Over the last 27 years, the MTA has invested $75 billion in a series of capital plans designed to boost transit infrastructure in the city. From its nadir in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the MTA has slowly worked toward a state of good repair with a complete overhaul of the system’s rolling stock, the introduction of electronic fare payment systems, station rehabilitation plans and the start of the system’s first new subway line in over eight decades.
Yet, as New York City grows, as transit ridership increases, as the system grows older and technology ages, the MTA needs to invest more and more into the system. Every year, as roads and drivers are subsidized, the MTA and New York City’s transit advocates face uphill battles in securing the billions needed for New York City’s subways.
Today, with ample time for public comment, the MTA has released a proposed draft of its 2010-2014 capital plan. It is a $25.5 billion plan with core infrastructure and technology needs accounting for nearly three-quarters of the five-year expenditure plan. The agency also released a twenty-year draft calling for over $80 billion in capital investment.
Over the next few days, I’ll delve in depth into the massive PDF presentation of the proposed capital plan. For now, let’s look at the MTA’s top-line proposals. As the agency’s site on the plan says, “many of the proposed investments repair and replace fundamental components of the transit system.”
- More than 500 new subway cars, 2,800 buses and 410 rail cars;
- Signal improvements and upgrades for the commuter railroads and subways;
- Station renovations, including the introduction of a new program that targets necessary component improvements; and,
- Improved access for the disabled including audio-visual screens, low-floor buses, elevators, paratransit vehicles and ADA-compliant stations.
Meanwhile, new technologies take centerstage in this five-year plan as well. The MTA is calling for full investment in “a new contactless fare payment system to more fully integrate regional travel.” The agency wants to bring “real-time customer information” online. On the ground, the following initiatives make up a substantial part of the plan as well:
- Bus rapid transit initiatives, using low-floor buses, off-board fare collection, dedicated bus lanes and signal prioritization to speed bus service;
- New train control systems to increase capacity and safety on subways and commuter railroads; and,
- New subway transfers and strategic commuter rail investments to make the existing system work better for customers.
Finally, we get to the big-ticket expansion items. The Second Ave. Subway is still limited to just Phase I, but it’s better than nothing. Unfortunately, these items are, for the most part, projects continued from the current capital plan. To adequately meet the demands, the MTA will need a far-reaching plan that transcends the limitations of a five-year investment period. Anyway, here they are:
- First phase of the Second Avenue Subway, which will relieve overcrowding on the Lexington Avenue subway lines and carry more than 200,000 customers;
- East Side Access, which will bring save 76,000 daily customers up to 40 minutes a day by bringing LIRR trains to Grand Central;
- Extension of the 7 subway line to 34th Street and 11th Avenue, which will support development of Manhattan’s Far West Side;
- Study of Staten Island’s North and West Shore travel corridors, which will identify ways to support faster and more reliable transit service on Staten Island;
- Queens Boulevard Corridor study, which will evaluate solutions for meeting today’s high demand and serving projected population and employment growth as well; and,
- Continued study of Tappan Zee corridor, which will evaluate alternatives for the Bridge, including transit, to reduce congestion and improve mobility.
These documents are tough to digest in short order, and over the next few days, I’ll highlight the innovative aspects and much-needed parts of them. Expect a lot more analysis and a big political fight over the MTA’s future. That $25 billion price tag is steep, but not investing in transit will leave the city in a hole far larger than that.