Apr
05

With renovation costs up, enhanced station program ends early and amid controversy

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The MTA will close these 30 stations at times over the next few years to speed up rehab efforts. (Click to enlarge)

The MTA could complete only 19 of its planned 32 station renovations before the Enhanced Stations Initiative fund ran dry. (Click to enlarge)

When Gov. Andrew Cuomo first announced the beginnings of the Enhanced Stations Initiative in early 2016, I was somewhat skeptical this spending program was akin to putting lipstick on a pig but willing to see if the MTA could find success in a new approach to station renovations. It’s been all downhill since then.

From the start, the ESI was intended to deliver a nicer station environment for the MTA’s customers while speeding up the pace of renovations and using a design-build approach to contain costs. The program was to cost just under $1 billion, and it targeted 32 stations. At a planned $28 million a pop, the ESI seemed to be relatively cost-efficient, but residents never embraced the 6-12 month closures required for work and local business have suffered.

As these types of programs go, it had a rough going when faced with the politics of the MTA Board. A few months ago, the city’s representatives to the Board all declined to vote for a procurement contract involving ESI funds over legitimate concerns that the ESI did not include accessibility upgrades and was in violation of the ADA. Although the contract was eventually approved, it could serve as further ammo in current litigation over the MTA’s alleged ADA violations. Still, the program seemed to be on track to deliver these new-look stations.

Not so fast. As Paul Berger in The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this week, the Enhanced Stations Initiatives wound up costing more than Cuomo and the MTA said it would, and the program is out of funds 13 stations early. Berger writes:

MTA chairman Joe Lhota said Monday that most of the program’s $936 million budget has been used for the 19 stations completed or under way. Mr. Lhota said costs rose after contractors began work on stations and discovered “infrastructure rot” that broadened the scope of work.

Under the original plan, the renovations would have cost an average of $28 million per station. The current average cost for each station is $43 million. “We live in a world of limited funding,” Mr. Lhota said. “We need to make decisions about how we use that funding.”

The MTA will have spent about $850 million for the renovations to 19 stations and the Richmond Valley station on the Staten Island Railway. That leaves 13 targeted subway stations without any funding. They will have to wait for the MTA’s next five-year spending plan, Mr. Lhota said, which starts in 2020.

That the program was more costly than anticipated and is now out of money is hardly a surprise; it is, after all, an MTA capital project. But this development seems almost secondary as one digs into Berger’s story. During, and despite, a contentious debate earlier this year on the ESI, MTA Chair Joe Lhota knew the program was out of money and did not disclose the funding situation to the Board. Berger writes:

On Monday, Carl Weisbrod, a commissioner who represents New York City, said the program was “ill-conceived,” and that he is glad it has come to an end. “I don’t know when the MTA management realized that the program had run out of money but it would’ve been helpful to have informed the board when this matter was under discussion,” he said.

Mr. Lhota said he was aware of the increased costs last year, but he chose not to mention it until now. “I didn’t think it was relevant to the debate,” he said.

Knowing that city MTA Board representatives were already disapproving of the ESI, Lhota withheld information from the MTA Board that the program wouldn’t be as expansive as portrayed. Essentially, the MTA Board vote was a sham as the agency never had any intention of renovating all 33 stations, but the vote went ahead anyway. These seems problematic to me, to say the least.

It’s not clear what will happen with the ESI. If Cuomo is still around and the MTA feels this program is a priority, it could be included in the 2020-2024 capital program. I, however, anticipate that signals will be a major focus of that next spending campaign. More questionable though is the trust between the MTA Board and Joe Lhota and between the MTA and the public. What Lhota kept to himself has the potential to be far more damaging in the long-term than disclosure and a subsequent “no” vote would have been in February.



Categories : MTA Construction

16 Responses to “With renovation costs up, enhanced station program ends early and amid controversy”

  1. Alex says:

    I live off the Prospect Ave R stop. What an enormous disappointment. Closed for months and they made relatively mild cosmetic upgrades. The fare control areas are sightly improved while there’s barely any difference on the platforms. The refrigerator tiles from the last reno in the ’70s are even still there!

    Meanwhile, no accessibility added. Not even a badly-needed second stairway on the Bay Ridge-bound side to alleviate crowding during the evening rush. As usual, the MTA spent a lot of money and got very little for it. What a waste.

