Since early 2007, Thomas DiNapoli has served as the New York State comptroller. He has outlasted two governors and more MTA CEOs or chairmen than I wish to count. He has, if he wants it, complete and total access to bones of the MTA’s financials. He could study its contracting processes and inefficient spending. He could try to analyze why capital construction costs orders of magnitude more in New York City than anywhere else in the world.

Instead, DiNapoli would like to tell you that subway trains are getting more crowded and service is growing more unreliable. This is truly breaking news from a nine-year veteran who should be doing more. This isn’t the first time I’ve criticized DiNapoli for his particularly unimpressive audits, and although DiNapoli brings up some valid points I’ll cover shortly, it’s worth hounding on the limited scope of DiNapoli’s examinations of the MTA’s practices. He is talking about improvements around the margins when someone needs to address the larger problems plaguing the MTA’s contracting efforts and spending patterns.

But we are left with DiNapoli’s reports as they are, and this one says that subway service is bad! Perhaps it’s worse than the MTA says! Breaking news! The New York State Comptroller is ON IT!

DiNapoli’s latest report – available here as a PDF — is a slog through the MTA’s wait assessment numbers. Wait assessment essentially measures headways and the MTA’s adherence to its published guidelines. A seven-minute gap between 6 trains at rush hour, for instance, means one or two trains missed their scheduled runs, and as such, wait assessment is negatively affected. Using only the annual figures, DiNapoli has determined that the 5 and A trains are the two worst performing lines in the system and that the MTA’s wait assessment figures show service growing more unreliable. The 1 and C or D trains have been the best, but DiNapoli is skeptical of the numbers he opted to study for this audit.

“The MTA is very clear that it considers its wait time assessment to be its most important measurement of the reliability of subway service and riders’ experience,” DiNapoli said. “It turns out the way Transit calculates this measurement obscures the reality of straphangers’ wait times. New York’s subway riders deserve better.”

DiNapoli’s critique focuses around annual wait assessment figures. For annual numbers, the MTA averages wait times across the year, and performance may look better than it is. But the MTA also provides monthly numbers in its Board materials, and for some reason, DiNapoli didn’t examine the granular details. “The MTA reports these wait assessment figures to the public every month for every subway line, and uses them as part of its many analytical tools to determine the root causes of delays and develop strategies for improving service,” the MTA said in a statement. “While the audit recommends changing how wait assessment is calculated and reported, the comptroller’s proposal misstates how subway service guidelines operate and would introduce statistical disparities if put into practice.”

This battle over some very inside-baseball measurements aside, it’s hard to deny that our subways are more crowded than ever and service can’t meet demand. The problem is that fixes are years away. First, the MTA doesn’t really have the rolling stock for significant increases in peak-hour service. Until the R179 order starts coming in, the MTA is constrained by the train sets they have on hand. Second, the MTA needs communications-based train control, but full systemwide implementation is still years or decades away. DiNapoli should instead explore why and what can be done to speed up this process.

As has become party line lately, the MTA blamed “crowding” as “the single most frequent cause of subway disruptions.” To me, this is victim-blaming. The MTA says trains are delayed because there are too many people using the trains. But ultimately, the MTA can’t keep up with demand, and trains are delayed because there aren’t enough of them to adequately carry passenger loads. That’s on them, not us, and it’s a problem that could be more readily improved if the New York State comptroller took on the harder questions.

Comments (35)
The RPA's plan for the L train involves comprehensive upgrades that would benefit future generations of NYC subway riders. (Via RPA)

The RPA’s plan for the L train involves comprehensive upgrades that would benefit future generations of NYC subway riders. (Via RPA)

A politician of which I’m not a particularly big fan once said, “You never let a serious crisis go to waste,” and as we know, with the L train’s looming shutdown, the MTA has a serious crisis on its hands. What they do with that crisis could change L train service for the good or simply repeat the mistakes of the past in which the MTA, through politics, economics or both, has let prime opportunities to upgrade and improve service slip through its hands. The proposal to maximize the crisis comes to us from the RPA, and it follows Monday’s news that the Sandy-related repairs on the L train’s Canarsie Tubes will likely shutter crosstown 14th St. service as well.

The RPA’s recommendations come on the heels of weeks of discussion over the best way to proceed, and the report is a comprehensive overview of the situation with additional improvements the MTA should not miss implementing. (You can read the whole thing right here as a PDF.) The key takeaways are important. Let’s run them down.

1. Shut down the two tunnels together for 18 months. The RPA does something the MTA hasn’t done yet: take a stand on the preferred approach to work. The report notes: “RPA’s experience and review indicate that … closing both tunnels for 18 months is the most cost effective. What’s more, it creates an opportunity to truly transform the L train. The loss of the L train service to and within Manhattan for an 18-month period will be disruptive, but doubling the construction timeline, along with the higher associated costs and extending the pain of a huge service cut is far less desirable. It’s also not possible to justify the cost of constructing a new tunnel to serve as “swing space” for the tunnel repairs when that additional capacity will go unused after the project is completed.”

