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
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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
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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.

Testing problems with these escalators were one of the reasons the station's opening was delayed. (Photo: Benjamin Kabak)

The Hudson Yards escalators have since been repaired, but grouting problems continue to plague the station. (Photo: Benjamin Kabak)

Remember those photos from Hudson Yards I posted last week? Showcasing a leaking wall and some out-of-service escalators, these pictures represented but a slice of the problems plaguing the MTA’s newest subway station. As many have noted — both in the media and as riders — icicles formed over the winter, and MTA officials eventually poor grouting work that a contractor will fix, at a cost of $3 million to this contractor. It won’t cost the MTA a penny, but it leaves egg on the face of an agency with a poor public image. Worse yet, it exposes some deep rifts in the oversight process.

Yesterday morning, the MTA’s Board committee met for the first time since the Hudson Yards flaws hit the headlines, and they were not happy with the news. Polly Trottenberg said she found out about the water intrusion problems first from reading Gothamist and not from internal MTA reports, and MTA Capital Construction President Michael Horodniceanu grew very defensive in the face of appropriately combative and probing questions. At one point, in response to questions regarding faulty escalators, Horodniceanu said simply, “I do not control when things break.” His words came awfully close to a self-absolution of responsibility, and he later indicated that MTACC knew about the problem as early as 2012.

Meanwhile, while Charles Moerdler was content to defend the MTA’s shoddy waterproofing efforts — a reason, by the way, why the new South Ferry station is being rebuilt from the ground up — Jonathan Ballan, Trottenberg and Allen Cappelli were far less forgiving. “The level of surprise and disappointment cannot be overstated,” Ballan said, of a station the MTA Board seemed to call a $2 billion lemon. “It should work.”

Cappelli, meanwhile, picked up on the public relations aspect of the problem. The images, he said, are “damaging to the reputation of the agency,” adding that it “looks foolish” to have problems so soon after opening, and Horodniceanu hedged when asked if the contractors responsible are working on other MTA capital projects. My own reporting has indicated that the Yonkers Contracting Company is involved with some work in the East Side Access cavern but does not appear to be involved with the Second Ave. Subway construction.

For its part, the MTA plans to engage an outside consultant to assess the process. The agency will study “what did we know and what actions did we take with respect to trying to correct the conditions that are existing there, so we can find ourselves in a position next time that we don’t have the same outcome?” MTA CEO and Chairman Tom Prendergast said.

But on the other hand, this development raises questions regarding general oversight. No one in charge of the MTA today was around when this project was approved in the mid-2000s. Peter Kalikow was in charge of the agency then, and Mysore Nagaraja was the head of Capital Construction. Still, the current administration, and in particular Horodniceanu, have been around long enough to oversee numerous contract awards and the day-to-day construction progress. Yet, waterproofing and escalators, a technology that dates to the mid-to-late 1800s, have remained frustratingly out of reach.

So what next? The MTA is going to open some new stations later this year or early next (if they can once more, in part, overcome the hurdle of escalator installation and operations), and we’ll do this all over again. But from oversight to construction practices, it seems as though an agency that can’t spend efficiently needs some help. How they get it is an open question.

Categories : 7 Line Extension
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A glimpse inside the Second Ave. Subway's northern terminal at 96th St.  Will it be open for passengers before 2017? (Photo: [block]0[/block])

A glimpse inside the Second Ave. Subway‘s northern terminal at 96th St. Will it be open for passengers before 2017? (Photo: MTA)

Over the weekend, House Representative Carolyn Maloney stood in front of the future Second Ave. Subway station at 86th St. to announce her reelection campaign for Congress. Maloney has served since winning election in 1992 and isn’t likely to face much of a challenge. She captured 80 percent of the vote in 2014.

In announcing her campaign, she played up the billions she has helped steer toward New York City infrastructure investments, but her press releases leading up to the announcement were a bit of a mess. In one, she touted, in various places that either 16 or 4 new subway stops would open this year at a cost of either $4 or $8 billion. Her press team also claimed that all 8.5 miles of the line would open this year (though with only four new stations). It was total nonsense and highlighted how the Congressional representative from the Upper East Side couldn’t be bothered with the details of the first phase of the Second Ave. Subway. Thanks for the money, but perhaps learn the details behind your investment.

My skepticism aside, Maloney used the opportunity to stress that part of the Second Ave. Subway will open this year, but will it? As part of the build-up to the supposed December 2016 revenue service date, the MTA and its independent engineering consultant have been giving monthly updates to the Board. In December, the early reports warned of a moderate risk of delay, and January brought similar news. In February, the MTA vowed to spend more to accelerate work, but in this month’s update, it’s not clear the agency will meet those goals. Furthermore, the IEC and MTA give some hints as to the cause of potential delays, and they appear to be some usual suspects: tight testing timelines and concerns that escalators and elevators won’t be installed in time.

