LOWER MANHATTAN — Outgoing Port Authority head Chris Ward said Wednesday that he was forced to step down after getting burned by the politics surrounding toll and fare hikes this summer.
Ward, who will leave the Port Authority at the end of October, advocated steep $4 increases on Hudson River crossings to pay for much-needed infrastructure. But after a public and political outcry, the Port Authority ultimately dropped the increase to just $1.50 — a decision Ward criticized.
"What I learned, as my hand got singed in the oven, was that you can't raise tolls anymore to what they would have to be to sustain the Port Authority," Ward said Wednesday morning at a Lower Manhattan Marketing Association breakfast.
"I somewhat paid the political price of saying [the tolls] could have and should have been higher."
Ward clashed with Gov. Andrew Cuomo over the toll increases and had bristled at the governor's suggestion that the Port Authority needed to cut back its capital plan instead. Ward believed that the Port Authority should have remained firm on the fare and toll increases so the agency could invest in infrastructure improvements that would boost New York's economy for decades to come.
Rather than waiting for Cuomo to formally ask him to leave the Port Authority, as was rumored, word got out last week that Ward was stepping down.
On Wednesday morning, Ward focused on the Port Authority's future and warned that due to the agency's scaled-back budget, New Yorkers would continue to be inconvenienced by the region's aging bridges, tunnels and airports.
"You're going to be stuck in traffic on the George Washington Bridge," Ward said. "You're going to be stuck on buses trying to get into the Port Authority Bus Terminal. You're going to be stuck at LaGuardia and JFK because [they] don't have enough runway capacity."
If he had continued as executive director of the Port Authority, Ward said some of his top priorities would have included rebuilding LaGuardia Airport and building a high-capacity bus garage in Midtown.
As evidence that such large-scale projects can be completed, Ward pointed to the World Trade Center, which was little more than a mud pit when he took over the Port Authority in 2008 and now boasts two rising skyscrapers and a completed 9/11 Memorial.
"Downtown is a remarkable example of what can get done when hard work goes into [making] tough decisions," Ward said. "We proved that you can build large projects … [by] being honest with the public about the challenges."
Ward, who appeared in good spirits Wednesday, said he did not know what he would do next. He declined to comment on rumors that he could replace Jay Walder as chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority when Walder steps down this month.
"It's been a great run," Ward said of his three-and-a-half years at the Port Authority. "It's been the job of my career. I want to stay involved. I love this stuff."