Oh, how I long for the days of yesterday when the news was simply about near-record ridership figures. Today’s news is bad, very bad.

With the economy slumping and ridership in 2009 on the decline, the MTA is now projecting a deficit for 2009 as high as $2 billion. Even with action out of Albany, the MTA is now planning on cutting weekend subway service no matter what. This, folks, is dire.

The bad news began on Monday with word that 2009 ridership totals were two percent lower than 2008 figures through this point last year. This marks the first time since 2003 that subway ridership has decreased.

Additionally, real estate tax revenues are already $75 million lower than expected. With the Dow closing at its lowest point since my sister celebrated her tenth birthday, the market isn’t going to help the MTA escape this financial crisis any time soon.

On the money front, William Neuman summarized the bad news: The MTA deficit could expand by $650 million this year. This increase would push the MTA’s deficit to nearly $2 billion. Relying on an informal budge assessment from MTA CFO Gary Dellaverson, Neuman writes:

Mr. Dellaverson said that revenue from taxes on mortgages and real estate transactions was $71.5 million in the first two months of the year, slightly less than half of what the authority had predicted it would receive when it made what it thought was a conservative forecast late last year.

That forecast called for the authority to receive $880 million in real estate tax revenue in 2009. But Mr. Dellaverson said that if the trend continued, the authority could receive $446 million less than predicted.

Mr. Dellaverson cautioned that the figures he was presenting did not rise to the level of a formal budget forecast. But the possibilities he sketched were grim enough. They included a $123 million decline in fare and toll revenue, below what was budgeted. And he said that state taxes receipts that go to the authority, including a sales tax and a corporate income tax, could be $82 million less than forecast.

Basically, Dellaverson’s informal calculations have the MTA owing well beyond half a billion dollars more than they were projected to owe when the Doomsday budget gained board approval last year. Even if the state legislature can somehow cover the original $1.2 billion gap, the transit agency would still be faced with a new and growing deficit that would need closing.

Enter weekend service cuts no matter what. According to Daily News beat writer Pete Donohue, New York City Transit will increase weekend headway on ten lines — the A, D, E, F, G, J, M, N, Q, and R — from eight minutes to ten. While NYC Transit President Howard Roberts defended this as an inevitable move spurred on by construction, MTA Board member Andrew Albert decried these cuts. “This is a major service cut for folks,” Albert said. “I think this is a terrible, terrible move.”

No matter how the officials slice or dice it, there is no way to spin this news. The MTA is facing a financial crisis of epic proportions. It’s one that could, if the worst comes to pass, trigger a monumental collapse of our city’s transit network — and thus its economic infrastructure. Right now, the MTA would need a full-scale bailout package and Mayor Bloomberg’s original congestion pricing plan to stay afloat, and that just isn’t going to happen.

Where this goes from here is anyone’s guess, but I don’t think this crisis has reached its nadir yet.

Categories : MTA Economics
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While Albany politicians are slowly getting around to debating a bailout package for the MTA, New Yorkers are making their voices heard indirectly by riding the rails in record numbers. According to New York City Transit, subway ridership figures for 2008 hit 1.62 billion trips, the highest total since 1950 and an increase of 61.1 million trips — or 3.9 percent — over 2007.

Overall, New York City Transit reported an overall total ridership figure of 2.37 billion last year. That figure includes all agency-operated bus trips as well as the subway total. Most of that growth came in the early months of 2008 when city job numbers were on the rise and tourism remained strong. Whether those trends continue into 2009 remains to be seen, but the job loss in the financial sector will stunt transit numbers this year.

Meanwhile, the trains during the week remain packed to the gills. Average weekday ridership for the subway system sat at 5.2 million passengers in 2008, the highest total since 1951.

Transit officials were quick to praise the role the MTA plays in moving New York City while pushing the need to fund the MTA. “The sustained ridership growth in our subway and bus network is proof of the vital role NYC Transit has in moving the region forward in an environmentally sustainable manner,” Elliot G. Sander, MTA executive director and CEO, said. “The improvements we have made to the infrastructure, including the purchase of new buses and subway cars, are paying dividends, and the ridership growth we’ve seen is proof positive how important a fully funded capital plan is to the continued reliability and viability of the system and to the region as a whole.”

