Home MTA Construction Inside the MTA’s $4.7B capital request for Sandy

Inside the MTA’s $4.7B capital request for Sandy

by Benjamin Kabak

While Service on the R line was restored to Whitehall St., trains are still unable to travel through the Montague Street tube. Signage crews made changes directing all passengers to what is usually the downtown platform for all service. (Photo by MTA New York City Transit / Marc Hermann)

During the MTA Board and Committee meetings this week, the agency will present a detailed breakdown of its request for capital funds to repair the transit system after Hurricane Sandy swept through. Overall, the MTA is asking for $4.755 billion, nearly all of which the agency expects to receive from the federal government and insurance. The MTA is also asking for permission to bond out $950 million should the need arise, but what’s missing from the document speaks nearly as loudly as what’s in it.

In the document — available here as a PDF — the MTA stresses in no uncertain words the need for approval for this money. The addition of nearly $5 billion to the MTA’s capital tab should have no impact on the operating budget, but doing nothing is not an option. “There are no viable alternatives to the proposed action,” the staff summary reads. “Delaying repair work could result in further service delays, increased safety risks, and lower reliability. Further, it is not tenable to substitute existing funds supporting ongoing capital projects for these restoration projects.”

That’s not new, and neither is the MTA’s estimated cost projections. We know South Ferry, for instance, is going to cost $600 million to repair, but now we can see why. The new document contains cost breakdowns, and maybe it makes this price tag a bit easier to swallow. It’s now just $600 million for one station that, a few years ago, cost $540 million to build from scratch. Rather, it’s $600 million for a comprehensive repair of a large station complex and nearly all of the technology within.

According to the PDF, the South Ferry/Whitehall Station costs combined will add up to $600 million. Of that total, $350 million will go toward station repairs, $20 million will go into line equipment repairs, $200 million will go into signal and communications equipment repair, and $30 million will help repair traction power. It seems clear from this breakdown that the $600 million does not include work inside the Montague St. Tunnel. Although there is no line item for the individual tunnels, the total for other signal work reaches $770 million.

No matter how we slice and dice it, it’s still a lot of money, and the bulk of it will go to South Ferry. After all, Whitehall St. is already open and in revenue service. Still, with South Ferry totaled and Whitehall not unscathed, the costs mount. We still need a serious examination of how the MTA spends money and why projects cost so much though before we can be completely satisfied by this price tag. Whether we will get one remains an open question.

But as I said, this document is notable for what it doesn’t have as well. It doesn’t have any details about preventative measures. The MTA wants nearly $5 billion to repair and restore its transit network, but it doesn’t yet know how much it needs to protect the system or what those protections will look like. As two MTA officials said to me during my last Problem Solvers event at the Transit Museum, it’s just too early to know what to do. It’s too close in time to the storm and too many resources are devoted to repair and restoration work.

For now, that’s OK. It’s important in the short term to bring the transit system back to where it was before the end of October, and for now, the MTA should be spending its limited resources on that approach. But that conversation needs to happen. It should happen this week as the MTA’s Finance Committee and full Board assess the funding request. It should happen as repair work moves forward, and it should happen after repairs are completed. The next storm will come, and it can’t cost $5 billion each time.

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Adirondacker12800 December 17, 2012 - 12:20 am

..of course I can’t find a reference. Metro North – another division of the MTA – is installing ACSES for $200 million. On all of Metro North. Probably only east of the Hudson since NJTransit has been quietly installing PTC for a long time and completed it years ago,

Nathanael December 18, 2012 - 9:44 pm

The price issue here is repairing old signal systems. It would probably be cheaper to completely replace the signal system on the IRT than to repair the antique signal system. But replacing signal systems is slow and tedious and difficult, as London discovered long ago and as NY has been learning with the Canarsie Line.

D in Bushwick December 17, 2012 - 12:40 am

Dear Lord,
Won’t you please bring another big storm soon and the MTA can ask instead for $10 Billion?
It takes only $2 Billion to build a station toward the Hudson…

BrooklynBus December 17, 2012 - 8:36 am

Noticed at DeKalb Avenue, there are no signs covering the permanent ones that say R trains go to Continental Ave.

Someone December 17, 2012 - 12:31 pm

The R service wil be back within a month, so why will the MTA waste the money to put up temporarily signs? They may just as well put up service notices on the columns that say that service terminates at Jay St.

Matthias December 18, 2012 - 9:03 am

Except that “Continental Av” is now called “Forest Hills-71 Av”

Andrew December 17, 2012 - 11:57 pm

I don’t think the permanent signs have been covered anywhere, except perhaps at stations that are directly affected, like Whitehall.