2. Piggyback needed L train work onto the Sandy repairs. The RPA urges the MTA to “take advantage of this outage to rebuild a quarter of L stations
to modern standards. The agency also should make a series of additional investments to unlock the line’s capacity, taking full advantage of the agency’s earlier investment in modern train control, known as Communications-Based Train Control. This includes addressing major system bottlenecks, including the 8th Avenue terminal and dealing with crowding issues at the L’s busiest stations by resizing them to meet current and projected ridership demand.”

3. The key to better L service involves tail tracks at 8th Ave. I discussed this element of the proposal on Monday, but it’s worth revisiting. With tail tracks and a diamond switch, trains can enter 8th Ave. at speed, and the MTA has space for storage. The RPA also suggests a series of other station improvements, including ADA accessibility upgrades, wider platforms, and improved passenger circulation particularly at 8th Ave. and Union Square. A proposed entrance to the 1st Ave. station at Avenue A and improvements to the Bedford Ave. stop are already part of the plans.

4. Travel alternatives. The RPA report presented four travel alternatives that should be a part of any L train shutdown. These include a bus bridge over the Williamsburg Bridge, a 14th Street bus corridor with more space for pedestrians and cyclists, expanded service on the G and J/M/Z trains, and free transfers for the East River ferries. I would add more reliable A and C train service at Broadway Junction and an examination of capacity along Queens Boulevard to ensure riders can access Manhattan with minimal disruption.

So what’s stopping the MTA from implementing this holistic vision for L train improvements? It’s not immediately clear if the MTA has access to enough money to perform this work, but with the capital plan due for resubmission, the MTA should take advantage of this crisis. Another problem though are pandering politicians. Just yesterday, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer decided she knows best and urged the MTA to take the worst approach on an L train shutdown. She claims that 7 years of no L train service on nights and weekends would be sufficient and less harmful to business which is in defiance of reality. It’s less cost effective for the MTA and would torpedo train service to Williamsburg and eastward on weekends for seven years rather than 18 months. Plus, the MTA is far less likely to implement transit-prioritization measures such as a bus bridge or dedicated bus lanes on 14th St. for a nights-and-weekends-only shutdown.

There is no way around the reality that a long shutdown will not be much fun for anyone, but with the right planning and the right approach, the MTA could turn this crisis into an advantage for future L train riders. If we miss this opportunity now, will we ever get it back again?

Categories : Superstorm Sandy
Comments (71)

Following last week’s budget negotiations, the MTA has money to study transportation uses for Staten Island’s West Shore ROW. (Source: SIEDC)

As the dust from last week’s perfectly opaque New York state budget process continues to settle, we are learning more and more about what various neighborhoods are getting out of the plan, and so far the winner seems to be studies for future plans. Two contested corridors — Queens’ Rockaway Beach Branch line and Staten Island’s West Shore line — will undergo MTA-led feasibility studies for reactivation plans that have been percolating for years. Both have been debated for years with one nearly falling victim to a rails-to-trails advocacy group that would generally foreclose the rail option for generations if not ever, and the money and commitment for feasibility studies are victories for both corridors.

We’ll start with the better known of the two, in Queens where neighborhood transit groups have been fighting with national parks advocates over the LIRR’s disused Rockaway Beach Branch Line. Connecting Queens Boulevard to the current IND Rockaway Line, the ROW has been subject to a tense debate over its future. Parks advocates want to turn it into a linear park on the model of the High Line while transit advocates in Queens and politicians in the Rockaways want to understand if rail reactivation is feasible and beneficial. Gov. Andrew Cuomo had funded a pro-parks study, and the rail contingent wanted their say too. Now they’ll get their chance (even as QueensWay proponents grumble loudly about the state’s spending its money to study rail use of its underutilized rail rights of way).

As Assembly representative Phil Goldfeder announced today, the MTA will now conduct a full transportation feasibility study for this right of way. The report, due by June 30, 2017, will assess not just heavy rail reactivation but other potential modes of transit as well, including, I assume, light rail and a busway. The MTA will also explore “issues identified with reactivation” which could ran the gamut from recalcitrant residents to the costs associated with restoring a right of way that can kindly be characterized as in disrepair.

