With $30B Capital Plan, MTA Challenges Albany To Fund New Era of Transit Expansion

“A few months ago we had legislators saying ‘ask us for money, ask us for money.’ Well, now we’re asking.”

-MTA board member Andrew Albert

It’s put-up or shut-up time for Albany. The need for state action on congestion pricing and increased transit funding was the theme running through the MTA board meeting yesterday, where the MTA released a draft version of a $29.5 billion capital program for 2008-2013 — “by any reckoning, the most ambitious program of investment ever proposed by the MTA,” according to the program document (available online here). To compare, the current 2005-2009 capital program authorized $21.1 billion of investment.

MTA CEO Elliot Sander divided the capital plan into three tiers. The MTA’s “core program” of improvements, which primarily involves bringing more of the MTA system into a state of good repair and buying new subway cars and buses, would cost $20 billion. Continuing the agency’s current expansion projects — the first phase of the Second Avenue Subway, LIRR East Side Access, and others — raises the total to $26 billion. The total rises to more than $29 billion after adding new capital projects such as Metro-North access to Penn Station.

Sander identified $20 billion in potential federal, state, and local funding sources, a number which includes $4.5 billion in congestion pricing revenues and increased state and city funding in 2010. That is, there is a $9 billion funding gap even under optimistic conditions. Finance Committee chair Andrew Saul warned that the plan would have to be scaled back if congestion pricing was not passed and additional funding from the state and city could not be won.

Many board members threw the gauntlet at Albany’s feet, challenging state legislators who had promised to increase MTA funding at the fare and toll increase hearings last year. “If all those legislators could be reminded of their desire to help the public, we could pass this,” board member Barry Feinstein said. Board member Norman Seabrook said he would go to Albany to personally meet with legislators, and board chair H. Dale Hemmerdinger asked that other board members do the same. The Campaign for New York’s Future is also organizing a bus trip to Albany for advocates and concerned citizens on the morning of March 18.

The capital program was accelerated twice because of the congestion pricing debate. The release of the plan was first moved up from 2009 to March 31, 2008 as part of the legislation creating the Traffic Congestion Mitigation Commission. Gov. Spitzer then asked the MTA to release the plan a month early so that state legislators and NYC Councilmembers who must vote on congestion pricing could see the transit stakes.

Highlights of the 2008-2013 Capital Program

  • Transit Fleet: 590 new subway cars, more than 2,900 new buses, 440 new commuter rail cars, and 64 Staten Island Railway cars (a replacement of the entire SIR fleet) to expand the transit fleet and replace old vehicles.
  • Transit Stations: Rehabilitation of 44 subway stations (41 in Brooklyn and Queens), a complete renovation of Metro-North’s Tarrytown station and rehabilitation of seven Harlem Line stations, rehabilitation of 11 LIRR stations including Babylon, and replacement of the Staten Island Railroad’s Atlantic and Nassau stations with one ADA-accessible “Arthur Kill” station.
  • Capital Projects (Completely Funded in Plan): Completion of LIRR East Side Access, the first phase of the Second Avenue Subway, the Fulton Street Transit Center, the LIRR Third Track, and track improvements around the LIRR’s Jamaica Station. The capital plan would also complete “communications-based train control” (CBTC) on the No. 7 line, as currently exists on the L line. This advanced signal system lets trains run closer together at rush hour, increasing service, and includes “next train” signs telling riders when trains will arrive.
  • New Capital Projects (Partially Funded in Plan): Progress on CBTC signalization for the E and V lines in Queens, Metro-North access to Penn Station (including new stations in the Bronx and upper Manhattan), and the second phase of the Second Avenue Subway. These projects would be completed in the post-2013 capital plan.
  • Transit for Underserved Neighborhoods: 12 new regular bus and bus rapid transit routes in Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx; increased service on 48 bus routes and the 1, E, and F subway lines; and lengthened C trains if congestion pricing is passed.
  • Improved Flood Mitigation: $183 million for structural work to alleviate flooding, including devices which can close gratings in the event of street-level floods; the capital plan also brings the NYC Transit pump system into a 100% state of good repair.
  • Bridges and Tunnels: $2.5 billion to accelerate MTA bridges and tunnels progress towards state of good repair.
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