Home Capital Program 2015-2019 MTA Capital Program 2015-2019: News Roundup

MTA Capital Program 2015-2019: News Roundup

by Benjamin Kabak

As the MTA gears up for a full-court press in Albany and City Hall concerning funding for its next five-year capital plan, reactions are coming in from across the spectrum. Few people are openly discussing congestion pricing, but one developer and MTA Board member spoke at the meeting yesterday advocating for East River bridge tolls. I’m sure we’ll hear more about that in the coming weeks and months. After all, the MTA doesn’t expect to resolve this $15 billion gap for another year or so.

I’ll have more on the specifics of the plan soon, but let’s round up the news and reactions in rapid response form.

The tireless Dana Rubinstein has two excellent pieces on the capital plan. They’re both worth a read. In one, she notes that the capital plan has appeared before the MTA Reinvention Commission had a chance to do much more than hold a bunch of hearings. They were supposed to come up with ideas to better fund and support transit in and around New York City, but I have been skeptical of the idea since the start.

In her other piece, Rubinstein tackles the thorny question of city funding. Direct contributions from City Hall to the MTA’s capital plan peaked during construction of the 7 line extension but still accounted for only around 10 percent of the total funding. In this five-year plan, the MTA expects very little from Mayor Bill de Blasio’s New York, but various factions in the agency want to change that. Can the MTA convince the city to fork over a whopping $125 million a year (up from $100 million) in direct contributions? I would hope so.

Staten Islanders are getting two new boats out of the feds for Sandy recovery and a brand new fleet of rolling stock from the Staten Island Railway. Still, advocates are not happy the next five-year plan does not include money for the North Shore BRT line or the West Shore light rail plan. More on that soon.

As part of a funding scheme, the MTA wants to use the payroll tax to bond out more capital money. This could lead to pressure on the operating budget (in the form of toll and fare increases and more debt obligations), but it is one way the MTA can stretch its existing revenue streams to beef up its capital spending.

That should give you enough to read and ponder for now.

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BoerumBum September 25, 2014 - 9:45 am

As much as I cringe at the prevalence of SI-based anti-transportation whinging and stonewalling, I feel that if there were more transportation options on Staten Island, there would be more people (and politicians) who support transportation there.

I hope that North Shore and/or West Shore buildouts make it into future capital plans… perhaps with provisions for a Kill Van Kull crossing.

Larry Littlefield September 25, 2014 - 9:48 am

“As part of a funding scheme, the MTA wants to use the payroll tax to bond out more capital money.”

The MTA has a 20-year need statement. With all the future payroll tax revenues gone after five years, because they will have to be used to pay the bonds for 30, will anyone dare to ask what happens next?

No one wants to talk about it. No one wants to think about it. And no one wants to tell the truth about it.

Where is the outrage?

BoerumBum September 25, 2014 - 9:59 am

“Where is the outrage?”

You’ve got us all covered.

Larry Littlefield September 25, 2014 - 11:03 am

It’s been building up for 15 years plus. The MTA’s debt has been soaring for that long, and so have other similar future-wrecking trends.

Once day people will wake up and be just as outraged. But the beneficiaries will be gone, and others will be blamed by the stupid. You see some of this playing out right now in Chicago and Illinois, where they are desperately trying to avoid facing the consequences as the walls close in.

Nathanael September 25, 2014 - 7:25 pm

Frankly, most of this could be solved with a good dose of inflation (to wipe out the old debts and obligations — which aren’t inflation-adjusted) and a booming economy.

Of course, nobody in power seems to be interested in creating a booming economy. This is done by paying poor people to do stuff (Civilian Conservation Corps style). Instead, those in power seem to be all about stealing from the poor to give to billionaires.

Very Versailles.

Bolwerk September 25, 2014 - 11:38 am

Where is the outrage about any discrete debt issuance? Or, to invert the question, where is the justification for any discrete debt issuance from policymakers?

I’m not histrionic about deficits, probably because I have a better-than-laymen understanding of finance and economics, but most people don’t split hairs. To them, there is no good debt or bad debt. There is just debt, which is either good or bad. Most people instinctively believe it’s bad. Demagogues use this fact to undermine good fiscal policy a lot, very successfully especially in Europe. OK, part of the problem is the politicians making these decisions may not be around in three more election cycles. They will die, change offices, whore out their insider knowledge to the private sectorretire, get convicted, whatever. A few will even lose an election.

Still, somehow, the capital plan needs to be financed. I’d rather dump the payroll tax to stimulate hiring, borrow a little more, and implement CP. But I don’t have any say in this matter and, since I’m not a Demon-krat, even my votes don’t count. 🙁

Bolwerk September 25, 2014 - 11:25 am

Re Rubinstein’s commment on the Reinvention Committee: heh. This is a committee that, from the beginning, ruled out all the stuff that was not invented here. We probably want nothing that will come out of it. Also, the North Shore BRT line should be a North Shore LRT line to go with the West Shore LRT line. Put BRT on existing streets, or it’s not ever worth the expense.

