NEW YORK (AP) — At the nation's busiest bus station, winding lines of riders wait amid cracked floors, crumbling ceiling tiles and a wheezing air-conditioning system helped along by old-fashioned floor fans.
Dark corridors of Manhattan's aging Port Authority Bus Terminal are populated by homeless men and women, and the sweet smell of warm pretzels from rows of food stalls mixes with an occasional whiff of urine.
After a recent test ride from the New Jersey suburbs, the Port Authority's new chairman, John Degnan, offered a one-word review: "Unacceptable."
While public attention and money is finally turning to improving LaGuardia Airport and the Penn Station rail hub — two other rundown, overcrowded New York transportation centers — the 64-year-old bus terminal has lurked under the radar for decades, seemingly stuck in a sad time warp.
A statue out front of a grinning Ralph Kramden, Jackie Gleason's bus driver character in "The Honeymooners" sitcom from the 1950s, only serves to underscore the impression.
"It's the neglected stepchild of New York's transportation system, allowed to decline for decades," says Mitchell Moss, a New York University professor of urban policy and planning.
Port Authority commissioners have acknowledged for years that the terminal needs to be replaced, but that project — estimated to cost at least $1 billion — could be as far as a decade away for the behemoth agency that already faces financial and political woes.
Until then, commissioners this past week approved an extra $90 million for an improvement plan that will include fixes to floors and ceilings, better cellphone service, cleaner restrooms and more street-level bus gates — a patchwork that Port Authority Vice Chairman Scott Rechler acknowledged is "sort of like putting lipstick on a pig."
The terminal, which has run an annual deficit of about $100 million in recent years, is on a long list of priorities for the Port Authority, which has funneled billions of dollars in recent years to fund other structurally deficient bridges and tunnels and the decimated World Trade Center site. The bus terminal wasn't included on a list of major projects in the agency's 10-year, $28 billion capital plan released this year, though the plan includes $173 million for various improvements.
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