On a closer level, ridership growth patterns followed population increases. Parts of the L line saw growth at rates of around 10 percent, and the line as a whole saw ridership increase by 8.5 percent. Stations in Long Island City, the Rockaways, the Lower East Side and Dumbo all saw growth between 15 and 19 percent as well, and the Select Bus Service in the Bronx witnessed an increase of nearly 10 percent.

“The success of Select Bus Service demonstrates how the use of innovative technology combined with the cooperation of our city and state partners can yield enormous benefits for our customers and for service,” VP of Buses Joseph J. Smith, Sr. said. “SBS is the blue print for how we’d like to improve bus service city wide.”

These numbers — and grand expansion plans — are all well and good, but there’s an alarming undercurrent to this latest news. Right as MTA ridership is exploding, the agency is going to have to cut service and raise fares because they are out of money. Now, sure, the agency hasn’t, in the past, been forthcoming with their finances. They’ve squandered good will and public trust, but the public-benefit corporation also can’t run a system at a break-even point with fares held artificially low.

We the New York public want transit fares to be low. We want the $2 ride because it maximizes the system’s accessibility. But for the MTA, relying on the vagaries of property taxes and a disproportionately high percentage of the fare box revenue for operating expenses, to be profitable, they would have to raise the fares substantially without government support.

These numbers show just how important transit is to New York City. Albany cannot let the system fail. New York — the state and the city — won’t be able to weather the storm of bad transit service.

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The service diversions for the weekend are at the bottom of this post. Click here to skip to them. I wanted to make sure this bit of news made its way to the site before the weekend.

While I covered the 7 line groundbreaking this morning, one aspect of this story escaped me. Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose city is footing the bill for a $2.1-billion, one-stop extension in order to placate potential real estate developers, had the audacity to slam the Second Ave. subway construction.

Here’s what the mayor had to say, per David Seifman and Tom Namako of The Post:

Construction of the Second Avenue Subway is “destroying every business” in its wake, Mayor Bloomberg said yesterday in an unprovoked dig at the MTA’s handling of the project.

Business owners have complained for years that the project is cutting into their profit margins by restricting foot traffic and parking spaces, and Bloomberg said a number of shops have been forced to close.

“It is literally destroying every business on Second Avenue,” the mayor said at a press conference intended to show off a 100-ton cutting head that was to begin churning out the West Side extension for the 7 train. “It is an economic disaster for the people who have stores and restaurants on Second Avenue and we have to find something to do for them.”

With the mayor’s speaking at an MTA, he is giving the direct impression that he wants the financially-starved transit authority to do something about this problem. The reality is that they can’t. They’ve worked with community leaders to minimize the impact of construction, and once they’re through with the launch box and drop the SAS tunnel boring machine, these businesses won’t be facing the same disruptions.

Meanwhile, the Second Ave. Subway will be a huge benefit to the city. If some businesses suffer today because of it, that’s just the way it is. As harsh as that sounds, progress for millions can’t be impeded because a few businesses today may not like it. Once this project is complete, those businesses will find even more value along Second Ave. as well.

The mayor, of course, refused to acknowledge the fact that he is forgoing an opportunity to build a station at 10th Ave. and 41st St. because the MTA won’t cover cost overruns on his own pet project. It’s tough to justify the costs of the 7 line extension considering its benefits; the mayor should be wary of injecting himself into other debates over projects that have actual beneficial end goals.

* * *


From 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, February 21 and Sunday, February 22, Manhattan-bound 1 trains skip 238th, 231st, and 225th Streets due to replacement of defective rail plates.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, February 21 to 5 a.m. Monday, February 23, uptown 1 and 2 trains skip 79th and 86th Streets due to tunnel lighting.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, February 21 to 5 a.m. Monday, February 23, 2 trains run in two sections (due to switch renewal at Nostrand Avenue):

  • Between 241st Street and Franklin Avenue and
  • Between Franklin and Flatbush Avenues


From 11:30 p.m. Friday, February 20 to 5 a.m. Monday, February 23, free shuttle buses replace 3 trains between Franklin and Utica Avenues due to switch renewal at Nostrand Avenue.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, February 21 to 5 a.m. Monday, February 23, shuttle trains run between Utica and New Lots Avenues due to switch renewal at Nostrand Avenue.