Larry Littlefield December 17, 2012 - 9:11 am

Again, I would consider doing what they should have done to start with at South Ferry. Just keep the loop station with its platform extenders, but also extend the platform to the north so it can accommodate a full train, and rehab the station.

Yes you would have the platform extenders. Yes they would have to be manned and maintained. Perhaps the transfer to Whitehall would not be available.

But the station would be more accessible because it would not be as far down. Handicapped access could probably be provided with a ramp, rather than elevators and escalators. It would be less likely to be wrecked by flooding for the same reason. If the platform extenders were quick enough, the capacity would probably be higher, given the lack of tail tracks at the new station. And the loop station would be less likely to be ruined in 10 years due to water intrusion.

And the NIMBYs who demanded that no trees be taken down and replaced? Haven’t we lost enough for them? Tell them what the cost the rest of us, and tell them to go to hell. And just fill in that new station with concrete.

John-2 December 17, 2012 - 11:21 am

The other positive (OK, only positive) here would be if the loop were to be restored and improved by extending the platform back to handle 10-car trains, the 1 train would finally have a downtown storage area for AM/PM put-ins, similar to the lower level of the City Hall Station on the BMT’s Broadway line. No more having the trains dead-head back up to 137th Street or the 240th Street yards when they’re not needed.

However, given how much the lower South Ferry station cost to build to begin with, and the 9/11 federal recovery funds that were delegated for the project, I get the feeling not only is the MTA loathe to completely abandon the station, they don’t even want most riders to remember or find out the upper South Ferry station tracks are still there and that the 1908 station could be reactivated even if only temporarily until the new station is repaired. But unless the MTA’s plan includes some sort of remedial plan for preventing the same type of Sandy flooding from happening again, they really need to decide whether or not just ADAing the old station, extending the platforms and knocking a hole through the front of the station to restore the R transfer at Whitehall isn’t the better course of action.

Someone December 17, 2012 - 12:29 pm

The South Ferry loop station hadn’t enough space to expand to 10-cars because of the switches to either end of the station. The platform extenders take 5 seconds to align, which is not quick enough for some services (look at the Union Square 4/5/6 downtown platform or Times Square S platforms sometime and see how much delay there is.) Additionally, the platform extenders would have to be removed to give that station ADA-accessibility, and the ramps alone can cost upwards of $1 million, not to mention the new tunnels. For this reason, it would just cost less to build a new station.

Why fill in the new station if it’s new? That would waste a lot of money. Any alternative will cost a lot of money, much more than what it’s taking to rehab the current station.

Andrew December 17, 2012 - 11:59 pm

A ten-car train clears the switches at the South Ferry loop.

But I don’t think gap fillers can possibly comply with ADA, and I’m not sure why Larry is harping on capacity – one of the design goals of the South Ferry terminal was to increase capacity, and it didn’t seem to have much trouble handling 1 service.

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Rob Stevens December 17, 2012 - 11:10 am

Sorry, but those #s are absurdly high, especially the “$200 million will go into signal and communications equipment repair” for less than a mile of trackage. If that is what it will take, it should be abandoned, and put in a moving sidewalk to the next station for those too feeble to walk it.

Or perhaps just put in a full time flagman, and it can operate w/o signals and communications. After all, the 3rd av el in the bx did it that way until the end, and it worked fine.

Bolwerk December 17, 2012 - 11:55 am

Yep, though they seem approximately in line with the per-km costs of the SAS.

Someone December 17, 2012 - 11:13 am

The prices listed are unbelievably very high. It does not take $770,000,000 to repair signals, unless of course the MTA is actually installing signals for CBTC. Perhaps NYC should have another big storm so the MTA could do more “repairs”.

Bolwerk December 17, 2012 - 12:52 pm

Why should CBTC cost $0.77 billion dollars either?

Someone December 17, 2012 - 1:13 pm

I was just surmising, given the fact that CBTC for the entire Queens Blvd Line, which is longer than the combined stretches of track that need signal work, is only $900 million compared to this $770 million project.

Alex C December 17, 2012 - 8:26 pm

The signal system used is old and obsolete. It’s the reason restoring classic cars is expensive: when you need obsolete old parts, you have to pay extra to get them.

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LLQBTT December 17, 2012 - 12:28 pm

Perhaps South Ferry can be built to be more leak resistant this time.

pea-jay December 17, 2012 - 10:38 pm

The MTA has included money for rail cars and impacts to the Capital Construction projects (East Side, SAS, Fulton). From what I remember those werent impacted by any flooding…

Nathanael December 18, 2012 - 9:45 pm

Workers were not able to work during the storm, which incurred extra costs. Securing the sites, demobilizing, remobilizing, cost of delays — there were also delays due to unavailability of concrete shortly after the storm.

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