The George Washington Bridge Bus Station terminal at 178th & Broadway is finally set to start construction, five years and several missed deadlines later than expected.
“I think it’s good, if they do it,” said bus operator Charles DeLoach, reflecting the mix of welcome skepticism many feel about the latest construction announcement from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. “I’ll believe it when I see it,” said DeLoach.
The long-anticipated project will replace a terminal opened in 1963 in Washington Heights, which for half a century has connected New York City to nearby New Jersey destinations such as Paterson, Passaic, Englewood, Fort Lee, and Jersey City. Terminal users also can make subway and bus connections to New York City airports.
Though it’s not the city’s biggest bus terminal (that’s the Port Authority terminal at 8th Avenue & 42nd Street, which serves about 65 million people a year), the George Washington Bridge station hosted some 4.7 million passengers in 2012, said Christopher Valens, a spokesman for the port authority.
One of those travelers is Bronx resident, Angel Barrales, who uses the terminal every day to get to his job at a Vietnamese restaurant in New Jersey.
“This is the only way I know to get to New Jersey,” said Barrales. “I think it could look better.”
Renovation plans first discussed in 2008 were stalled initially by economic downturn, then by a change in developers and contractors, said Valens. In anticipation of one scheduled start date, storeowners were kicked out of the terminal in 2011. Two years later, passengers are frustrated that’s there’s still no place in the terminal to buy even a cup of morning coffee. Every abandoned store has a sign that says “This branch is closed.”
Before, “if you were hungry, you could buy a soda, sandwich, now you can’t buy anything. I’d say it’s inconvenient,” said Monserrate Perez. “I don’t care what they put, as long as it’s food!”
The new $183 million project will have more than just food. Marshall’s, Blink Gym, Fine Fare Supermarkets, and Gateway News have already signed leases, said Valens. The terminal will have 120,000 square feet of retail space – four times the space in the existing facility.
Until the new terminal is up and running, though, the old one is a sadly dilapidated space. Besides the empty stores, there are crinkled cigarette butts on the floor, trash in the corners, and a bleak yellow light shining opaquely on the quiet travelers.
Homeless men line the front door of the terminal outside. Former Washington Heights resident, Edward Albert, who came to visit Fort Tryon Park, calls the atmosphere “a little gloomy, sketchy, and scary.” Albert looks forward to the new terminal and its new shopping possibilities. “If there were more shops, there would be more cheerful people,” he said.
Valens said the construction has already begun, but on a recent visit, there weren’t any construction workers anywhere and the abandoned stores and decrepit ceilings were still untouched. The new terminal will “consolidate all bus operations in a rooftop bus concourse with a modern climate-controlled waiting area,” Valens said in an email. Escalators and elevators will bring people from street and subway levels up to the buses, and arrival and departure information will be shown on modernized communications systems.
All bus traffic in the new terminal will operate above street level, “a big plus for traffic and traffic congestion,” said Ebenezer Smith, district manager for Community Board 12, which covers Washington Heights and Inwood.
Most residents in the neighborhood don’t seem to mind that there will be construction.
“If they’re gonna put in new stores, they have to clean it up first,” said commuter Elan Bosworth.
The project will also create more than 330 construction jobs and more than 700 permanent jobs in the community, said Valens.
But there are still plenty of skeptics.
“‘Cause it’s city government, they don’t do what they say they’ll do,” said Bronx resident Forhad Akbar, who works across the street from the terminal.
Valens said the construction is expected to be completed in early 2015.
“It will increase pedestrian traffic and bring some vitality into the terminal,” said former Washington Heights resident, Edward Albert.