To you and me, this 7th Ave. station on the IND Culver line is not in very good repair. (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)
Since the New York City subways reached their nadir in the 1970s, the MTA has striven to achieve a State of Good Repair. While an admirable goal, it is a very limited one that is nearly impossible to reach or maintain. After falling decades behind in a planned station-by-station overhaul, the MTA, in its next five-year capital plan, is moving toward a more efficient component-based maintenance system that will better restore the system to that State of Good Repair.
One of the larger obstacles with the term is that it is a phrase of art, and few agencies can agree on its meaning. In a paper published earlier this year, the Transportation Research Board tried to define Good Repair, and the Federal Transit Administration sees a major backlog in projects designed to achieve a State of Good Repair for transit systems across the country.
Internally, the MTA says that a State of Good Repair is achieved “when the infrastructure components are replaced on a schedule consistent with their life expectancy.” In othe words, train cars have to be replaced as they break down, and fare payment systems, as I explored yesterday, have to be upgraded when the technology becomes obsolete. What happens though when parts of a station are in an adequate state of repair while other cosmetic parts aren’t? What happens when half of a platform needs an overhaul and the other does not?
For years, the MTA’s plan has not answered these questions. Rather, beginning in 1982 and set to run through 2020, the MTA’s State of Good Repair plan consisted simply of a station-by-station 100 percent renovation with emergency repairs made at other stations as necessary. Now, though, over 200 stations remain in need of renovations, and a system-wide overhaul would not wrap up until 2050. By then, the stations first renovated in the mid 1980s and early 1990s would need to be redone again. Meanwhile, as stations not scheduled for renovations for decades fall apart, as MTA documents say, “some stations that were rehabilitated in earlier capital programs have components that require repair.”
In the new capital plan, though, the MTA is loosening its approach toward station repairs. Instead of station-wide renovations that leave some stations waiting decades for a renovation, the new approach will be component-based. “The current labels no longer adequately describe the condition of the MTA’s infrastructure,” an attachment to the 2010-2014 Capital Plan reads. “This is because assets are comprised of many components, which have varying normal replacement requirements. These components must be regularly replaced for the total asset to remain in good repair. Future plans will evaluate the repair needs of the components in establishing the assets overall state of good repair.”
Recognizing that a subway station is “not a single asset,” the MTA is moving to a modular State of Good Repair component replacement plan while still maintaining the current station renovate pace. To do, the MTA has broken down its system into ten component parts: interior stairs; street stairs; platform edges; windscreens; canopies; platform floors, walls and ceilings; platform columns and thru-spans; mezzanine floors, walls and ceilings; vent bays; and the all-encompassing other.
Furthermore, the new strategy will be a three-tiered approach. As I mentioned above, full-scale station rehabilitation will continue apace. Station renewals — comprehensive improvements designed to replace components rated a three or worse on a five-point scale — will “refresh the appearance of the station.” Component renewals will “repair or replacement of individual station components in need of repair.” According to the MTA, “These investments will be based on the appropriate replacement cycles for individual components, and will be performed in a manner that is minimally intrusive to the customer experience.”
With this new plan in place, the MTA has an ambitious goal. All components rated a 3.5 or lower will be replaced within 15 years, and then Transit will maintain a 20-year cycle for all renewal-level maintenance projects. It is an ambitious plan to say the least but one that addresses the key shortcomings of the State of Good Repair concepts.
The news coverage of this inside-MTA overhaul has focused primarily on the stations set to receive upgrades. The Post looked at the 25 stations slated for an overhaul while the Daily News highlighted Seneca Ave., a station in Queens in which 86 percent of the components are in need of replacement. That is hardly the story though. Rather, the MTA is set to begin a method of overhauling the system that should modernize and maintain the parts in need of repair while recognizing that a systematic station-by-station overhaul is inadequate for our infrastructure needs. That’s a far better way to tackle repairs than trying to attain the unreachable State of Good Repair.