The latest materials — available here as a PDF — weave a narrative of an agency trying to cram as much work as possible into the next nine months, but the MTA admits to certain yellow and red flags. Most of the issues concern testing. Testing at various stations for elevators, escalators, fire safety systems and vent fans may not be complete until the end of April, one month later than scheduled. As you may recall, issues with these exact systems’ passing acceptance testing were a key driver behind the delayed opening of the 7 line extension. These though currently warrant only a yellow flag, but at 72nd St., installation for escalators and elevators at one entrance will not be completed until the end of October, leaving only two months for testing.

In response, the IEC notes that the MTA’s testing schedule may be overly aggressive. “There appears to be a limited allowance for test failure and retesting activities,” the IEC noted. Further, the issues with installation of those escalators and elevators is “close to impacting” the December 2016 revenue service date. The IEC again urges more spending to keep pace with the ticking clock and notes that late design changes and a backlog of change orders haven’t been cleared yet. Any testing failures will throw that December promise into doubt.

Ultimately, the story remains the same. The MTA still promises to open the line before the year is out, but time is ticking as the issues that could delay the project aren’t melting away. I still would expect a short delay, but word of one won’t come out for a few more months. Meanwhile, we wait — for escalators, elevators, key systems, and, of course, House representatives who care enough to get the details right.

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The M train's Myrtle Viaduct has seen better days. It will be replaced as a part of a ten-month shutdown in 2017.

The M train’s Myrtle Viaduct has seen better days. It will be replaced as a part of a ten-month shutdown in 2017.

The L train shutdown — a hot topic of conversation these days — isn’t going to arrive for a few more years, but already the MTA is putting the pieces in place to ensure the pain is minimized. Although we don’t yet know the details behind the shutdown, it will involve more M train service, and to that end, the MTA will have to first shut down some M train service to rehabilitate the Myrtle Viaduct. It’s going to be a preview of things to come.

After word leaked to the press late this week, the MTA announced on Friday that the M train shutdown will take place in two parts in 2017. During the first part, for two months, the MTA will repair a metal bridge between the Fresh Pond Rd and Middle Village-Metropolitan Av stations. Following that, the 100-year-old concrete viaduct that hosts the M between Myrtle and Central Aves. will be repaired. All told, part of the M line will close for ten months beginning in the summer of 2017.

“These temporary closures are vital to the long term viability of the M line in Brooklyn and Queens,” NYC Transit President Ronnie Hakim said in a statement. “Both of these structures have deteriorated to the point that there is simply no other option than complete replacement, and undergoing this step will ensure a safe, more reliable experience for customers for decades to come. We will work closely with the affected communities, their elected officials and other representatives to minimize the disruption and address their concerns, and we will do our utmost to complete this work as quickly as possible.”

Picking up on a theme we saw unfold in Washington DC this week, the MTA notes that this work simply cannot be postponed any longer as the structure is “severely deteriorated.” The work includes a rebuild of two sections of the elevated structure as well as replacing steel girders, track beds and the platforms that carry the tracks. Doing the work next year will allow the MTA to lean on the M once the L train shuts down in 2018.

During the first two months, M trains will not run between Myrtle Ave. and Middle Village-Metropolitan Ave. Shuttle bus routes will serve the closed stations. During the second phase — which will last eight additional months — the M will run between between Middle Village-Metropolitan Av and Myrtle-Wyckoff Avs, and M trains will run into Manhattan from Broadway Junction with peak-hour frequency reduced by 25 percent. The J and Z will not skip stops between Marcy Ave. and Broadway Junction, and the L will maintain peak frequencies throughout the day. This is the cost of deferred maintenance.

Meanwhile, after the jump, this weekend’s service advisories. As always, these come to me from the MTA. If anything looks wrong, take it up with them. Read More→

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Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder has been a tireless advocate for a Rockaway Beach Branch rail study.

Assemblyman Paul Goldfeder has been a tireless advocate for a Rockaway Beach Branch rail study.

When last I checked in on the Rockaway Beach Branch line toward the end of 2015, I had kinda sorta vowed to leave well enough alone. The debate has grown a bit toxic with park advocates fighting with proponents of rail reactivation who are fighting against proponents of Select Bus Service with motorists and NIMBYs hovering on the wings. But as Michael Corleone once bemoaned, just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in. The “they” this time is Assembly representative Phil Goldfeder, and the get is Assembly-approved dollars for a true study of the best uses of the fallow right of way.