Goldfeder had been instrumental in securing language in the Assembly’s budget draft focusing on this corridor, and he celebrated in turn. “For tens of thousands of Queens families forced to endure some of the longest commutes in the city, this announcement by the MTA is real progress,” he said in a statement. “A comprehensive study of the Queens Rail will give voice to our transit concerns and bring Queens one step closer to having the transportation infrastructure we need and deserve. I have no doubt that this study will prove once and for all that reactivation is the best and most cost-effective way to speed commute times for our families and boost our local economy. I applaud Chairman Prendergast and the MTA for their foresight in recognizing the value of this old right-of-way, and I look forward to working with them as they complete this study.”

Meanwhile, the Staten Island West Shore rail line, recently the source of some interborough sniping, will get a similar treatment. Unfortunately, as the Staten Island Advance’s coverage of the story indicates, this is viewed as a victory for Sen. Andrew Lanza, he of the patently absurd transit obstructionism, but we shouldn’t penalize New Yorkers for voting to send a clown to the Albany circus. Lanza used his power in the Senate to hold up the MTA’s capital plan until the agency agreed to fund an alternatives analysis study, and as the agency will do in Queens, the MTA will similarly study potential transit uses for this right of way.

“I, along with Sen. Lanza and so many of my colleagues in local and state government have advocated for a transit study of the West Shore corridor for many years and it gives me great pride to announce this commitment,” Assembly rep Michael Cusick said. “For far too long, Staten Islanders have suffered through heinous commutes which rank among the worst in the entire nation. This evaluation will provide us with a clear path forward toward alleviating this issue, and I am so proud of the real results we have obtained today.”

Proponents believe light rail could be initiated along the right of way for around $1.5 billion, but that plan is a few years down the road. Following the analysis the MTA plans to conduct over the next 14 months, the agency would need funding for an environmental impact statement and, of course, someone would have to pony up dollars for light rail. But at least in Queens and on Staten Island, two dormant rail corridors are getting the study and attention they deserve. We’ll find out next summer what, if anything, comes next.

Categories : Queens, Staten Island
Comments (39)
The L train shutdown will affect Manhattan riders too, but the MTA could tack on additional improvements during Sandy repairs. (Via The Wall Street Journal)

The L train shutdown will affect Manhattan riders too, but the MTA could tack on additional improvements during Sandy repairs. (Via The Wall Street Journal)

When it comes to crosstown subways, New York City isn’t particularly well-served by the current set-up. The E and M cut across 53rd St., and the Shuttle and 7 provide service across a portion of 42nd St. But no train provides nearly full-island coverage as the L train does. With five stops from 8th Ave. to 1st Ave. that provide connections to 14 subway routes (and every other Manhattan trunk line), the L is a lifeline for 14th St. and one that could disappear entirely if the MTA implements a full L train shutdown for Sandy repairs.

So far, in all the discussions over the L train shutdown, the focus has been on Brooklyn and rightly so. But the L train’s five stops in Manhattan are popular in their own right, and although riders have alternate routes that aren’t too far away, the end-to-end nature of the 14t St. stops means riders in Manhattan will run into problems too. Now, as the MTA inches closer to determining some sort of solution for the L train, we have a better sense of what a shutdown means for Manhattan as well.

The problem, ultimately, is one of access to yards. If the Canarsie Tubes are shut down completely, the MTA could consider 14th St. shuttle service in Manhattan, but with a major caveat: Trains would not be able to reach a yard. There are no access points from the L to any yards in Manhattan, and any problems in Manhattan would leave the line dead to rights. In The Wall Street Journal today, Andrew Tangel explores this problem. He writes:

A future shutdown of the L train’s East River tunnel for repairs has had Brooklyn residents and businesses on edge, but Manhattan could get its own transit headache. A full closure of the tunnel—and both of its tracks potentially for more than a year—could lead to a shutdown of the L train stops in Manhattan in addition to halting subway service under the East River, cutting off a key crosstown route…

The L doesn’t merge with other lines in Manhattan, meaning a full tunnel closure could prevent subway cars from getting to a yard in the East New York area of Brooklyn where they undergo maintenance, repairs if they break down, or routine inspections. “Those trains could then be trapped,” this person said. “It all depends on the construction schedule and the plan.”

…Business leaders worry that a tunnel shutdown could prevent customers from getting to popular nightlife and dining spots in places such as the Williamsburg area in north Brooklyn. “A full shutdown will cripple that entire part of Brooklyn,” said Carlo Scissura, president of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce. While closing down one direction of the tunnel at a time would let the MTA keep L trains running between Manhattan and Brooklyn, such a plan could sharply reduce service, transit experts said. The heavily used line’s capacity would drop by 75%, said Rich Barone, vice president for transportation at the Plan Association, a civic group focused on urban planning.

Although the MTA has not yet settled on a plan, their internal efforts seem to be focused around one of two solutions — successive single-tube shutdowns or a full line shutdown. The idea of seven years of inefficient repairs only on nights and weekends doesn’t have many proponents within the agency. As part of these efforts the agency will have to serve Manhattan riders as well as Brooklyn customers, and while I suggested a seven-layer solution to Brooklyn’s problems, we can add another layer for Manhattan. The 14th St. corridor should devote significant space to 24/7 bus lanes to serve those riders stranded by an L train shutdown.

