Convenient Connection to the Airport Visible from Lower Manhattan Windows Remains Beyond the Horizon
Community Board 1 enacted a resolution at its May 23 meeting imploring elected officials and policymakers to make good on a decade-old promise to begin work on a direct rail connection between the World Trade Center and Newark Airport. The measure urged Governor Kathy Hochul “to work with the Port Authority to reactivate the Port Authority Trans-Hudson (PATH) Extension Project so to seamlessly connect Lower Manhattan and Midtown to Newark Liberty International Airport.”
This came in response to a March decision by the board of the Port Authority (the agency overseeing both Newark Airport and the PATH train system, which runs transit lines out of the World Trade Center complex) to defer the project, a result of funding shortfalls.
Jessica Lappin, president of the Downtown Alliance, which has advocated for the project since it was first proposed, responded that the “regrettable actions by the Port Authority to pause the PATH extension from Lower Manhattan to Newark will halt the tremendous progress that has already been made to create a vital mass transit link between a central business district and its closest international airport. Funding has been allocated for this project for nearly 10 years, due to its importance for both sides of the river, and considerable work has already been done.”
She added that the lack of such a transit artery is “a growing disadvantage for companies, cultural institutions, clients and customers. Creating a seamless mass-transit link between Newark airport and Lower Manhattan is a cost-effective opportunity to facilitate economic growth in New York City and in the communities of Newark and Northern New Jersey. It should continue to move forward.”
The Port Authority first promised to build the extension in 2014, with a projected completion date of 2024, and made a subsequent, non-binding commitment in 2017 to spend $1.7 billion to extend existing PATH tracks 2.4 miles, from Newark’s Penn Station to a new train station on the outskirts of Newark Airport, where riders could board the AirTrain monorail system that circles the facility.
In November of that year, the Port Authority released $57 million of those funds for preliminary design work, along with an environmental study. The agency then conducted a series of public hearings in New Jersey, at which residents of the neighborhoods through which these new tracks would run shared their opinions. The 2017 schedule called for construction to begin in 2020, and for the entire plan to be completed by 2026.
Currently, Lower Manhattan residents traveling to or from Newark Airport face a Scylla-and-Charybdis choice. A cab ride can take more than an hour and cost in excess of $70, when tolls and a tip are added. Getting there by mass transit involves taking the subway to Penn Station in Midtown or the PATH to Newark’s Penn Station, then switching to NJ Transit train or bus. This can take more than two hours, and NJ Transit’s service shuts down entirely overnight. A PATH train ride from the World Trade Center directly to Newark, by contrast, would cost only $2.75 and would take 36 minutes.
Ridership projections from the Port Authority estimated in 2019 that 2.5 million riders would use the new service in its first year, and that this tally would grow to as many as 4.3 million annual passengers in the two decades that followed. Even in the first 12 months of operation this would represent a tripling of the share of Newark Airport patrons who opt for the existing rail service, which is estimated at five percent.