For years, the one ask I’ve had for the Rockaway Beach Branch line is a refresh of a decades-old feasibility study to determine, based on current city growth patterns, whether reactivation would be feasible and at what cost. What we’ve gotten since this nascent effort to revitalize the right-of-way began was a one-sided study from a rails-to-trails advocacy group that was funded nearly entirely through New York taxpayer dollars. It was a rigged assessment from the start and ended with fanciful renderings and no realistic path forward for the so-called QueensWay linear park. Goldfeder is hoping to right that wrong.

In a budget passed by the state Assembly this week, the Assembly allocated funding for a feasibility study of rail reactivation and would direct the MTA to complete the study by March 1, 2017. It is, unfortunately, a one-house budget and it’s not clear if the State Senate’s measure will include similar funding (or if Gov. Andrew Cuomo would approve such a request). Still, it’s a sign that someone at least is thinking through this issue.

Goldfeder explained his support for the funding. “With so many families in Queens suffering through some of the longest commutes in the city, it’s important that we explore every option to improve transportation. A feasibility study of reactivation the Rockaway Beach Rail Line will do just that. This study will provide us with an accurate picture of the state of the line and show not just what it would cost to reactivate, but also the impact this would have on thousands of commuters in the community,” he said.

Goldfeder hopes that a study would provide a comprehensive overview of the state of the right of way. He wants a full assessment of the current condition of the infrastructure (which, in all honest, is not good) and he wants to understand the costs of reactivating the line for passenger service. We haven’t had a clear indication of these costs, potential ridership or the impact to the area in nearly two decades, and the last study was not well received by transit advocates or community activists who disputed its findings.

A rail use for this right of way seems like a long shot with many forces aligning against a plan, but it deserves a fair hearing. As I’ve noted in the past, money is the way to get that hearing. If the state does allocate the dollars, the MTA will follow through with a study. And then we’ll know if, in the late 2010s, there is a way forward for the Rockaway Beach Brance line or if this dream should be allowed to fade away while other, productive uses of the ROW are identified.

Categories : Queens
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A map of today’s WMATA Metro service offerings. (Via Peter Dovak on Twitter)

Whenever we begin to think the MTA has pushed New York City toward an intractable transit situation, Washington DC’s WMATA makes such a load splash to remind us that it could be much, much worse. Yesterday, at around 4 p.m., news broke that, following a fire on Monday, the DC Metro had to shut down for emergency safety inspections. Due to safety concerns with the electricity deliver system that runs the subway in the nation’s capital, the DC Metro will not run at all today as crews inspect the entirety of the system’s power cables. If all goes according to plan, the Metro will reopen tomorrow at 5 a.m., but if anything is amiss, the shutdown could run longer.

The Washington Post, unsurprisingly, has had the most comprehensive coverage of the safety issues facing Metro and offered up a summary of the problem:

This is about the havoc electricity can cause when it gets loose, when it isn’t contained within power cables by tight, reliable insulation — when the juice finds a path out…Like all subway power lines, the jumper cables are heavily insulated. But if the insulation is compromised — if it wears out or is damaged — there is an excellent chance that trouble will soon follow.

Here is why: Moisture is commonplace in subway tunnels. So are “particulate contaminants,” including brake dust, rust flakes and metallic shavings from train wheels. There is also a lot of grime in the tunnels. And there is plenty of other gunk, such as oil. In electrical-speak, these are “conductive substances,” meaning they have a low resistance to electricity. They offer a path for electrical current to jump dangerously all over a tunnel if the electricity escapes from its insulated containment. All it takes is for a path to be completed — for a trail of moisture, particulates or other conductive material to come in contact with the exposed electrical current. The phenomenon is called “arcing.”

…Jumper cables and other power lines are attached to one another, and attached to third rails, by large, elbow-shaped connector assemblies called “boots.” In its investigation of the L’Enfant incident, the NTSB also warned that throughout the subway, “a number” of boots lacked the proper type of “sealing sleeves,” which are designed to keep contaminants away from the electrical current. Metro acknowledged that about 80 percent of its 6,400 power-cable connector assemblies lacked adequate sealing sleeves. Wiedefeld said Tuesday that about half of the faulty boots have been upgraded, but months of work on that project still remains.

It’s a rather technical discussion, but you get the point: The WMATA’s power delivery system is in danger of failing, and the consequences can be disastrous for riders. So the agency is going to inspect all 600 jumper cables today and made a decision, on around eight hours’ notice, to shutter for the entirety of a busy mid-week day.