As Tangel reports, the RPA is set to propose a dedicated right of way for buses along 14th St., and the opportunity that may arise due to the Sandy shutdown could give the city cover to see how a crosstown busway works. As you may recall, the previously proposed crosstown transitway 20 blocks to the north died a sad death at the hands of NIMBYs five years ago, and a 14th St. corridor could showcase how this idea should and can work in New York City. It is of course a silver lining to a disruptive cloud, but that L train storm is coming one way or another. Every option for a better solution during (and after) the shutdown should be on the table.

Comments (94)

Weekend subway service changes getting you down? Well, I have some distractions for you. Take a look at these three things you can do to avoid subway service changes.

You could apply to be the Senior Executive Director, Light Rail & Streetcar or, in plain English, be the head of the Brooklyn-Queens Streetcar.

If funky odors are more your speed, discover why the Herald Square subway stop smells so bad (and why it’s going to take a while to fix it).

Or perhaps you prefer a dose of history, in which case get ready to ride the Nostalgia Train to Yankee Stadium on Monday in honor of baseball’s Opening Day. The train will depart from the uptown IRT tracks at 42nd St-Grand Central Terminal at 11:30 a.m.

Of course, it’s not that easy, and sometimes you just have to deal with it all. So what’s on tap for this weekend? Take a look, courtesy of the MTA.


From 11:30 p.m. Friday, April 1, to 5 a.m. Monday, April 4, service is suspended between Flatbush Av and Franklin Av. Trains operate between 241 St and Franklin Av, and via the 4 to/from Utica Av, the last stop. Free shuttle buses operate between Franklin Av and Flatbush Av.


From 11:45 p.m. to 7:30 a.m., Friday to Sunday, April 1 to 3, and from 11:45 p.m. Sunday, April 3, to 5 a.m. Monday, April 4, uptown trains run express from Grand Central-42 St to 125 St. Downtown trains run express from 14 St-Union Sq to Brooklyn Bridge.


From 11:45 p.m. Friday, April 1, to 5 a.m. Monday, April 4, service is suspended between Dyre Av and E 180 St. Free shuttle buses provide alternate service all weekend. Trains operate between E 180 St and Bowling Green.


From 11:45 p.m. Friday, April 1, to 5 a.m. Monday, April 4, uptown trains run express from Grand Central-42 St to 125 St. Downtown trains run express from Hunts Point Av to 3 Av-138 St and from 14 St-Union Sq to Brooklyn Bridge.


From 12:15 a.m., Saturday, April 2, to 4:30 a.m. Monday, April 4, service is suspended in both directions between Times Sq-42 St and Queensboro Plaza. Free shuttle buses make all stops between Vernon Blvd-Jackson Av and Queensboro Plaza.
Trains operate in two sections:

  • Between Flushing-Main St and Queensboro Plaza. Main St-bound trains run express from Queensboro Plaza to 74 St-Broadway.
  • Between Times Sq-42 St and 34 St-Hudson Yards


From 11:45 p.m. Friday, April 1, to 5 a.m. Monday, April 4, trains are rerouted via the F in both directions between W 4 St and Jay St-MetroTech.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, April 2, to 5 a.m. Monday, April 4, trains run local in both directions between W 4 St and 59 St-Columbus Circle, and between 125 St and 168 St.


From 6:30 a.m. to 11 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, April 2 to 3, service is suspended between 145 St and 168 St. Take the A instead.


From 6:30 a.m. to 11 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, April 2 to 3, trains are rerouted via the F in both directions between W 4 St and Jay St-MetroTech.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, April 2, to 5 a.m. Monday, April 4, trains stop at 135 St in both directions.


From 11:45 p.m. Friday, April 1, to 5 a.m. Monday, April 4, Queens-bound trains skip 14 St and 23 St.


From 11:45 p.m. Friday, April 1, to 5 a.m. Monday, April 4, Coney Island-bound trains run express from Smith-9 Sts to Church Av.


From 12:01 a.m. to 5 a.m., Saturday and Sunday, April 2 and 3, Jamaica-bound trains run local from 21 St-Queensbridge to Forest Hills-71 Av.


From 11:30 p.m. Friday, April 1, to 5 a.m. Monday, April 4, service is suspended between Rockaway Pkwy and Myrtle-Wyckoff Avs. Free local and express shuttle buses provide alternate service.


From 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., Saturday, April 2, and from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., Sunday, April 3, service is extended to Ditmars Blvd.


From 12:01 a.m. to 6 a.m., Saturday to Monday, April 2 to 4, the 42 St shuttle operates overnight.

