It’s not a good time right now to be angling for projects that are not in the MTA’s 2015-2019 Capital Program. Agency head Tom Prendergast has started to discus prioritization in the face of a $15 billion funding gap, and the MTA is — painfully, rightfully — going to prioritize system maintenance and modernization over expansion. This is a very costly decision as institutional memory and lessons learned from recent expansion projects will fade away as the MTA’s network doesn’t expand to meet growing demand. We could see a future without more phases of the Second Ave. Subway, B Division countdown clocks and other growth options unless Albany makes some tough but necessary decisions.
For those who want something not in the MTA’s capital plan (and who aren’t named Cuomo), times are even tougher. The MTA isn’t exactly receptive to ideas they haven’t put forward, and the agency is especially unwilling to look at plans without political backing and money behind them. Still, that’s not stopping the Staten Island Economic Development Corporation for continue its uphill fight for West Shore light rail.
Over the past few years, in fits and starts, Staten Island’s transit options have come under scrutiny. The MTA and NYC DOT have tried to bring Select Bus Service to the isolated borough, but politicians have pushed back hard on everything from dedicated bus lanes to flashing lights. Meanwhile, the MTA has examined reactivating the North Shore right-of-way, but the alternatives analysis disappointing picked a BRT option over light rail. Still, those fighting for more transit are eying the West Shore for light rail, and they’re not giving up.
Vincente Barrone of the Staten Island Advance has the latest:
With huge development anticipated for Staten Island’s West Shore, the Staten Island Economic Development Corporation (SIEDC) refuses to let its West Shore light rail proposal die. Steve Grillo, the SIEDC vice president, has been championing the service over the past decade, garnering support from virtually every local politician without successfully finding a financial sponsor. “It’s been really good in terms of support,” he said. “We recently had the letter of support from [U.S. Senators] Gillibrand and Schumer’s office. So that’s great having both senators on board. All local elected officials have supported this. So right now the obstacles are the transportation agencies.”
…The rail line would run a 13.1-mile route along the Island’s West Shore, with stops from Richmond Valley to Elm Park. The proposed line would carry Island commuters to the Bayonne Bridge to connect with New Jersey Transit’s Hudson Bergen Light Rail Line. Currently, the SIEDC needs $5 million to conduct an alternative analysis study. A necessary step to receive any federal funding, the study would offer a comprehensive look at the proposal that would determine the most feasible mass transit options for the corridor…
Grillo has talked about the plan with the state and city transportation commissioners in the past to no avail. He’s also spoken with high-ranking officials at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), which is currently dealing with its own funding quagmire…MTA’s Island board member Allen Cappelli says that the MTA should be able to find money for the study. “The funding needed is pittance,” said Cappelli. “We’re talking spare change that fell into the MTA’s sofa, which is why it’s so appalling that it hasn’t been picked up.”
The problem, as I’ve said before, concerns a champion. This West Shore line has no political champion. It has no one opening up the wallet to find money for a study, and it’s coming out at a time when the MTA is fighting for itself first and other projects second. It’s certainly worthwhile and deserves more of a look that anyone in the city seems willing to give, and that’s a shame.
Grillo, meanwhile, isn’t afraid to call a spade a spade. In the piece, he calls Select Bus Service “bus rapid transit light, at best” and expresses his desire for better Staten Island transit. “We need 21st century solutions for 21st century problems,” he said. “What we’re getting from our agencies are out-of-date ideas.” Out of date and out of money.