From 11:30 p.m. Friday, February 20 to 5 a.m. Monday, February 23, there is no 4 train service between Atlantic and Utica Avenues. Free shuttle buses replace 4 trains between Franklin and Utica Avenues. These changes are due to switch renewal at Nostrand Avenue. The 2, 3 and free shuttle buses provide alternative service.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, February 21 to 5 a.m. Monday, February 23, there is no 5 train service between Bowling Green and East 180th Street due to track panel installation north of Gun Hill Road and cable tray installation north of East 180th Street. Customers may take the 2 or 4 instead. 5 trains run every 30 minutes between Dyre Avenue and East 180th Street.


From 11:30 p.m. Friday, February 20 to 5 a.m. Monday, February 23 (and weekends through Feb 27-Mar 2), there are no 7 trains between Times Square-42nd Street and Queensboro Plaza due to track panel installation on the Davis Street curve and security conduit and cable installation in the under river tube. The N/Q and free shuttle buses provide alternate service. The 42nd Street Shuttle S operates overnight to replace 7 service between Times Square-42nd Street and Grand Central-42nd Street.


From 11:30 p.m. Friday, February 20 to 5 a.m. Monday, February 23, free shuttle buses replace A trains between 168th Street and 207th Street due to tunnel and lighting work. Customers may transfer between the Broadway or Ft. Washington Avenue shuttle buses and the A train at 168th Street.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, February 21 to 5 a.m. Monday, February 23, Manhattan-bound A trains run local from Euclid Avenue to Canal Street, then express to 59th Street, then local to 168th Street. Queens-bound A trains run local from 168th to 125th Streets, then express to 59th Street, then local to Euclid Avenue. These changes are due to signal work at Chambers Street and a track chip-out north of 116th Street.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, February 21 to 5 a.m. Monday, February 23, there are no C trains running due to roadbed replacement work at 116th Street. Customers should take the A instead.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, February 21 to 5 a.m. Monday, February 23, there are no D trains between Pacific Street (Brooklyn) and 34th Street (Manhattan) due to work on the Broadway-Lafayette to Bleecker Street transfer connection. The N train and free shuttle buses provide alternate service.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, February 21 to 5 a.m. Monday, February 23, D trains run express between 36th Street (Brooklyn) and Pacific Street (Brooklyn) due to work on the Broadway-Lafayette to Bleecker Street transfer connection. Customers should take the N instead.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, February 21 to 5 a.m. Monday, February 23, there is no E train service between West 4th Street and World Trade Center due to signal work at Chambers Street. Customers should take the A instead to reach lower Manhattan.


From 8:30 p.m. Friday, February 20 to 5 a.m. Monday, February 23 (until further notice), there are no G trains between Forest Hills-71st Avenue and Court Square due to third rail work. Customers should take the E or R instead.


From 3:30 a.m. Saturday, February 21 to 10 p.m. Sunday, February 22, there are no J trains between Broadway Junction and Jamaica Center-Parsons/Archer due to fiber optic cable installation. Free shuttle buses replace trains between Broadway Junction and the Jamaica Van Wyck E station.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, February 21 to 5 a.m. Monday, February 23, Manhattan-bound N and R trains are rerouted over the Manhattan Bridge from DeKalb Avenue to Canal Street due to subway tunnel rehabilitation.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, February 21 to 5 a.m. Monday, February 23, N trains run local between Pacific Street Brooklyn) and 59th Street-4th Avenue (Brooklyn) due to work on the Broadway-Lafayette to Bleecker Street transfer connection


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, February 21 to 5 a.m. Monday, February 23, Coney Island-bound Q trains run express from Prospect Park to Kings Highway and bypass Newkirk Avenue due to station rehabilitation.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, February 21 to 5 a.m. Monday, February 23, Q trains run local between Canal Street and 57th Street and are extended to the Ditmars Boulevard N station due to track panel installation on the Davis Street curve and security conduit and cable installation in the under river tube.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, February 21 to 5 a.m. Monday, February 23, midnight R shuttle trains terminate at 59th Street-4th Avenue due to work on the Broadway-Lafayette to Bleecker Street transfer connection.