Categories : Service Advisories
Comments (3)

Phase 2 of the Second Ave. Subway, shown here in blue, has gotten an infusion of cash in the New York state budget.

So that he can claim credit for passing the New York state Budget “on time,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, Senate Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeffrey Klein, and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie came together on Thursday night to announce a budget deal. Everyone in New York State politics is working feverishly through massive documents to understand what’s in and out of the $145 billion behemoth, but we have a clear view of the transit implications. Mostly, the story shakes down as we expected with few actual dollars for the MTA and a false sense of “parity” with spending on upstate roads ruling the day.

For the MTA’s $27 billion five-year capital plan that is now entering its 16th month of being late, the budget allocates a whopping $1 billion in actual cash with some vague references to the overall $27 billion five-year program. Cuomo of course played this up as though the entire thing has been funded, but we are no closer to understanding how this money will be realized than we were yesterday, last week, last month or last year. Unless momentum behind a push for the Move New York plan materializes, it will be more debt or (or is that “and”?) bust for the MTA. (New York also committed to spend an equal amount on upstate roads despite a far worse return on its investment. At least the Erie County executive was happy. After all, New York City residents are the ones paying for his roads, but I digress.)

In response to this magnanimous nothing from his boss, MTA CEO and Chairman Tom Prendergast released a statement of praise, calling the budget appropriations a “monumental win for the people of New York.” It’s not really a win except that it paves the way for the MTA to gain Capital Program Review Board approval and start spending money it doesn’t really have for projects it badly needs. He continued:

“This $27 billion agreement marks the largest investment ever made in the MTA. It is an important victory not only for New York City and its suburbs but for all the communities across New York State. The plan will enable the MTA to maintain critical infrastructure while renewing, enhancing and expanding our system to meet the ridership and growth demands of the future and improving the current experience for the millions who critically rely on our system each day.

The Governor has once again assured a year-to-year increase in state operating assistance for the transit system and brought us a significant increase in support for the MTA, including a commitment to the second phase of the extension of Second Avenue Subway to East Harlem, and billions of dollars for the essential work of keeping the transit system safe and reliable…The MTA has been hard at work preparing projects supported by the new Capital Program and will now submit a revised plan to our Board as well as to the State’s Capital Program Review Board.”

Most of this is what we call pure puffery, but the last sentence is key. The MTA is going to submit their third version of the capital plan — and it will actually restore an important item cut from the last iteration. That’s right; Phase 2 of the Second Ave. Subway is back, baby.

The MTA has gotten a commitment of an additional $1 billion from the state for this phase, but the investment nods at the bifurcated nature of the plan. The current budget will allocate an additional $500 million to Phase 2 so that the MTA will have $1 billion for Phase 2 under the 2015-2019 plan. This should be enough to complete all studies and design refreshes necessary and begin utility reconstruction by the end of 2019 which MTA sources have indicated is an aggressive but doable timeframe. The remaining $443 million will be a part of the state contributions to the 2020-2024 capital plan in recognition of the reality that Phase 2 won’t be completed until the mid-2020s.

After significant blowback when the MTA essentially moved $1 billion of Phase 2 funding to the 2020-2024 plan by eliminating from the 2015-2019 plan, Assembly members Rodriguez and Wright (that is, Robert and Keith and not Alex and David, as baseball fans would hope) were instrumental in securing these funds for the MTA and their constituents. They issued a statement this afternoon. “The restoration of significant funding for the Second Phase of the Second Avenue Subway represents a huge victory for the residents of East Harlem,” Rodriguez said.

So what comes next? The fight for an actual source of dollars for the capital plan will continue; the MTA will submit a revised plan and hope to avoid debt; and Phase 2 of the Second Ave. Subway is exceedingly likely to become a reality within the next decade. It all sounds good, but next week, we’ll take a look at what Paris has planned to open before 2030. And then we can wonder how New York City went so far off the rails. In the meantime, tonight is but one step in a continuing saga.

The $5.3 billion LaGuardia overhaul moves forward, but the Willets Point Airtrain, seen here, remains a question mark. (Photo via Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office)

Although the MTA often spends money like a drunk sailor ambling from bar to bar, New York’s own agency can’t hold a candle to the Port Authority when it comes to dysfunction and burning dollars. As Gov. Chris Christie continues to check out on the state of New Jersey and Gov. Andrew Cuomo continues to….do whatever it is he does, the Port Authority is reaching new highs, or perhaps lows, in its unconstrained approach to throwing money at every problem.

Last week, while I was out of town, the agency approved spending for a new bus terminal in Manhattan that may cost as much as $12 billion, and the price tag for the Laguardia overhaul went up by another $1 billion. Meanwhile dysfunction ruled the roost at the PA’s Board meeting as its current Executive Director Patrick Foye has been held hostage by the bi-state agency’s inability to find someone else willing to take over the top spot. How to save the Port Authority is a very wide open question.

