When it comes to interest-group politics, the MTA’s likely allies often aren’t as supportive as they should be. The authority’s various labor groups spend more time fighting against the MTA than for it and seemingly refuse to recognize that a fully funded MTA would lead to more jobs for unionized workers. The construction industry too has been largely silent as project management and budgetary control have come under fire. Why would contractors, after all, want to attach their names publicly to infrastructure investments that aren’t on time and are routinely over budget?
Now, though, the slumbering giant could be waking up. The construction industry in New York City has always leaned heavily on public investment and the state’s authorities for much of its work, and as the real estate economy is slow to rebound, the New York Building Congress’ future may depend upon the fate of the MTA’s five-year capital plan. In its latest New York Construction Outlook report, the NYBC anticipates a rebound in construction spending — but only as long as the MTA keeps doling out the dollars.
The report is, unfortunately, available for NYBC members only, but the Congress has issued an extensive press release detailing its findings. This year, the NYBC anticipates just $23 billion in construction spending, a drop of 23 percent since 2008, but if the MTA remains economically healthy, that number could climb to $28.6 billion by 2012. “The 2012 projection, however,” the organization said, “is tenuous, given that most of the forecasted increase will not materialize unless the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is able to secure new funding for the capital projects it has proposed for 2012.”
The report stresses the importance of government spending with a special focus on the MTA. “All eyes are on the MTA,” NYBC President Richard T. Anderson said. “The cash-strapped agency accounts for approximately 25 percent of the 2012 forecast, yet its five-year capital program is only funded through next yea. While the MTA’s projected $3.5 billion in 2011 capital spending seems secure, it is uncertain how much of the $7.6 billion in planned 2012 spending will actually materialize.”
The organization’s chair echoed those comments. “The MTA’s financial woes are a cause of great concern for the region,” Peter Marchetto said. “A fully-funded capital program means greater regional mobility, a more robust economy and middle-class construction jobs. According to our estimates, more than 18,000 construction jobs would disappear from the 2012 forecast if the MTA is only able to maintain capital spending at 2011 levels, rather than fully funding its current five-year plan.”
What brightens my mood, though, is the New York Building Congress’ clear commitment to the MTA’s capital plan. The report recommends the following:
A concerted effort must be made among all stakeholders, including the City, State, transit advocates and the building industry, to secure additional funding for the MTA’s capital plan. Potential vehicles include the long-delayed reauthorization of the federal surface transportation program and adoption of new sources of dedicated revenue, such as congestion pricing or East River bridge tolls.
Hallelujah. Political support!
The New York Building Congress is, of course, a self-interested industry group, and its constituents want the MTA to have money because then they’ll get that money in return. We have to engage in the Faustian bargain of the supporting the people who are responsible for construction delays and engineering nightmares.
Yet, we also can’t and shouldn’t discount the influence of the construction industry. The New York Building Congress is a potentially powerful ally for the MTA and transit advocates in the region. If they can reach the right people in state government and convince the right politicians to support the right projects, the MTA and transit riders throughout the region will stand to benefit. Politics might make strange bedfellows sometimes, and while I’d want the construction industry to better budget and plan its transit projects, without it, we might not have any capital transit projects at all.