From 11:30 p.m. Friday, February 20 to 5 a.m. Monday, February 23, the 42nd Street Shuttle S operates overnight to replace 7 service between Times Square-42nd Street and Grand Central-42nd Street due to track panel installation on the Davis Street curve and security conduit and cable installation in the under river tube.

Hope for the Ravitch Commission recommendations looked dim last Friday as numerous politicians voiced their collective disapproval for the tax-and-toll plan to save the MTA. Today, after a week of hearings conducted by various governing bodies and featuring numerous transit and business officials, the future is looking decidedly worse for the MTA.

“Some of my colleagues said the Ravitch plan is dead on arrival,” State Senator Martin Malavé Dilan (Dem., Brooklyn) said this week. “They said to me there’s no way they can vote for it. It’s the M.T.A.’s responsibility to convince my colleagues.”

That effort, according to Ken Belson of The New York Times, is not going so well. Belson sums up the grim news:

An array of city, state and federal elected officials sharply criticized the proposals to bail out the Metropolitan Transportation Authority at a legislative hearing on Thursday, raising fresh concerns about whether the proposals can survive in Albany.

City Council members opposed a plan to introduce tolls on the East and Harlem Rivers. Representative Anthony D. Weiner and business groups said they were against introducing a new payroll tax. And state senators, as well as many advocacy groups, disagreed with the proposal for an 8 percent fare increase.

Mostly, according to Belson, New York politicians were hoping to find ways to save the system without raising fares, cutting service, implementing tolls or instituting new taxes. I guess praying might work one day.

State Senator Bill Perkins of Manhattan, who led the hearing, at the Adam Clayton Powell State Office Building in Harlem, asked Mr. Ravitch several times if his commission had considered ways to avoid raising public transit fares.

Mr. Ravitch said that some fare increases were necessary. He said his plan was needed not just to help close the M.T.A.’s $1.2 billion budget gap, but to ensure that all constituents — including drivers and subway, railroad and bus riders — share the burden. “Nobody likes to pay anything,” Mr. Ravitch said in answer to questions by Senators Perkins and Dilan. “We concluded that the only ultimately feasible way to get the financing done is come up with recommendations that everyone contribute.”

Meanwhile, New York politicians are looking in all the wrong places. Anthony Weiner, a House representative from New York, criticized the tax-and-toll plan as consisting of “old ideas” and said that the feds would ride to the rescue of the MTA. “We should step back from the apocalypse. There’s going to be help coming from Washington,” he said.

But I have to ask Mr. Weiner when he expects this magic money from D.C. to arrive. The MTA can wait only another 36 days until they must pass a budget, and there is no way that Congress can find $1.2 billion for the transit agency in that time. Meanwhile, the city and state have to be looking at permanent, long-term fixes for the MTA. Unless the federal government is willing to guarantee operating revenues for the MTA in perpetuity, New York will have to confront this issue of taxes and tolls and fare hikes sooner rather than later.

Optimistically, Assembly representative Richard Brodsky thinks that a compromise is on the horizon. What that will be is anyone’s guess, but right now, I don’t share Brodsky’s sunny outlook.

Categories : MTA Economics
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tunnelboring7

MTA workers oversee the 100-ton Tunnel Boring Machine on Thursday morning as Mayor Bloomberg and transit officials look on. (Photo courtesy of the MTA)

In a little while, I’ll get to this piece of bad news. But while the state legislature was busy ignoring the MTA’s needs, the transit agency and the city were looking forward to a new era of construction and subway expansion. Thursday was, then, a day of both progress and regression on the NYC transit front.

Early on Thursday morning, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and MTA officials gathered at 11th Ave. and 25th St. to celebrate the lowering of one of the two tunnel-boring machines for the 7 line extension. These machines will work their ways north from this spot on the far west side of Chelsea past the eventual Hudson Yards area and then eastward along 41st St. until meeting up with the existing 7 tubes near Times Square. The extension, according to the MTA, will open in 2013.

