Benches, posters, pavilions and retail shops will soon beautify the bleak, cramped and pale PATH stations that commuters say make for some of the worst train rides in the region's transit system.
PATH is undergoing a nearly $200 million station face-lift that Port Authority officials say will improve the busy commuting experience for the system's 70 million annual riders.
Port Authority officials say they hope to "spruce up" all 13 PATH stations that transport millions of tourists and sports fans each year — with the 2014 Super Bowl at the Meadowlands looming as a local headline attraction.
Even in a tough economy, an improved PATH experience will prevent some commuters from switching to cars that tie up local traffic, said Bill Baroni, deputy executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
"We're trying to make it more commuter friendly," said Baroni. "Like all good transit systems, we're evolving constantly."
The projects are part of a more than $1 billion effort to upgrade the entire PATH system — including improving station announcements and expanding platforms — that could counter the rusting system's reputation for being crowded, uncomfortable and a little dirty.
The Port Authority's $2 toll hike on its Hudson River crossings in 2008 has helped pay for the modernization projects.
The bi-state agency has already spent nearly $10 million on the 10-year project that, officials say, will boost ridership and the economy — despite complaints from critics that the Port Authority should instead focus on improving service.
"We need to be expanding our transit system to improve reliability," said Jeff Tittel, director of the Sierra Club's New Jersey chapter. "They need to be fixed up, but not turned into shopping centers."
Stuffy, smelly stations
Passengers say they'll take anything to improve the bland, stale corridors at PATH stations that have pungent odors lingering in the summertime at Exchange Place in Jersey City and elsewhere.
Jason DiSalvo of Ramsey said some stations — such as Exchange Place and the 97-year-old Harrison stop — appear to offer less space and safety and more filth and fear than any station on the New York City subway lines.
At Exchange Place, passengers also complain about a lack of places to sit and ventilation, as well as a loudspeaker system that's barely audible.
"When it gets hot, it gets a little stuffy," DiSalvo said of Exchange Place. "The smell gets bad when it's warm. If it all looked better, maybe it would make the commute a little easier."
The improvements include:
* Expanding platforms along the Newark to World Trade Center line to accommodate 10-car trains, which will allow an additional 400 passengers per trip.
* Replacing the hard-to-hear loudspeaker system.
* Posting new, clearer signs and maps, enabling passengers to reach their destinations more quickly and easily.
* Adding new seating, lighting and flooring that officials say will make the wait in stations safer, more comfortable and visually appealing.
* Posting colorful murals featuring local landmarks at several PATH stations to cover the dirty, pale-colored walls.
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