As you can imagine, reaction has not been particularly kind. The WMATA has a long history of safety problems from collisions and derailments to seemingly spontaneous fires, and politicians in the region — who should bear some of the blame for this situation — aren’t happy. A Virginia representative called it “a gut punch to the hundreds of thousands of commuters who depend on the system,” and John Delaney of Maryland did not mince his words. “It is deeply disturbing that the system is in such a precarious state that it must be entirely and abruptly shut down during the middle of a workweek,” he said. “This is a stark demonstration of a total agency failure; now is the time for every stakeholder in WMATA to demand better performance and improved safety.”

Traffic isn’t moving as a combination of buses, bikes, taxis, private vehicles and a trolling 2.4 mile mixed-traffic streetcar are all trying to pick up the transportation slack, but that is nearly besides the point. The point, as regional growth advocacy groups have noted is a history of lack of support for ongoing maintenance combined with a culture that hasn’t emphasized system safety. Perhaps it’s because the WMATA is run, at various points, by two states with differing political outlooks, a barely-empowered District of Columbia and the federal government, all fighting with and against each other. Perhaps it stems from a lack of transparency and sustainable funding, as NARP alleged in a statement.

Around an hour or so before the shutdown was leaked and later confirmed, David Alpert, founder of Greater Greater Washington, published his comprehensive overview of the transportation problems plaguing Washington DC. Without a balanced growth plan, more support for the WMATA and steady funding, the nation’s capital will see its subway system slide further toward unreliability. It’s a fear we’ve seen realized in New York and one that always seems on the precipice of returning. Wednesday’s outage is a reminder of how our cities rely on transit systems that do not enjoy the political support and fiscal backing these systems need to stay healthy, and I’m not sure I see a clear way forward without a massive shift in public priorities and philosophies.

Categories : WMATA
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While looking into the history of the Hudson Yards’ subway stop last night, I came across a series of dates that represent a stark reality. That reality focuses around how we have essentially stopped growing out the subway system for nearly sixty years now. Even with massive investment in capital expenses since the early 1980s, the subway we have now is nearly the same subway we had in the early 1950s, give or take just a handful of stops.

Mull on this, the most recent opening dates for new subway stations per borough:

Manhattan: 2015 (34th St.-Hudson Yards)
Queens: 1989 (21st St.-Queensbridge)
Brooklyn: 1956 (Grant Ave.)
Bronx: 1941 (Dyre Ave. stops) or 1933 (Concourse Line)

Staten Island, of course, still doesn’t have connection to the rest of the New York City subway system and most of its modest Railway dates to the 1860s. The year for the Bronx is up for debate since the Dyre Ave. stations in 1941 reopened as part of the IRT after they were converted from what we would now consider commuter rail. The most recent original subway stations to open in the Bronx are the Concourse Line stops which date from 1933.

Even this figures obscure the depth of the lack of system expansion. Since Grant Ave. — also a replacement stop for a formerly elevated station along Fulton St. — opened in 1956, four stations opened in Queens and seven (including South Ferry) have opened in Manhattan. That’s 10 new stations and one replacement over 60 years. If you look at New York’s so-called peer cities, including Paris and London, what we’ve done is embarrassingly inadequate in comparison.

It’s relatively easy to trace the history of divestment in the subway. Robert Moses bears some of the blame as does a crippling forty-year insistence on a five-cent fare. White flight in the 1950s followed by the collapse of the city in the 1970s meant that money simply wasn’t available to invest back into the transit system, and national trends at the time didn’t really support federal funding for transit expansion either. It’s been a perfect storm of non-investment at both the local and federal level since my parents were children.

Yet, I have a nagging concern that we’re simply not thinking big enough. The MTA has a $28 billion capital plan on the table, and yet, the plan would add a handful of Metro-North stops to the Bronx and no subway stations. The three new Second Ave. Subway stations set to open this year are part of the capital plan that ended in 2015, and the next three that are a part of Phase 2 aren’t likely to be fully funded until the 2020-2024 plan. We’re not expanding, and we’re not keeping up.

So what happens next? It’s hard to deny the city is growing. Although Brooklyn’s population, for instances, remains a hair lower today than it did in the early 1950s, Queens has 50% more residents now than it did in the 1950s. Can we add transit on par with European counterparts? We would need massive investment and proper prioritization (unlike, say, the Brooklyn-Queens Connector). It’s possible but improbably as long as the city and state play a tug-of-war over control of transit planning within and around New York City.

At some point, though, this lack of investment and growth will come back to bite us as competitive cities can offer better and more efficient mobility. We should have a Utica Ave. subway, a circumferential line, extensions through Queens, and a new cross-Bronx subway (or light rail). That we do not and have no plans to build any or all of this should cause some internal urban soul searching. That it hasn’t so far is the problem.

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