Re funding: it’s time to reconsider congestion pricing. And by “reconsider,” I mean “implement.” There is no good reason not to do it. “Me-me-me” is what the opponents scream. Economically productive drivers benefit from CP.

lop September 25, 2014 - 12:40 pm

Which existing street would you put BRT on to serve the north shore? The planning docs had buses running elsewhere then turning on to the north shore busway. You either require a transfer – in addition to changing to the ferry, then a subway in manhattan, or you run streetcar tracks to cover multiple bus routes where you already have pavement. Or you ignore the lengthy transfer laden commute for Manhattan commuters and focus on intra island and NJ bound travel to justify rail over pavement. Neither option seems great.

I think better is to do nothing for now. If there’s ever money for a tunnel to Manhattan then send a heavy rail branch down the north shore line.

Bolwerk September 25, 2014 - 12:59 pm

Admittedly haven’t been there in a while, but Richmond Terrace looks wide enough to me. The POV traffic probably isn’t that heavy anyway, so the penalty to drivers is low.

North Shore Rail should be preserved for eventual connection to HBLR or something along that line. This is low-hanging fruit.

Ralfff September 26, 2014 - 12:43 am

Bus service is already great on Richmond Terrace and it serves almost half water in its walkshed. BRT on the North Shore is a solution in search of a problem since the heavy rail infrastructure already exists. LRT anywhere in SI should be contingent on this West Shore idea, which I don’t really care about but at least doesn’t create an entirely new transportation mode with no existing infrastructure.

Ferryboi September 26, 2014 - 12:48 pm

“Bus service is already great on Richmond Terrace…”

Holy Crap, that has to be the funniest, most ill-informed sentence I’ve ever seen on SAS, and I’ve been here for years. Richmond Terrace bus service is ATROCIOUS on the best of days. I can’t tell you how often I’ve waited for 30, 45, sometimes 60 minutes for an S40 bus DURING RUSH HOUR. The buses just don’t come, even with a 15-min headway schedule. The MTA has made it quite clear that they’ve all but given up on the North Shore and riders need to fend for themselves.

Michael September 26, 2014 - 12:51 pm

Richmond Terrace is basically a 2-lane roadway from stem to stern, except for a small portion of the roadway about a mile closer to the ferry terminal, where it becomes a 4-lane roadway. Believe me, I KNOW Richmond Terrace VERY WELL!

Contrary to repeated popular opinion is there is simply NO as in ZERO OPERABLE heavy rail infrastructure existing from the North Shore Railroad. Most of the railway exists in broken long gone covered over elements, elements that have been washed away by time, water erosion and other land uses! The only “railroad” exists in the minds and histories of transit fans – but not actually on the ground! Do not let that small portion of railway by the baseball stadium fool anyone!

The Bus-Rapid-Transit plan was an attempt to marry usage of a rebuilt transit-way with benefits for riders within the interior portions of the island, where a heavy-rail-transit only “North Shore Rail” simply does not go!

Why, oh why do transit fans keep talking about reviving an old transit line that simply does not meet today’s needs? That does not go to places (work/shopping/school) where the folks want to go to today? Those places are on the interior parts of Staten Island, not along the shore line! Those who live here know that!

The land-use pattern on the island has changed over the decades! Does the North Shore Railroad go the College of Staten Island? – NO! Does it goes to SI Shopping Mall? – NO! Does the North Shore Railroad help with travel to the medical centers/work places/shopping places that are in the middle and southern parts of the island? – NO! What about the proposed Light-Rail-Line – would that help with any of these trips? – NO!

Even the folks talking about a Light-Rail-Line to New Jersey basically suggest that somehow one takes a LRT from Staten Island to the New Jersey LRT and the PATH system to reach the World Trade Center! And some folks treat that as a fantastic idea! (Yes, that is sarcasm!) The proposed LRT line is simply a way to use the western island highway system to skirt major shopping/job centers/residential areas – to provide some folks on the lower south-western portion with a quicker trip to New Jersey.

Both the proposed LRT, and the idealized revived North Shore Railroad ideas – leave much of Staten Island having to still use MTA transit buses as the main ways of getting around the island, to/from school, shopping, medical and other trips!

The seemingly hated Bus-Rapid-Transit idea was an attempt to spread around the benefits of new transit infrastructure to not just the exterior portions of the island, but also to the interior portions where the schools/shopping/medical and other places actually EXIST TODAY, using existing vehicles with known capabilities & maintenance issues, etc! That is called making a real plan, not just nostalgia tripping!


Bolwerk September 26, 2014 - 7:07 pm

Nobody is “nostalgia tripping,” least of all me. BRT on the North Shore is maligned because it’s silly and wasteful, almost certainly more more expensive to build in the near term and more expensive to operate in the long run. BRT doesn’t make sense unless it can use existing infrastructure.

using existing vehicles with known capabilities & maintenance issues, etc!

