Home Capital Program 2015-2019 Report: Albany set to punt on MTA Capital Plan, for now

Report: Albany set to punt on MTA Capital Plan, for now

by Benjamin Kabak

So, did you miss me? There’s nothing like coming back with some bad news.

Since I’ve last had an opportunity to write up more than just the weekend service changes and a kitschy YouTube video on subway delays, I’ve been to Berlin, Stockholm, Chicago and Boston. I’ve ridden on a variety of transit systems, some better and more integrated than others, and I’ve had a whirlwind month of May as I prepare for my wedding in less than two weeks. I’ve missed a good amount of transit news too, and I’ll try to recap everything that’s happened in my absence, as well as provide some thoughts on those other systems I rode, over the next few days. Still, despite the three-week gap, the big story — the MTA’s 2015-2019 capital plan — may in fact be worse for the wear than it was before I left.

The sad reality is that, as June dawns and New York’s lawmakers gear up to end their 2015 legislative session, Albany is unlikely to address the gaping $14 billion hole in the MTA’s capital plan. This utter failure in leadership comes amidst a period of record subway ridership and clear signs that the MTA needs support to both keep pace with demand and continue to grow to meet future needs. So far, the details on this development are slim, but Kenneth Lovett, the Daily News’ Albany bureau chief had a brief report on this latest development.

He writes:

New York state leaders are set to slam the brakes on the cash-strapped MTA’s push to fill a $14 billion hole in its $32 billion capital plan, the Daily News has learned. Several lawmakers say the political will is not there to address the issue before the legislative session ends later this month.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority has been looking for help from state, federal and city governments as well as the private sector. The agency says failure to fully fund the 2015-2019 capital plan could imperil such projects as the next phase of the Second Ave. subway line construction, improvements to rails, switches and stations, and the purchase of new subway and commuter trains.

MTA officials vowed to continue to press for the needed funding. “This is the highest priority for the MTA and we’re going to continue pushing it with everyone we can,” agency spokesman Adam Lisberg said. MTA Chairman Thomas Prendergast and other agency officials have been meeting regularly with Gov. Cuomo’s office and members of the Legislature to try to come up with a plan to fill the $14 billion gap. But they’ve been unable to get the issue placed on the front burner of the end-of-session agenda.

If the political will isn’t there now, it’s hard to see just when the will may arise. There’s been growing support for the Move New York fair tolling plan — support that hasn’t materialized since the now-disgraced Sheldon Silver torpedoed then-Mayor Bloomberg’s congestion pricing plan in a closed-door session in 2008. Plus, in April, James Brennan had seemingly prepared to put forward his own plan to fund the capital program through gas and income tax increases and more contributions to the city. (City contributions remain a very controversial issue as the MTA, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Comptroller Scott Stringer have been duking it out in recent weeks, but more on that in a day or two.) None of these efforts have led anywhere, and the city’s 8 million daily bus and subway riders will be left with an uncertain future.

For now, the MTA’s ongoing projects aren’t in jeopardy. Nearly all were funded under previous capital plans, and the agency can still tap PAYGO resources, albeit at higher interest rates than otherwise would be available if Albany were to act. But down the road, if Albany continues to fail to find the political will to address the imperative needs of a majority of New York City residents and workers, the MTA will have to turn to fare hikes, service cuts and scaled-back plans. That means no future phases of the Second Ave. Subway, no MetroCard replacement and no signal system upgrades while the Mayor can forget about his unfunded plan for a Utica Ave. subway.

It’s not surprising to hear Albany suffer from a lack of political will. Over the past few months, the state’s Assembly Speaker and Senate Majority Leader were arrested in corruption probes; the governor doesn’t show much outward support for transit; and the mayor has his security team drive him from the Upper East Side to Park Slope so he can go to the gym. While voting constituents need the subways, politicians who drive at a rate disproportionate to the electorate don’t understand the role the transit system plays in the city’s current and future success. So here we are in June, no closer to answer to a giant gap than we were in March, January or last November. The more things change indeed.

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13 comments

Abba June 1, 2015 - 12:49 am

Welcome back!!!

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Pete Falina June 1, 2015 - 7:08 am

Ben, you were missed! It sounds like you had a great trip! Very much welcome back!!!

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Chet June 1, 2015 - 7:54 am

First, welcome back! Loved your photos on Instagram of your trip. The Stockholm tunnels with their “unfinished” concrete look are amazing.

Second, it boggles the mind that a group of politicians can have a plan staring in the face- MoveNY- that would solve so many different problems related to traffic, tolls, and mass transit, and have a good effect on pollution, and basically ignore it. Every single one of them- from the Governor on down, but especially the Governor, should be ashamed.

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Larry Littlefield June 1, 2015 - 8:42 am

“Have a plan staring in the face- MoveNY- that would solve so many different problems.”

Defer so many problems. Put in the tolls, and borrow against the next 30 years of revenues over the next five, and we’ll be right back where we are. Then what?

