By Hilary Russ
Jersey City, N.J. (Reuters) - The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey said for the first time on Thursday its next 10-year capital plan may include $2.7 billion for Amtrak's Gateway rail tunnel project underneath the Hudson River.
But commissioners of the bi-state transportation agency postponed a vote on whether to release their draft $29.1 billion plan for public scrutiny. Some said they either disagreed with the current proposals or they needed more time to study the "overwhelming" amount of information.
Included in the plan is a controversial $3.5 billion for a new bus terminal.
Commissioner Kenneth Lipper said $3.2 billion of rail projects involving the city of Newark and LaGuardia Airport would be an "absolute waste of public funds," though others disagreed.
"Our credit rating would be in jeopardy," Lipper said of the potential for increased borrowing.
"We don't have the ability to pay for all those projects," said Commissioner George Laufenberg.
With $73 billion of potential needs identified but only about $53 billion of funding capacity, the authority faces a roughly $20 billion gap between what it wants to build and what it can actually build, for now, according to Commissioner Jeffrey Lynford.
The authority oversees many of the biggest infrastructure projects in the region and operates airports, bridges and tunnels in the bi-state area.
Chairman John Degnan said governors of both states signed off on the draft.
The board expects to call a special meeting before February to consider the draft further and possibly approve it for public review. Doing so would open it up to a 60-day comment period and public hearings.
Some broad strokes of the plan revealed at Thursday's meeting include some funding for a new bus terminal.
The project has been dogged by controversy, as most public officials, riders and commissioners agree a new facility is needed but they have splintered on where to place it and how to pay for it.
Degnan said the capital budget will also include more money for Amtrak's Gateway program, which includes a massive new rail tunnel underneath the Hudson River. He said the amount would not be finalized until the project cost becomes clearer.
However, Lipper said the draft capital plan could include $2.7 billion more for the tunnel and suggested a surcharge on Amtrak tickets to help pay off that debt.
Commissioners did approve a $3.1 billion operating budget and a $2.9 billion capital spending plan for 2017.
(Reporting by Hilary Russ; Editing by Daniel Bases, Bernard Orr)