Along the way, a piece of subway history will vanish though. A vacant platform on the long-shuttered lower level at the 8th Ave. A/C/E stop at 42nd St. will soon meets it doom as the 7 stretches westward. NYCSubway.org has some dramatic images of the destruction of the platform that has been closed since 1981.

Above ground, the politicians and MTA officials were, of course, in a celebratory mood. “Today, we’re beginning the next and most dramatic phase of the extension of the 7 subway line,” Bloomberg said. “By digging these tunnels, we are expanding our subway network into an entirely new area of the City: Manhattan’s Far West Side. It’s these major, long-term investments in infrastructure that will transform areas full of promise into neighborhoods full of residents, park-goers, office workers and shoppers.”

MTA Executive Director and CEO Elliot Sander used the opportunity to stress what the MTA, with money, can accomplish. “As we prepare our next Capital Plan, this project shows that with stable funding in place, we can build monumental works that will serve generations of New Yorkers,” Sander said. “We are deeply grateful for Mayor Bloomberg’s steadfast commitment to this project, and we appreciate and share his understanding of the important role that transportation will play in catalyzing the development of the Far West Side.”

While this optimism is not misplaced, the event and the release about it had the air of perhaps too much enthusiasm. In discussing the city-funded $2.1-billion extension of the 7 line, the MTA press release noted how this project will “help transform the Hudson Yards vicinity into a vibrant 24-hour neighborhood, containing a mix of commercial, residential, retail, open space and recreational uses.” Right now, though, the MTA has yet to sign a deal with Related, and odds are good that when this subway extension opens, development on the Hudson Yards land will be in the nascent stages. The city should build this line to encourage growth in underdeveloped areas of the city, but a completed Hudson Yards project is a long way off.

Furthermore, while these TBMs will dig past 41st St. and 10th Ave., plans for that station have been shelved. Until and unless the MTA and the city can come to an agreement, the two stubborn governing bodies will forego the best chance they have to build a station at a spot that needs one.

Meanwhile, the MTA has released the various technical details for all the TBM fans among us. It will take two months to assembly these machines. The first will be ready to dig in April and the second in May. These machines will dig under a large number of preexisting tunnels including the 8th Ave. line, the Amtrak tunnels near Penn Station and the Lincoln Tunnel tubes. The TBM excavation will wrap up next spring.

While the MTA remains in economic limbo, this is an important milestone for the transit agency. While a new station at South Ferry along with Phase I of the SAS and this 7 line extension may seem modest, this is the largest expansion of the subway system most New Yorkers have witnessed in their lives. Hopefully, this potential for progress won’t be dashed by the shortsightedness of our elected representatives.

For more gory details on the TBM, click through.

Categories : 7 Line Extension
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  • How the service cuts will impact you · William C. Thompson, NYC comptroller and 2009 mayoral hopeful, has unveiled a tool for the public that highlights the MTA service cuts. While advising his constituents to tell Albany to do something about the hike, Thompson’s office is now presenting an MTA service cuts finder. Just drop your ZIP code into the form, and the site returns all of the cuts targeted to your area. It’s a sobering reminder of what may happen if no one acts before March 25. · (5)

Nearly three years ago, Dustin Dibble, then 22, fell onto the tracks at Union Square and was run over by an N train. He was so severely injured that one of his legs had to be amputated below the calf, and of course, he sued New York City Transit.

Last week, he won his case, and the financially beleaguered transit agency is now on the hook for $2.3 million. There is, of course, a catch: Dibble was so drunk at the time of his accident that he wound But iup in the tracks because he passed out and fell there. He doesn’t remember ending up on the tracks, and his blood alcohol content was 1.8 or twice the legal limit for drivers in New York. Somehow, though, the jury found him just 35 percent responsible for his accident, and he’ll walk away, for now, with a $2.3 million judgment.

On the surface, it’s rather easy to be outraged about this. Chris Rovzar, writing at NYMag.com’s Daily Intel blog, is fairly outraged by this development. Others have called this a prime example of the need for tort reform, and most are just dismayed that the MTA — and thus taxpayers — are going to have to pay $2.3 million to some guy who was too drunk to stand and fell onto the train tracks at 1:50 a.m. one night.