It’s hard to know where to begin or who to blame for this mess. I would urge you to read Nicole Gelinas’ take on the dysfunction engrained in the culture of the Port Authority. It starts with a bunch of adults arguing over the scope of their powers and ability to approve projects and ends with an indictment of the two governors who don’t care that the return on their investment of over $20 billion in taxpayer money may not amount to much.

Or perhaps you wish to read about internal tensions at the Port Authority that have more or less directly led to the Laguardia renovations increasing in cost from $3.6 billion to $4 billion to $5.3 billion the span of 18 months. This time around, the PA can’t make Santiago Calatrava out to the be whipping boy (and the plan looks no better today than it did when I explored the ins and outs in July). The vote on all of these items — including approval for a new Port Authority bus terminal — last week ultimately passed, and here’s Dana Rubinstein’s take on the great big mess:

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is taking a big vote on the redevelopment of LaGuardia airport on Thursday, and thanks to mounting tensions between the New York and New Jersey sides of the famously fractious bistate agency, no one’s quite sure how it will go.

The authority’s chairman has his doubts about the project. “I’m not arguing that we shouldn’t do LaGuardia, because I think it’s critically important, but I’m not going to support it in the current configuration,” said John Degnan, an appointee of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. It’s not clear precisely what configuration would be acceptable to Degnan, but the rebuild is a centerpiece of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s infrastructure agenda — he has made it the focus of several press conferences, some with Vice President Joe Biden, who famously compared the airport to a Third World facility…

According to the agenda the Port released — and that Degnan, as board chairman, controls — if the plan goes through, the Port will have spent “$5.3 billion in cumulative total investment since 2004” on rethinking, designing and ultimately rebuilding the airport, including things like overhead and consultant fees. “The number looks higher because in the past, the Port Authority has been neither transparent nor candid in what the total cost of this project is,” he said. The issue of LaGuardia’s costs has since become a serious source of friction.

Rubinstein follows the ever-winding tale of Foye’s retention, the inability of New York and New Jersey to agree on Port Authority reform, and the failure of the Port Authority to find anyone foolish enough to take the CEO job that is supposed to unify two halves of a bad marriage. It’s a mess of provincialism dominated by artificial state borders that ends up leaving citizens on both sides of the Hudson out of control.

Is there an escape from this mess? The common refrain on Twitter — disband the Port Authority — doesn’t really get us there because we would then have to replace the Port Authority with something better. Is anything better? Is there a way to run a bi-state agency that doesn’t involve political horse-trading across state and political borders? And how is the Port Authority’s ten-year, $26-billion capital plan getting funded anyway? No one has any ideas, and for that, we suffer. Ultimately, it all makes the MTA look downright competent.

Categories : PANYNJ
Comments (43)
An industrial fan attempts to dry a puddle not far from the inclined elevators. (Photo: Benjamin Kabak)

An industrial fan attempts to dry a puddle not far from the inclined elevators. (Photo: Benjamin Kabak)

The fallout from the leaky Hudson Yards subway station continues to reverberate a week after MTA Board members lit into MTA officials for not divulging knowledge of the problems plaguing the new stations. Today, we learn that contractors were aware of the problem as early as 2011, and waterproofing issues even led to a stop-work order in mid-2013. As this station’s opening was delayed due to a variety of technical issues, it seems that we can add faulty construction to the list.

Emma Fitzsimmons of The Times offers up this story of a circular blame game:

In fact, leaks had plagued the station on the Far West Side of Manhattan for years while it was under construction. As the transit agency investigates what exactly went wrong, documents from a continuing legal dispute among the site’s contractors reveal early concerns about how the waterproofing system was built and the type of concrete that was used. The main contractor, Yonkers Contracting Company, has blamed flaws in shotcrete, a spray-on concrete that lines the waterproofing system. The concrete was filled with “voids” or spaces, according to a 2014 lawsuit the company filed against two subcontractors on the project.

But a 2011 letter that was sent to Yonkers Contracting discouraged the use of shotcrete because it could increase the potential for leaks. The letter, which was obtained by The New York Times, was sent from Cetco Building Materials to KJC Waterproofing, the subcontractor that installed the waterproofing system. KJC Waterproofing forwarded the letter to Yonkers Contracting, according to a deposition from the lawsuit. It is unclear whether the letter was sent to the transportation authority.

The transit agency halted construction at the station in 2013 after officials found “significant” leaks there. The agency issued a stop-work order, citing the use of shotcrete on overhead arches above the escalators and noting it had not been specified in the design.

