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Tradeoff: A New Bus Terminal for New Towers?

I hadn’t been on a long-distance bus in years. But the need for an impromptu trip recently found me heading to the Port Authority Midtown Bus Terminal in the early morning.

My cab driver warned me that the Terminal was dangerous and circled until he decided an entrance looked safe. The main floor was quiet and some courteous police officers directed me to the Greyhound windows downstairs.

It was a descent into dystopia. The Terminal layout is dark and counterintuitive with low ceilings, poor signage, and visible physical decay. Several people were sleeping on the floor along the walls or on the limited number of plastic chairs available. Riders had to stand in line for some time before boarding.

The Port Authority Bus Terminal in 2021. Photo: Brittainy Newman for The New York Times

It is the nation’s busiest bus terminal, but the Times dubbed it “much reviled.” The actual bus ride was fine and gave me an appreciation of how many people depend on buses for travel. But I hope I don’t have to return to the Terminal again.

Fortunately, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PA) plans on replacing the 74-year-old Terminal with a modern facility and new staging area—an enormous project.

A rendering of the final design at 41st Street and 8th Avenue. Port Authority of New York and New Jersey

Planning began in 2013 and the estimated $10 billion project envisioned funding from four new high-rise towers that would attract private investors. After criticism by local government agencies and the reality of post-COVID New York, the plan is now down to two towers.

Rendering showing two towers over the Main Terminal -from page 15 of the Port Authority Bus Terminal Replacement DEIS Executive Summary report

The PA recently released its Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), as required in the Federal Review Process the plan is undergoing. The Landmarks Conservancy is a Consulting Party in that review.

Recent press has highlighted some attractive renderings of the new Terminal but has not focused on the two giant towers that come with it.

There will be adverse impacts on the McGraw Hill Building, a City and National Historic Landmark, and two mid-19th century Roman Catholic Churches, St. Raphael’s on West 41st Street and Holy Cross on West 42nd Street. Both churches are eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. All three buildings will have new shadows and each must be protected from damage during construction.

The McGraw Hill Building is a popular Art Deco gem. Construction will block windows and block views on the building’s east façade. The famous crown with Art Deco letters will still be visible “from several vantage points.”

We have reviewed the DEIS and found the mitigation plans for the beloved skyscraper and the churches inadequate and undeveloped. We have yet to see a financial analysis that proves the only way to get a new Terminal requires the development of the towers.

The PA is holding public hearings on the DEIS on February 20, 21, and 22. We encourage you to review the DEIS, attend a hearing, or submit comments. This project will transform blocks of our City and your input is important. We are working on our statement.

Peg Breen, President
The New York Landmarks Conservancy

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