Update (4:00 p.m.): The full proposal for the MTA’s 2015-2019 Capital Plan has been posted online in pdf form. You can read the glorious details as the MTA plans to spend over $30 billion on repairs and expansion work it and New York cannot afford to delay. I’m particularly intrigued by the gondola proposal on page 228 of the packet. Read on for my take on the whole thing.
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It takes a lot of gumption to ask for approval to spend $29 billion, but that’s what the MTA is poised to do on Wednesday. As the last item on the agenda for this week’s Board meeting, the MTA’s fiduciaries will vote to approve all $32 billion of the 2015-2019 capital plan, including a request to the state’s Capital Program Review Board to approve $29 billion of the plan. It is the MTA’s most costly plan in the 30+ year history of five-year spending programs and arguably one the agency needs to see approved the most. It should usher in a new discussion focusing around the question of just how we’re going to pay for all of this.
The two-page staff summary included as the final pages in this month’s Board books list out the planned expenditures, and although I’m still anticipating some fancy materials from the MTA detailing the spending plans, we have a glimpse of the various priorities to anticipate the full-court press. The MTA plans to spend over $23 billion on the so-called “core program” which includes rolling stock and vehicle purchases, PTC and CBTC installations, an indeterminate number of Select Bus Service routes, a contactless fare payment system, double-tracking the LIRR’s Ronkonkoma branch and, for some reason, Help Point intercoms at every subway station.
Another $5.5 billion will be spent on the sexier stuff. This request includes money to finish (ha ha) East Side Access, money to start Phase 2 of the Second Ave. Subway which would bring the line north to Lexington and 125th St., and money to add four Metro-North stations and bring the rail line into Penn Station. (That plan, called Penn Station Access is a minefield for New York State and City political interests.) The final $3.1 billion, which doesn’t require CPRB approval, will go toward the MTA’s bridges and includes money for open-road tolling at the Henry Hudson Bridge, a sign that the ongoing pilot has been a success.
So that’s the good. How about the bad? According to the MTA, they’ve managed to cobble together barely half of the money needed to fund this beast. They get a meager $657 million from the city, a few billion dollars from the feds, $6 billion in bonding, $3 billion in local funds, and $200 million from developers earmarked toward station improvement. All in, this leaves a funding gap of $15.2 billion, also the largest in MTA capital plan history.
To address this gap, the MTA proposes two solutions, and it is the closest the MTA comes to an ultimatum on requesting money from Albany:
“The MTA will work with its funding partners and stakeholders to developer proposals to fill this gap from the system’s many beneficiaries, including such option as dedicated revenue sources, partnerships that leverage private investment, additional appropriations from state, federal and local governmental partners, or new MTA debt…In the alternative, the gap can be overcome by reducing the size of the proposed programs, or increasing fares and tolls, or a combination of these options.
Fully funding the proposed Capital Program is critical to enabling the MTA to renew, enhance, and expand its to meet the mobility needs of the region. A reduced program will not keep pace with state of good repair renewal needs, adversely impacting the MTA’s ability to continue delivering safe and reliable service at current levels, and would compromise the ability to deliver enhancement and expansion projects that address the evolving needs of MTA customers and the region and to make the MTA system more resilient.”
“Dedicated revenue sources” might as well be an indirect call for Albany to debate some sort of congestion pricing plan or Sam Schwartz’s MOVE NY proposal, and I wonder if this extremely expensive and extremely underfunded five-year capital plan will finally push the state down this inevitable path of most resistance. If so, you won’t hear a peep about the MTA’s 2015-2019 capital plan until after Election Day, and even then, such a funding proposal won’t go down easy. It may, though, be the only one around a gaping hole that amounts to $15.2 billion and won’t get much smaller.