The capabilities and maintenance issues of LRVs are known the world over.

Hello: they cut costs! Don’t be NIH.

Michael September 27, 2014 - 11:31 am

“The capabilities and maintenance issues of LRVs are known the world over.”

Except in New York City!

We do not have maintenance and repair facilities for light rail vehicles! Any light rail system will need such facilities to operate, especially one built on Staten Island.

That is in complete contrast to buses or subways, of which we do have maintenance and repair facilities, and a long history of working with such vehicles.

A Bus-Rapid-Transit system is simply a fancy name for street buses using a limited access two-lane roadway. What could be simpler? One could use SBS-type articulated buses, or regular buses. The maintenance and cost issues are KNOWN. I’d really like to see an example of BRT in NYC (the SBS buses) that does not use the city’s already existing streets!

The bus lines that feed into a BRT pathway are not restricted, but can be placed on already existing streets and avenues to serve a variety of neighborhoods, work places and destinations. There is flexibility in the placement of routes that can use an established BRT pathway. The benefits do not need to be limited to those in proximity as in the case of an LRT.

Building a LRT-system involves making a fixed pathway that removes street-space from regular motor vehicles. Anyone who has followed some of the issues with the bike lanes on Staten Island, as well as the complaints concerning the SBS-79 on Staten Island – knows damn well that permanently removing street space for cars is a non-starter of a conversation about transit improvements.

It is not “silly” to be actively involved in the planning issues that affect my community, to attend the community district meetings, to attend presentations on transit and other issues, to be involved in the re-construction efforts after Hurricane Sandy in both Staten Island and Brooklyn. None of that is “silly” to me.


lop September 27, 2014 - 1:52 pm

The mta study said that the SIR maintenance and storage yard had enough room to store additional heavy rail cars off peak for projected level of service on a north shore heavy rail installation. Same if they use light rail, though that would require them to buy maintenance equipment and store parts for a second set of vehicles of course, it would still fit in the same facility. The costs involved aren’t so completely unknown. Why would it be all that much different from buying a new model subway car? You’re overselling this point a bit I think.

Bolwerk September 27, 2014 - 3:20 pm

So you’re saying New Yorkers, who can operate operate one of the most extensive rapid transit systems in the world, are just too stupid to make the rather minor leap from bus/subway maintenance to tram maintenance? The facilities can be the same. Hell, at least one bus facility is a former tram facility.

Also, note that I said the ROW should be reserved, not that this should be done soon.

A Bus-Rapid-Transit system is simply a fancy name for street buses using a limited access two-lane roadway. What could be simpler?

Nothing, and as long as there are no reasons for anything bigger/better and there are existing streets, that can be fine.

One could use SBS-type articulated buses, or regular buses.

Sometimes. Sometimes not. It depends on the route and ridership profile. If you have a problem as simple a lot of turns, buses are not a very good solution period.

The maintenance and cost issues are KNOWN.

They’re known for trams too, and any halfway decent accountant can cost them out. Transit costs are public information. Again, when the conditions are right, trams save money.

I’d really like to see an example of BRT in NYC (the SBS buses) that does not use the city’s already existing streets!

So we should sink a lot of money into a mode with a lot of severe limitations because you would like it?

If BRT is to be cost-effective, find a place for it on the street. This is unlikely to be hard.

Building a LRT-system involves making a fixed pathway that removes street-space from regular motor vehicles.

That’s what BRT does.

None of that is “silly” to me.

Funny, because none of the stuff you mentioned is what I called silly. Read my initial paragraph a few more times until you understand it.

Nathanael September 27, 2014 - 11:11 pm

Extend HBLR over the Goethals and you’ve got your connection to a light rail maintenance facility. :sigh:

That’s a no-brainer in planning terms, but state border! State border!

Nathanael September 27, 2014 - 11:13 pm

Sorry, brainfart. Bayonne Bridge of course. (Goethals later. 🙂

lop September 27, 2014 - 3:29 am

Look at how the ROW goes under the bridge. Getting a train up there won’t be cheap. And which way would it run to/from the bridge in SI? Both?

A west shore line that can take better take advantage of existing bridge structures is a better fit to connect to HBLR.

Bolwerk September 27, 2014 - 11:29 am

Why not do both? Or, tie the North Shore service into West Short Service and make both better and totally solve all of Michael’s easily fixable complaints?

(BTW, “preserve the ROW” != build it now)

marv September 29, 2014 - 10:57 pm

An HBLR extension over the Bayonne Bridge should have 3 branches:
*a west shore branch
*a Richmond Ave/Richmond Parkway branch terminating at the Huguenot SIRR station
*a branch from 440 east along the expressway to either the Verrazano Bridge or even over it to the 59th (brooklyn) subway station


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