The move comes as the City Council and community groups debate how best to upgrade Penn Station, the nation's busiest rail center, barely 10 blocks to the south.
"It is already at capacity during peak periods and in need of significant improvements to meet the growing demands of commuters," the Port Authority said of the bus terminal in a statement released Friday. "By addressing its infrastructure needs through a comprehensive plan, the Port Authority will ensure the terminal remains a vital part of the interstate transportation network as the region continues to grow over the next 50 years."
The Port Authority Board of Commissioners contracted with Kohn Pedersen Fox and Parsons, based in Times Square, to draw up the master plan for the terminal, which serves more than 69 million people a year.
The company will consider ways to upgrade or totally rebuild the terminal, maintain the agency's current bus facilities, and create new bus staging and storage areas on Manhattan's west side to reduce the number of public and private interstate buses that idle on city streets — a current source of ire for West Side residents and business owners.
"The development of a master plan underscores the Port Authority’s commitment to make the bus terminal a world-class facility and bus transit the most reliable mode of access to midtown Manhattan,” Port Authority Chairman David Samson said in a statement. “This comprehensive approach is the best way to ensure the Bus Terminal keeps pace with future passenger growth over the next fifty years.”
The Port Authority study, an 18-month, $5.5 million undertaking, will also explore options for developing the bus terminal's air rights. It previously explored selling its air rights in 2000, agency spokesman Steve Coleman said, but that initiative collapsed in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks and the economic crashes that followed.
"That project lingered for years and years and years, and since has been stopped," Coleman said. "You had various cycles over the past 13 years of good economic times and bad economic times, and obviously a developer is not going to build a property that's not going to be leased."
The announcement comes as major transit projects, from the MTA's Second Avenue Subway and East Side Access initiatives to a community group's campaign to rebuild Penn Station, grab near-daily headlines.
Penn Station has been a particular recent focus. On Tuesday, the City Council's Land Use Committee voted to limit a new permit for Madison Square Garden to just 10 years, widely seen as a necessary step for relocating The World's Most Famous Arena and, in so doing, making room for a much-needed expansion of Penn Station.
The timing of the Port Authority's announcement, however, has little to do with other regional transit projects, Coleman maintained.
"It's timed because there's a growing demand for bus travel between New York and New Jersey into Midtown, and now is the right time," he told DNAinfo New York.
The two transit hubs are among the most crowded in the world: About 225,000 travelers and 8,000 buses pass through the bus terminal every day, the Port Authority said. At Penn Station, 600,000 passengers go through the station daily.