Now that the dust has settled on Andrew Cuomo’s transportation and infrastructure tour of New York, the Empire State’s political watchers have had time to digest and assess the governor’s proposals. Inspired Robert Moses, the Master Builder who has been no stranger to controversy in life or death, Cuomo has promoted a bunch of plans aimed at improving the way people get into and out of New York City with only a superficial proposal to improve the customer experience for subway riders rather than system capacity or reach. A new Penn Station might be aesthetically pleasing, but where is the firm commitment to see through Gateway Tunnel, a project that, unlike those proposed last week, will extend well beyond the end of Cuomo’s tenure as governor?
I’ve said my share over the past few days, and I reiterated yesterday, these proposals, especially with regards to the subway system and inter-borough transit, leave me wanting more. But Cuomo likes his flashy ideas and hasn’t shown a willingness to take on bigger issues, including spending efficiencies, work-rule reform, and project staffing levels. But enough from me; let’s heard what everyone else has to say.
We start with cost. How much is this all going to cost? Well, according to a Cuomo aide, the full spending package comes in at $100 billion dollars which leads me to play this video clip for you:
It’s not clear how Cuomo’s team arrived this figure, what it includes and doesn’t include or how they’re going to fund $100 billion worth of infrastructure projects. But that is one large number, and already, commentators are wondering how Cuomo will fund it. As Jimmy Vielkind explored today, everyone is focused on cost. “Where’s the money going to come from?” John DeFrancisco, a State Senator from Syracuse, asked yesterday. “Once again, this sounds great — running around the state telling people a wonderful thing for them. But you have to take a look at what the cost is and what the other dollars could be used for.”
For infrastructure, the state has a pot of $2.1 billion in un-budgeted proceeds from settlements and penalties wrought by the Department of Financial Services against major banks and insurers, $650 million of which was secured in the past year. Last year, Cuomo directed a much larger pot of settlement money to the Thruway Authority, to settle a dispute with the federal government over Medicaid over-billing and to fund an economic development competition.
The state currently projects spending between $3 billion and $4 billion for capital projects during the next four years, and borrowing another $6.5 billion to $7 billion for capital needs. Between 40 percent and 45 percent of that is marked for spending on transportation.
Some of this should factor into the $22 billion for upstate roads and bridges, but it’s unclear how much and exactly what programs — money for the Thruway Authority? A toll rebate program? $200 million for airports? — Cuomo has put into that overall number.
Meanwhile, Move New York proponents see Cuomo’s proposals as another opportunity to push through a rational traffic pricing plan. As Erik Engquist detailed, congestion pricing proponents see the revenue generated by the plan as a way to fund infrastructure improvements while disincentivizing driving. After all, Cuomo spent considerable time on Friday discussing mass transit usage as the best and most reliable way to ensure continually growth in and around New York City, and what better way to achieve that goal than to start pricing traffic as it should be?
But beyond the lofty price tags, a pair of pieces raise concerns regarding Cuomo’s approach. This too is a point I brought up last week. Much like Cuomo’s ill-conceived Laguardia AirTrain idea, his infrastructure projects aren’t the ones advocates view as most necessary, and many come across as aesthetic fixes to institutional problems or, in other words, lipstick on a pig. Jeremy Smerd in Crain’s says the governor has leapfrogged his agencies:
His love for a big project with his fingerprints on it seems to ignore the careful planning undertaken by the agencies charged with thinking about these things. The governor last week proposed adding a third track to the Long Island Rail Road—a project that was not important enough to make it into the MTA’s capital plan—and a Long Island-Westchester car tunnel that has gone nowhere since being conceived in the 1960s. His $1 billion idea to expand the Javits Center seems as slapdash as his plan four years ago to put a convention center next to Aqueduct. Consider that a similar Javits plan pegged at $1.7 billion in 2005 was canceled when the Spitzer administration found it would cost as much as $5 billion.
Cuomo’s vision for Penn Station seems equally curious. Rather than right a historical wrong that saw the destruction of the original Beaux-Arts building, he will keep Madison Square Garden, severely limiting the ability to bring light and space into the station’s congested warrens. The plan also appears to ignore a binding agreement giving the Related Cos. and Vornado Realty Trust the right to develop the Farley post office across the street into Moynihan Station. If these ideas are not coming from the agencies overseeing infrastructure, where are they coming from?
And finally, in a piece I’ll return to later this week, Philip M. Plotch and Nicholas D. Bloom urge the governor to get New York’s current infrastructure house in order before over-extending for expansive and expensive projects that don’t adequately address capacity concerns. I have some disagreements with Plotch and Bloom’s piece that I’ll discuss in a day or two, but they bring up some valid points regarding capital priorities. In the end, the overall reaction to Cuomo’s plans seems to be that $100 billion could be better spent and somehow doesn’t go far enough.