The lawyer for the case, meanwhile, picked on the testimony of the man driving the train. From The Post story about the case:

Train operator Michael Moore, a longtime MTA vet with a sparkling record, said in a deposition, “I saw what I thought was garbage on the track” and continued into the station.

Moore, who suffered a fatal stroke before the case went to trial, also said in his deposition, “I saw movement and I put the train into emergency” – meaning he hit the emergency brake.

[Dibble's lawyer Andrew] Smiley said Moore had testified at the deposition that he couldn’t “stop every time he sees garbage,” because “there’s garbage all over the place,” but NYC Transit rules call for the motorman to stop the train if there’s a mass on the tracks.

That’s a mess of a case, and as a law student, I can certainly appreciate it. Per New York City Transit laws, it seems as though Moore was negligent in operating his train. However, industry custom dictates that it would be impossible for train operators to break every time they see a “mass on the tracks,” as The Post puts it. Meanwhile, once Moore saw movement, he tried to do all he could to stop the train.

So who wins and who loses? Well, the taxpayers don’t win. That’s for sure. While NYC Transit is sure to appeal, on the legality of it all, it seems as though Dibble may have a strong case, but I have to wonder if a man too drunk to sit down or stand up on a train platform is really just 35 percent responsible for his actions? At some point, we have to take responsibility for how we are, and being too drunk to function shouldn’t excuse falling onto the subway tracks and into the path of an oncoming train.

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Feb
18

A-B-C with the MTA

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Where: The passageway from the 4/5/6 at Grand Central Terminal to the 42nd St. Shuttle.
What: A misspelling of Madison Ave. captured via iPhone by SAS reader Nick M.

It’s been a rough week for the MTA’s signs and its general overall spelling ability. Last week, New York City Transit came under fire for a 70-year-old typo at Broadway along the IND Crosstown line. Since then, savvy straphangers have noticed misspellings everywhere. My favorite is the one about Queeens. Such are the ways of the Internet.

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fultonocculus

With federal stimulus funding in place, the Fulton St. oculus may be saved.

Now that the United States Congress has approved the controversial stimulus plan, New Yorkers can start counting their delays. Over the next few weeks and months, the MTA, among other agencies, will receive an infusion of cash and will thus be able to complete or accelerate numerous capital projects. Sadly, though, $1.3 billion just doesn’t go as far as it once did.

According to a Daily News profile of the New York-based movers and shakers behind the stimulus package, the city’s beleaguered transit agency will receive approximately that amount. The total could go up or down by a few hundred million based upon the formulas, but in the end, it should fall short of the anticipated $1.5 billion upon which we were counting two weeks ago.

Meanwhile, here in New York, the MTA has yet to release a list of official stimulus projects. However, we can take a peak at an early version of the list — beginning on page 11 of that PDF file — to get a sense of what may earn funding.

As of now, I believe that the MTA will look to see if they can revive the lost 7 line stop at 41st and Tenth Ave. That’s a $400-$500 million project though. The agency may also siphon a good amount of money — up to another $500 million — into the Fulton St. hub. If the spend the bulk of their money on those two projects though, the remaining $300 million seems rather meager.

Meanwhile, the proposed projects are necessary but decidedly less sexy. Basically, the MTA has to use this money to fund a series of shovel-ready projects that could actually provide jobs and kickstart the economy as this recovery package is intended to do. New York City Transit may look to replace a series of flood-prone vents along Jackson Ave. in Queens while overhauling 10 stations along the West End line in Brooklyn. Forty-three stations could receive their long-awaited public address systems, and the IRT platforms at Union Sq. may receive some new gap-fillers.

Beyond that, some Metro-North and LIRR projects are on tap for federal funds, and the East Side Access plan could use the cash as well. If that sounds like a lot of projects competing for not very much money, well, that’s because it is.

In the end, the stimulus money is simply a small infusion of capital cash. It’s not designed to fund transit as much as it is designed to get projects moving with the hopes that more money will be invested into them later on. The MTA needs it, but the agency will soon be asking for $30 billion over five years. Where that money will come from is anyone’s guess.

Categories : MTA Economics
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