New York City Comptroller William Thompson holds forth on the MTA as Gene Russianoff, left, and firefighters union head Steve Cassidy, right, look on. (Photo from the Comptroller’s Office)
William Thompson, New York City’s Comptroller, has launched the latest salvo in the ongoing battle between New York officials and the financially-beleaguered MTA.
Speaking Wednesday in the subway station at 14th St. and 8th Ave., Thompson urged the MTA to delay passing its revised capital program amendment featuring millions of dollars of cuts until Richard Ravitch’s commission issues its report on funding the MTA later this year.
“I understand the severity of the MTA’s current financial crisis. Operating budget shortfalls are projected to run into the billions of dollars…The cost of capital projects has mushroomed,” Thompson wrote in a letter to MTA Board Chair Dale Hemmerdinger (PDF). But the MTA should not jump the gun by putting off vital projects before Chairman Ravitch and his colleagues examine the funding situation and issue their recommendations.”
To further stress his point, Thompson invited Steve Cassidy, the president of the Uniformed Firefighters’ Association, to stand with him in the subway yesterday morning. Cassidy leads the firefighters union, and the city’s comptroller is concerned that some of the MTA’s deferred capital improvements could impact firefighters’ safety underground.
“Every one of the New York City Transit projects proposed for deferral — signal upgrades, new buses and subway cars and station rehabilitations — is important,” he wrote. “However, I am especially concerned about the proposal to delay at least $366 million in fan plant projects. Delaying fan plant projects jeopardizes rider, worker and firefighter safety. In its own project descriptions, MTA New York City Transit notes that ‘fan plants enhance safety, especially in the post 9/11 environment’ and that they are vital for the ‘life safety’ of passengers.”
Cassidy support Thompson’s pleas. “Safeguarding riders on the New York City Subway is the responsibility of the MTA and FDNY,” he said. “It is imperative that these upgrades to the emergency ventilation system are carried out immediately to ensure both public and firefighter safety.”
The MTA, however, had a bone to pick with Cassidy and Thompson, long one of the MTA’s most vocal critics on issues concerning both the secrecy surrounding its bookkeeping and the state’s and city’s shirking of their respective financial duties to the transit authority. In a statement issued Wednesday afternoon, the MTA defending itself from these charges.
“Every project in the capital program is important, but the proposed deferrals, including several fan plants, are projects that were chosen because they can be delayed without impacting the safety of the system,” read the statement. “All of the MTA’s underwater tunnels are protected with new fan plants in case of emergency, and the MTA continues to invest in other initiatives to significantly reduce the risk of fire and smoke. The MTA’s transportation network is safer than ever, and none of the proposed deferrals put that safety record at risk.”
Meanwhile, the MTA also noted that “delaying the current capital program amendment will force the MTA to halt work on critical projects currently in the plan.” Those projects, of course, include our beloved Second Ave. Subway, the East Side Access Plan, and station renovations throughout the system.
I don’t know the answer to this one, but I have to hope the MTA would not put its passengers and those working to keep New Yorkers safe in danger through capital program deferrals. I do know that the MTA’s financialy doomsday clock continues to inch closer to midnight, and while Thompson may be right in urging the MTA to wait until Ravitch’s report arrives in December, that five-month delay could be too long for an agency so vital to New York’s economic health and so close to its own economic disaster.