bridge, and we did that as a traditional Port Authority project, we didn’t do it as a P3 (public-private partnership). There’s a saying at the racetrack, “horses for courses,” so we thought the right execution on Goethals was to do a P3. We didn’t think that was the right execution on the Bayonne Bridge.

C&S: In the current administration, you see a lot of support for the Gateway Tunnel. Do you think you will see that same level of support from the Trump administration? Maybe in the form of a public-private partnership?

PF: Well look, the public-private partnership decision hasn’t been made. My expectation is that the new president is a New Yorker. He’s a builder. It’s one of the things he spoke about during the campaign, and one of the things he spoke about the morning after the election, a minute or two into the speech he spoke about infrastructure. Now he didn’t speak about Gateway, but that wasn’t the time to go state-by-state in terms of projects.

I think we’re blessed to have U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer as the minority leader, and I would expect that the federal and U.S. DOT support for Gateway will continue. It’s also a project that’s not only important to New York and New Jersey, but it’s also a project of national significance. You’ve got well over $1 trillion of GDP, to use that outmoded term in this region, and cutting off the access for a couple hundred thousand people a day, commuting back and forth, New York to New Jersey, New Jersey to New York, but also coming up on the shuttle from Washington, it’d be cataclysmic.

C&S: Between the conclusion of the Bridgegate trial and some sniping between the governors and members of the Port Authority board, what do you think needs to be done to reinstill trust in the Port Authority to complete these important projects on time and on budget?

PF: It’s a good question. The Bridgegate circumstances and the trial was a traumatic event for the Port Authority and has done significant damage to the Port Authority name and brand equity and to morale at the agency. This has gone on for three years, and it’s going to take a long time to repair that. Having said that, the board, beginning in 2014 under Scott Rechler’s leadership and continued under John Degnan’s leadership, has instituted a number of reforms, starting with board recusal reform. I think there is now a significant list of reforms that have been put in place that make it less likely the type of events (to happen again).

The other thing I think that is important to say, is that the Port Authority has got to continue to get stuff done, and I think that’s the message of Goethals, it’s the message of Bayonne, it’s the message of LaGuardia, and I think we’re doing it smartly. Gov. Cuomo has talked about getting government out of the construction business, and I think we were early to that and have internalized that message. What we’re doing on Goethals and what we’re doing on Delta and on LaGuardia is to shift that construction risk is to private investors and builders.

C&S: You released the capital plan for 2017, and you will be voting on it this month. Any expected changes to the initial plan?

PF: I don’t think there’s going to be dramatic changes for the 2017 plan.

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