In an appearance in front of a construction industry event on Friday, New York’s transportation officials said, in the words of Streetsblog, are “so cash-strapped they don’t even have enough money to maintain existing infrastructure.”
Noah Kazis was on hand to hear this bureaucrats argue for better funding, and the picture for every agency from New York City Transit to the Port Authority to the Department of Transportation is a dire one. “How reliable do you think that is?” Transit’s engineer Frederick Smith asked of the system’s 70-year-old signaling system. The MTA, of course, has funding for its current capital program for only two years and is struggling to maintain a state of good repair underground.
Kazis’ piece explores some of the avenues available to the state that could generate revenue for transit. He mentions congestion pricing as a possible revenue stream, but with so many state authorities struggling to get by, the money generated by a pricing mechanism would be in high demand. Ensuring that the revenue from a New York City-based pricing scheme it goes toward improving New York City-based transit should be a primary concern for advocates.
At the MTA, officials are focused on trimming the fat. Kazis reiterates how the MTA wants to reduce its operating budget by $750 million annually, but while those cost savings could hypothetically be transferred to the capital budget, as Hilary Ring, the MTA’s director of government affairs, said, those cost savings will generally work to avoid future service cuts and fare hikes as the MTA comes face-to-face with increasing debt payments.
Kazis’s indictment of the entire event though highlights one of the problems that authority heads weren’t willing to consider on Friday. He wrote: “One cost-saving device that didn’t get mentioned, of course, was getting tough with the contractors sponsoring the conference. Instead, the too-close-for-comfort relationship between public agencies and the industry was on full display. Describing the head of the General Contractors Association, NYS DOT Director of Civil Rights Warren Whitlock said that ‘her leadership on behalf of her industry is advancing our agenda,’ as if there was no daylight between them.”
Without a serious commitment to cost reform from the construction industry, the state’s transportation infrastructure costs will continue to be prohibitively expensive. It shouldn’t cost $4-$5 billion to build two miles of the Second Ave. Subway, and yet, that price tag has remained too high for years.