The MTA hasn’t definitively said that shotcrete is the cause of the leaks, and the agency is waiting on an assessment from an independent engineering consultant. Still, the contractors are fighting it out, as Fitzsimmons reported, with Yonkers suing Superior Gunite and KJC for breach of contract and negligence, and Superior Gunite and KJC counter-suing for payment. Meanwhile, the MTA is facing a slip-and-fall suit over an injury a customer sustained on a wet escalators, and the optics of these problems — coming only a few years after the new South Ferry station suffered from poor waterproofing as well — creates a headache for an agency already struggling to meet deadlines and budgets.

As transit analyst Nicole Gelinas noted to The Times, it’s a bad look for the MTA. “This is their big marquee project,” she said, “and the fact that they can’t have it open and looking good a few months later doesn’t speak well to their ability to do these things.”

Categories : 7 Line Extension
Comments (38)

As the legislative stalemate over the MTA’s current five-year capital plan nears the start of its 16th month since spending for the plan was due to begin, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has repeatedly had the audacity to claim an unapproved plan was in line with business as usual for the MTA. He has cited to the 2010-2014 plan as proof, but he has failed to draw an apt analogy. With the world mired in a recession, the MTA’s previous five-year plan was approved in two parts with the state’s Capital Program Review Board authorizing two years and then three for a full five-year plan. This time around, the CPRB has even had the chance to weigh in on the current five-year plan, and even as negotiations around certain projects continue, Cuomo has failed to deliver on repeated promises to fund the plan.

A few weeks ago, shortly after MTA CEO and Chairman Tom Prendergast was summoned to Albany to talk MTA finances, I explored how Cuomo’s MTA funding reality have failed to live up to his promises, and now, we learn the bad news: If the MTA capital plan is not approved by the end of June, the agency will not be able to access money to pay contractors for new projects. This deadline does not affect in-progress projects where the money has already been allocated (such as the first phase of the Second Ave. Subway), but without approval key initiatives, including future phases of the Second Ave. Subway, will be delayed further. In fact, one of the reasons why the MTA’s plan to replace the MetroCard has come to a near-stop is due to the fact that the agency cannot yet access funds for the project.

Prendergast told reporters of this deadline during last week’s MTA Board meetings, and the visibly-annoyed MTA head couldn’t put a positive spin on his boss’ inaction, the longest such delay in approval of funding in MTA history. “June 30th of this year,” he said. “That’s when we run out of money [and] can’t make new awards for projects that are in the 15-19 plan. For prior-approved plans, where we have money, we can make those awards, but for new plans, we can’t make those awards.”

The problem, as I’ve detailed, is that Cuomo’s current budget proposal doesn’t include any real commitments to MTA funding. He wants the agency to tap out its essentially limitless ability to fund through borrowing before ponying up any dollars. It’s an IOU, and in response, the Riders Alliance attempted to pay for subway rides with IOUs as well. It didn’t work, and Cuomo’s plan shouldn’t be allowed to stand.

To put an additional bow on this present, after months of listening to upstate complaints about parity, Cuomo’s budget includes billions in actual dollars for New York State DOT projects (in other words, roads), and the parity argument falls apart under any sort of scrutiny. As the Riders Alliance recently detailed in a report, the state is promising over $5 billion more to roads while the MTA regions are expected to pick up $11 billion in capital funding. Upstate municipalities with pending DOT projects aren’t kicking in any money at all, and on paper at least, New York is funding 59 percent of of DOT’s five-year plan with direct contributions while Cuomo has pledged to fund only 31 percent of the MTA’s five-year program.

“The conventional wisdom says that the MTA is getting more state money than roads and bridges, but a basic review of the budget shows that the opposite is true,” John Raskin, the Executive Director of the Riders Alliance, said in a statement. “Governor Cuomo is proposing to put real cash into highways and roads and bridges, but the MTA is just getting an IOU and a promise to revisit the issue sometime down the line. Public transit is literally bursting at the seams, and delays are skyrocketing, but Governor Cuomo is still playing games instead of actually putting in the money that would address the problem.”

The state legislature is expected to pass some budget measure by the end of this week, and the MTA’s financial picture will come into focus. Even with some renewed attention to a tolling/congesting pricing plan, the outcome of this week’s discussion won’t be satisfying for the MTA and its millions of customers, and the game of chicken Cuomo is playing with subway funding is costly for everyone involved. It raises the issue of whether New York City should have more control over its subway system, but the funding obligations that come with such a move are steep. Where we go from here should echo throughout the next years and decades, but I’m not sure anyone should hold his or her breath over a positive outcome this late in the game.

Apologies for the radio silence over the past few days. I’ve been in Florida for a few Spring Training games this week and didn’t have an opportunity to write any new posts. I’ll have a generally regular schedule next week. Before I jump into the service advisories, let me take care of a bit of news I’ve been sitting on recently. The MTA has made two key appointments at New York City Transit.