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Bolwerk June 2, 2015 - 11:15 am

It doesn’t defer them. It actually fixes things. That five years is revenue spent on capital financing will still be useful stuff half a century from now.

Even the most doctrinaire anti-debt masturbater must realize you can’t wait 30 years to accumulate enough money to pay for tracks or rolling stock you needed yesterday.

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Larry Littlefield June 1, 2015 - 8:41 am

The MTA borrowed $32 billion, mostly for ongoing normal replacement, to allow Generation Greed politicians to hand out goodies for 20 years.

Now the regional transit system and road system are heading toward a spiral of deferred maintenance and deterioration, taking the economy with it. And victimizing younger generations who didn’t get the goodies.

“MTA Chairman Thomas Prendergast and other agency officials have been meeting regularly with Gov. Cuomo’s office.”

So he shows up to talk with the Governor or Mayor and they make a point of being elsewhere, and he ends up talking to an empty office.

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Larry Greenfield June 1, 2015 - 8:45 am

The situation is dire, but I think it’s important to understand that there are not “8 million daily bus and subway riders,” there are 8 million daily subway rides. The city’s riders have political power, so it’s important to count them correctly.

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Larry Greenfield June 1, 2015 - 8:50 am

add the word “bus and” after the word “daily” in the second line.

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Brooklynite June 1, 2015 - 9:54 am

Welcome back Ben, and congrats on your upcoming wedding!

Regarding MTA, if they are unable to procure funding from various governments then I guess they’ll just need to step up with efficiency improvements, and lots of them. There’s no reason why SAS and the 7 Line extension are ~10x as expensive as similar work elsewhere. There’s no reason why every single time I pass construction work, at least half of the workers there are standing around. There’s no reason why it routinely takes two hours for work to actually begin after a G/O goes into effect (per the IG). The list goes on; there are so many inefficiencies it’s hard to say with a straight face that MTA actually NEEDS the $14 billion.

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R2 June 1, 2015 - 10:11 am

Go Ben!! Congrats and welcome back.

Albany’s a hot mess express and I don’t expect anything except stopgap measures for now. Leadership will have to come from somewhere else. Got to hold Cuomo’s feet to the fire (while making sure he throws money at the right things — not some ridiculous go-nowhere AirTrain LGA)

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Larry Littlefield June 1, 2015 - 6:39 pm

I’ve been rolling out analyses of various state and local government services based on my compilation of 2012 Census of Governments data from the U.S. Census Bureau. I just put up the post on infrastructure finance. It is here.

https://larrylittlefield.wordp

This disaster, and don’t think it isn’t, is the result of 20 years of future selling by Generation Greed. Now it is the future.

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Michael June 1, 2015 - 7:18 pm

Welcome back Ben, and congratulations on your upcoming wedding!

Let’s see, while you were away the San Andres area encompassing Los Angeles through to San Francisco and its surrounding areas suffered a massive earth-quake and tsunami that wiped out the BART, Golden Gate Bridge and brought massive damage to California. One rock turned out to be the silver lining

Let’s see, while you were away – a NYC #6 subway train was hijacked with ransom for $1 million dollars, but in the end the #6 train was liberated for a trip to Coney Island!

Let’s see, while you were away – a group of energized mechanical men seized an Eastern Europe city Slokvia which somehow became pulverized when about 6 agents liberated the trapped people. The superior bus rapid transit system was lost in the disturbance.

Let’s see, the IND station to the World’s Fair in Flushing Meadow Park re-opened for a short while. The world wide event featured a wonderful virtual reality exhibit with 30th century modern transit, hover trains and personal jetpacks.

Let’s see, the Australian out-back again suffered a massive out-break of fighting among the various bands of roving individually profit-minded wealth seekers. The first such instance occurred 36 years ago with period out-breaks since then. However it has been at least 25 years since this story was last reported.

Let’s see, Amtrak’s record of safety has improved in recent years along with Metro North’s record of safety. The Tappen-Zee Bridge still remains upright, and the soccer enjoys the acclaim and respect deserved by its fans. In addition Tom Brady’s balls will be inflated to their correct size – there was a minor scandal that his balls were not being handled properly.

Let’s see, there’s a new exhibit at the Isla Nublar theme park opening this summer with an out-of-this-world leader running from the pack.

Let’s see, a new training video for a passenger delivery system for a new problem-plagued planned unit development surfaced that has former omnibus descendents drooling.

And lastly, the main stars of the television show about absolutely nothing among others finally gave a proper send off to a New York legend – someone about whom most of our kids will know nothing about..

And lately but lastly, back Ben, and congratulations on your upcoming wedding!

Mike

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Nathanael June 5, 2015 - 2:33 am

Things will get somewhat better if an actual left-winger is elected to replace the startlingly right-wing Andrew Cuomo. 😛 I’m not sure who that would be, but a hell of a lot of people would vote for whoever it was.

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