The rehabilitation plan for the Smith-9th Sts. subway stop is just one of more “deferred” projects. (Photo by flickr user Victoria Belanger)
Ah, to yearn for the innocent days of November when it seemed like the MTA would actually be rehabbing the stations along the Culver Viaduct while they did the necessary engineering work on the Viaduct itself. Or perhaps we could revisit the days of early June when the MTA said the 4th Ave. station wouldn’t be getting an overhaul, but the Smith-9th Sts. station would enjoy a face lift.
Now, it’s all gone.
One day after we heard the rumors, the MTA issued a series of financial statements that include alarming real estate tax projections and what officials are terming deferrals for various capital projects — including the Culver Viaduct station rehabilitation plans — in an effort to cull together nearly $3 billion in short-term savings. The long-term prognosis for the MTA is hazier and bleaker.
William Neuman reports on this alarming and expected story:
In a series of public meetings of authority board committees, officials said the authority would be forced to cut projects valued at $2.7 billion from its 2005-9 capital spending program, largely because of soaring costs on construction projects already under way.
The projects being cut include 19 subway station renovations and important projects for the modernization of subway signals and repair facilities. The authority’s chief executive, Elliot G. Sander, said those projects were expected to be included in the authority’s next five-year spending plan, which begins in 2010. But he acknowledged that the authority did not yet know how it would find the financing for that plan.
Officials also said the revenues from taxes on real estate transactions, which have buoyed the day-to-day operations of the transit system in recent years, were falling off at an alarming rate, resulting in a shortfall this year of $122 million. Revenues from the real estate taxes are on track to end the year about $280 million below budget projections.
With fuel costs skyrocketing, the MTA finds itself already $60 million over budget for 2008 with no sign of economic relief in sight.
According to Neuman’s report, the MTA is going all-out with the trimming. Foremost among the projects cut is the station rehab plans for the Viaduct. The Smith-9th Sts. station will remain as it is now, with boarded up windows, peeling paint and a generally unappealing aesthetic vibe. Joining it in rehab limbo will be a series of Brooklyn stations along the D and N lines and some Bronx 6 stations. The Brighton Line rehab plans may be saved simply because they aren’t too far along in the planning process.
The MTA is also sacrificing behind-the-scenes upgrades needed to keep the trains running. It is scraping parts of an in-progress signal modernization plan; it is doing away with proposals to install vents in the tunnels to clear the air in case of a fire emergency; and it is starting to cut aspects of their big-ticket items (but more on that later today). The MTA is, in other words, beginning to sacrifice quality due to money, not because they want to but because they have no choice.
In defense of these actions, the MTA officials say they will reapply for funding for these plans when the 2010-2014 capital plan comes up for review next year. These projects, officials maintain, will see the light of day. Of course, the problem with that assertion is that the MTA is facing capital budget deficits upwards of $10 billion, and unless Richard Ravitch can save the day again, we are facing a subway system in dire financial peril.
The problem, of course, lies with the way our public transportation network is funded. In short, it isn’t. The MTA relies on real estate taxes at the whim of a market and puts too much pressure on capturing fare revenue for operating and expansion plans. There is no secure dedicated source of revenue.
Apparently, no one learned any lessons from the 1970s. With the subways in shambles, the city collapsed. As the city rebounding and the subways did too, New York enjoyed a nearly unprecedented boom. Now, as the nation’s economy slows, our public transit network is paying the price of negligent overseers. Until Albany realizes that a healthy MTA is the key to the economic well-being of New York City, the agency is in for a rough ride.