A look at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey amid latest scandal

The abrupt resignation of United Airlines’ CEO once again thrust the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey into the headlines. Some questions and answers about the agency:

Q: What is the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey?

A: The authority was created by the two states in 1921 to settle jurisdictional disputes over the Hudson River and to modernize its sprawling port district. Some of its earliest projects involved building bridges and tunnels across the river. Later, it expanded its mission to include developing airports and bus terminals. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, it built the World Trade Center and acquired a rail system to service the complex, now called the PATH.


Q: What does it do today?

A: The authority controls all six of the vehicle bridges and tunnels between New York City and New Jersey, including the George Washington Bridge and the Holland and Lincoln tunnels. It operates all three of the region’s major airports — LaGuardia, Kennedy and Newark Liberty, which combined handle more than 100 million passengers per year — plus two smaller regional airfields. It’s a part owner of One World Trade Center, the nation’s tallest building. It also owns industrial parks, operates Manhattan’s two main bus terminals and still controls the busiest cargo port on the East Coast.


Q: How is it funded?

A: It collects tolls, rent, fares and aviation fees. In 2014 it had $4.48 billion in gross revenue and $2.9 billion in operating expenses.


Q: Who runs the authority?

A: The governors of New York and New Jersey share control. Each appoints six members to a board of commissioners. By agreement, each governor also gets control over several upper-management positions. The chairman is appointed by New Jersey’s governor. The executive director is appointed by New York’s.


Q: Do the two sides play nice?

A: Not always. There is a long history of infighting at the agency over priorities and resources. Politicians can’t even agree on reform. Last year, the legislatures in New York and New Jersey passed bills to require an independent annual audit, create an inspector general’s office, restrict lobbying and create a whistleblower protection program. Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie each vetoed the idea.


Q: Have there been scandals before?

A: Yes. Most notably, a scheme in 2013 to close lanes of the George Washington Bridge as political retribution. Former political aides were charged with helping plot lane closures on an approach to the world’s busiest bridge as political payback against a Democratic mayor who didn’t support Christie’s re-election campaign. Christie has long denied he knew about it, and no evidence has emerged to suggest he did.