Infrastructure Public Authority
Henry C K Liu
appeared in AToL on August 30, 2002
under the title: The New York of Asia: Port in a storm
A proposal for a 15
billion yuan (US$1.83 billion) linking Hong Kong, Macau and the
mainland Chinese city of Zhuhai, which neighbors Macau, has sparked
bickering among Hong Kong tycoons over their special interests.
container-terminal industry, speaking through the powerful Hutchison
Whampoa Group, opposes moves that may affect the current governmental
arrangement of privately developed container terminals. The Hong Kong
Container Terminal Operators' Association, which represents private
terminal operators, including Wharf's Modern Terminals, CSX World
Terminals and Hutchison Whampoa's Hongkong International Terminals,
while claiming not to be against the bridge project, was quoted by the
press as being opposed to "proposals that changed the government's port
development policy so as to create an unfair situation for the existing
The proposed bridge
would be a regional infrastructure that would be key in integrating
Hong Kong and the Pearl River Delta into one vibrant regional economy.
In that sense, would be vital to the economic survival of Hong Kong and
beneficial to Guangdong province and China in general. As some 98
percent of the proposed 28-kilometer bridge would be built in Guangdong
waters and the dominant economic basis for the proposed bridge would be
the fast-growing Guangdong economy, it would appear that the principle
of eminent domain - the right of a government entity to appropriate
private property at fair market value for the purpose of constructing a
public facility - would prevail.
In the event that
the final arrangements of the bridge project should change the Hong
Kong government's port-development policy, the current terminal
operators have a right to seek fair compensation if they can show proof
of being adversely affected unfairly. But the tail would be wagging the
dog if private interests at one locality could oppose the development
of a needed regional infrastructure project merely to protect the
existing players whose high fees have been a major factor in retarding
Hong Kong's and the region's global competitiveness.
Hong Kong tirelessly
promotes itself as the New York of Asia. In New York, the Port
Authority of New York and New Jersey, established in 1921, operates
transportation facilities serving both states. It is a financially
self-supporting public agency that receives no tax revenue from any
state or local jurisdiction and has no power to tax. It relies almost
entirely on revenue generated by its facilities' users - tolls, fees,
and rents - to finance revenue bonds.
The governor of each
state appoints six members to the Port Authority's board of
commissioners, subject to state senate approval. Board members serve as
public officials without pay for overlapping six-year terms. The
governors retain the right to veto the actions of commissioners from
that governor's own state. Board meetings are public. The board of
commissioners appoints an executive director to carry out the agency's
policies and manage day-to-day operations.
The Port Authority's
creation was the result of an accident of political history that
divided a common port area between what became New York and New Jersey,
a division that inevitably resulted in disputes between the two states
over use of the port. The states quarreled throughout the 19th century
over their common harbor and waterways. A dispute over the boundary
line through the harbor and the Hudson River, finally settled by the
Treaty of 1834, once led state police to exchange shots in the middle
of the river.
states found a governmental model for port management in the Port of
London, which was then the only public port authority in the world. On
April 30, 1921, the Port of New York Authority was established as the
first of its kind in the Western Hemisphere and the first interstate
agency created under a clause of the US Constitution permitting
compacts between states. One area of jurisdiction was called the "Port
District", a bi-state region of about 1,500 square miles (3,900 square
kilometers) centered on the Statue of Liberty. The name was changed to
the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey in 1972 to identify more
accurately its status as a bi-state agency.
The Port Authority
struggled financially until 1930, when the states gave the agency
control of the newly opened Holland Tunnel. The authority began blazing
new paths in transportation, engineering, law and administration.
Bridges and tunnels were constructed in the late 1920s and into the
1930s; three airports were leased in the late 1940s. In the 1950s and
1960s came the Port Authority Bus Terminal, a second deck on the George
Washington Bridge, the world's first container ports at Port Newark and
Elizabeth, and acquisition of the Hudson and Manhattan Railroad, which
became the Port Authority Trans-Hudson (PATH) rapid-transit system.
In the 1970s and
1980s, the Port Authority helped advance the region's interests through
port and trade promotion and construction of the World Trade Center.
Other achievements included development of industrial parks, a business
park and a satellite communications center on Staten Island.
Crossings at the
agency's tunnels and bridges increased to 123.6 million vehicles in
1999. Air passengers totaled 89.3 million, and the value of
international trade through ocean and air-cargo facilities came to
regional growth - and to plan for its continuance - the Port
Authority's capital plan in 1999 amounted to $992 million in regional
infrastructure. Some of the larger projects include the AirTrain light
rail system to and throughout John F Kennedy International Airport,
massive road and parking improvements at Newark International Airport,
as well as the beginning of construction to connect the airport to the
Northeast Rail corridor; and the renovation of PATH stations and a
resource recovery facility in Newark. It was the owner of the
now-destroyed World Trade Center towers, under long-term lease to a
It seems natural
that the governor of Guangdong province and the chief executive of the
Hong Kong Special Administrative Region should put their heads together
and create a "Port Authority of Guangdong and Hong Kong" to plan,
finance and operate the proposed Zhuhai-Macau-Hong Kong bridge as
expediently as possible and to undertake other regional plans and
coordination, such as a regional air-traffic and airports plan and a
regional water-transportation, rail and highway plan.
Such an important
regional project should not be left to the bickering of local special
interests. There is no need to rely on the private sector to develop
and finance public infrastructure. Privatization of public monopolies
would only permit unnecessary private profit to keep users fees high
and sap the region's cost-competitiveness.