    • Anne says:

      This. This. This. We REALLY need a second staircase on the SB side. Didn’t anyone notice allllllll those condos going up in the neighborhood?

      As best I can tell, the light blue tiles were swapped for dark blue, lighting was improved, floor redone (with the same dirt-magnet tiles as before), and the benches are actually something to consider sitting on now. I do appreciate the USB charging on the illuminated service advisories boards. That’s an overnight installation, max. The covered entrance is nice, too. Add another weekend. Six months? Nope. Thank goodness they didn’t pull the closure mess during the winter or I’d have been extra mad. (25th Street: It was nice meeting you; I’ll be back for a visit from time to time.)

      Actually – someone pointed out that the best improvement to the station is probably the installation of rectangular trash cans in place of the old round ones; they take up less space on the platform. Sad.

  2. BruceNY says:

    I wish the MTA would divert a few of those millions and hire a cleaning service that would scrub down all the stations and keep them clean. But the union would probably have a fit, which is why we are stuck with “cleaning” that consists of nothing but sweeping up trash while grime and soot accumulate on every surface.

    • Eddie B says:

      Why the union?
      I would think the union would be happy with extra workers clocking hours.

      • BruceNY says:

        I guess I should have been more specific: a private-sector cleaning service that employs non-unionized employees…

    • J Adlai says:

      That’s really not a fair assessment. The mobile wash teams actually do a pretty thorough job of cleaning station platforms.

  3. drosejr says:

    Since Lhota believes his only fiduciary responsibility is to Cuomo, he won’t be in any trouble from the Governor (witness today’s a$$-kissing performance at the ABNY meeting).

  4. Larry Littlefield says:

    Dear Fools or Worse:

    Station renovation projects should only take place during recessions, when competent contractors and workers need the work. On those projects, the MTA competes for the same labor pool. Plan, save, and get those contracts signed design-build as fast as possible when the time is right.

    I had a lot of renovations to my house in 1994, when we bought it, and in 2009. Only the most necessary work in between.

    No matter how competently I manage my own affairs, New York City and State conspire to rob myself and my children of our futures.

    • Al says:

      With due respect, your house will never see the wear and tear of the subway system. Moreover, you forget that we live in a state that short changes the MTA during good economic years. The 70s are a case study of why the MTA should never wait until an economic downturn to spend money, even if it makes sense on a micro scale is a recipe for a disaster on acre scalr.

  5. Ethan Rauch says:

    The rather even distribution among boroughs seems hardly coincidental. MTA even threw a sop to Staten Island despite the SIR’s low ridership and poor connections. Interesting that few of the selected stations belong to the A division, except of course in the Bronx.

    • Larry Littlefield says:

      Stations were rehabbed in order of importance. That means those in in Manhattan, also used by outer-borough residents who work there, were renovated first.

      There is also an order depending on the date or last renovation. The IND was the newest part of the system — now it’s the oldest.

      • AMH says:

        I’m still mystified as to how the stations were chosen. I’m pretty peeved that they’re going to tear out perfectly nice IND tile at 110 St and replace it with crappy bathroom tile, without making any real improvements like opening any of the three closed entrances at the station. If you want people to endure a long station closure, at least give them something for it!

      • Andrew says:

        The first group of stations (all BMT) to be rehabbed under the ESI program was in Brooklyn. The second group (also all BMT) was in Queens. ESI first reached Manhattan last month, when 163rd Street station (finally, IND) was closed.

  6. Kai B says:

    I’m rather curious whether the new tech installed at the renovated station (large LCD panels) will be maintained or whether they’ll go the way of the “On the Go” kiosks which seem to already be lacking parts for replacements as they break down or are vandalized.

  7. smotri says:

    68th Street – Hunter College Station on the pathetic 6 local: what an absolute mess that place is. I’d go so far as to say it’s a dangerous station, as there is only one set of exits, and the crush to navigate through the labyrinthine mezzanine is overwhelming at times (rush hour).

    • BruceNY says:

      The MTA made plans to construct another exit at 69th Street but residents in their multi-million dollar townhouses between Lexington and Park were appalled and fretted over what it might do to the value of their property. I’m not sure whatever became of that lawsuit.

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