Wynton Habersham will head up the Department of Subways, and he faces a tough task. As we know the subways are more crowded than ever before, and by choice and circumstances, the MTA is decades away from solving the true capacity problems. Habersham, the first African American to take the position, recently spoke to Metro magazine about the demands of the job, and it’s clear he has a tough task ahead of him. Habersham, a former Maintenance of Way guy, talks about improving customer communication, but while he takes the helm shortly before the opening of the Second Ave. Subway, it’s not clear yet how he will address capacity issues. That’s the $64,000 — or multi-billion-dollar question.

In other news, John O’Grady, a long-time Transit vet, has been named the permanent Senior Vice President of Capital Program Management. He had been serving in the position on an interim basis while heading up the Sandy recovery work. I interviewed him in early 2015 at the Transit Museum. He will be tasked on, according to the agency’s press release, “using design/build to accelerate construction schedules and find cost savings and efficiencies, and incorporating any new recommendations and best practices to modernize the 112-year-old subway system.”

Meanwhile, Easter weekend means only a handful of subway service changes. As always, these come to me from the MTA. If anything looks wrong, take it up with them.


From 11:45 p.m. Friday, March 25 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 28, 3 trains are suspended in both directions between 148 St and 96 St. Take the 2 for service between 96 St and 135 St. Free shuttle buses operate between 135 St and 148 St, stopping at 145 St. Transfer between free shuttle buses and 2 trains at 135 St.


From 11:45 p.m. Friday, March 25 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 28, 3 service operates between 96 St and New Lots Av all weekend, replacing 4 service in Brooklyn.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, March 26 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 28, 4 trains run local in both directions between 125 St and Brooklyn Bridge-City Hall.


From 11:45 p.m. Friday, March 25 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 28, 4 trains are suspended in both directions between New Lots Av/Crown Hts-Utica Av and Brooklyn Bridge-City Hall. Take the 23DJN or Q instead. For service between Manhattan and Brooklyn, take the DN or Q. Transfer between 46 and DF trains at Bleecker St/B’way-Lafayette St. For service to/from Fulton St and between Borough Hall and Franklin Av, take the 2 or 3. For service between Franklin Av and New Lots Av, take the 3.


From 6:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Saturday, March 26, and from 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Sunday, March 27, 5 trains are suspended in both directions between Bowling Green and Grand Central-42 St. Take the 46 or N instead. For stations between Grand Central-42 St and Brooklyn Bridge-City Hall, take the 4 or 6. For Fulton St, Wall St, and Bowling Green, use nearby R stations at Cortlandt St, Rector St, or Whitehall St.


From 11:30 p.m. Friday, March 25 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 28, Jamaica-179 St bound F trains are rerouted via the M line from 47-50 Sts to Roosevelt Av. To 57 St, take the Jamaica-179 St bound F to the nearby 5 Av/53 St station. Or, transfer at 34 St-Herald Sq to an uptown Q for service to nearby 57 St-7 Av. To Roosevelt Island and 21 St-Queensbridge, take the Jamaica-179 St bound F to Roosevelt Av and transfer to a Coney Island-Stillwell Av bound F. From these stations, take a Coney Island-Stillwell Av bound F to 47-50 Sts and transfer to a Jamaica-179 St bound F.


From 11:45 p.m. Friday, March 25 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 28, L trains are suspended in both directions between 8 Av and 14 St-Union Sq. M14 buses provide alternate service.


From 11:30 p.m. Friday, March 25 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 28, N service is rerouted via the R line in both directions between 59 St, Brooklyn and Canal St.


From 11:30 p.m. Friday, March 25 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 28, N trains are suspended in both directions between Times Sq-42 St and Queensboro Plaza. Take the 7 or Q instead. For service between Queens and Manhattan, take the 7. Transfer between trains at Times Sq-42 St and/or Queensboro Plaza. For service to/from 49 St and 57 St-7 Av, take the Q. For service to/from 5 Av/59 St and Lexington Av/59 St, use the nearby 59 St 456 station via transfer with the 7 at Grand Central-42 St or N at 14 St-Union Sq.


From 11:30 p.m. Friday, March 25, to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 28, Q trains run local between 57 St-7 Av and Canal St.


From 6:30 a.m. to 12 midnight, Saturday and Sunday, March 26 and March 27, R trains are rerouted via the D line between DeKalb Av and B’way-Lafayette St, and via the M between B’way-Lafayette St and Queens Plaza. N trains will make all R line stops between DeKalb Av and Times Sq-42 St. Q trains make all R line stops between Canal St and 57 St-7 Av. Transfer between NQ and R trains at Atlantic Av-Barclays Ctr or 34 St-Herald Sq.

Page 3 of 52612345...Last »