Home Capital Program 2015-2019 Capital Program 2015-2019: City Council talks as CPRB rejects, for now

Capital Program 2015-2019: City Council talks as CPRB rejects, for now

by Benjamin Kabak

When the MTA unveiled its 2015-2019 capital plan a few weeks ago, agency officials knew it would not be smooth sailing. The agency had identified $32 billion in projects and $16.8 billion in steady revenue streams. The proposed budget included no contributions from New York State, and it was a challenge, in its way, for Albany to tackle the hard question of capital funding (and perhaps a Move NY Plan). It was then no surprise that the state’s Capital Program Review Board torpedoed the plan.

In a brief note issued to the MTA last Friday, the CPRB simply said, “Nope. Good try, good effort.” They didn’t offer a rational — though the humongous funding gap was clearly to blame — and sent the plan back to the MTA “without prejudice.” That was the easy part. The hard part comes next. That’s the part where the MTA pares down the plan; Albany figures out some funding scheme; and everything gets approved.

It sounds so easy, but of course, it’s not. Along the way, the MTA will have to contend with the usual array of everything. In a Bond Buyer article about the CPRB decision, one know-nothing type putting himself out as a government consultant even tried to resort to that tired “two sets of books” trope. It’s an uphill battle every five years and one that no one ever seems to remember or learn from ahead of the next fight.

Yesterday, the obstacle was City Council. Now, MTA hearings in front of City Council aren’t all charades. It’s an opportunity for politicians to get MTA officials to say some things on the record, and what they said yesterday raised some concerns. The MTA seems to be planning the next phase of the Second Ave. Subway to go under pre-existing tunnels; they keep saying B Division countdown clocks are 3-5 years away, the same timeline they’ve had for 2-3 years; and plans to build a subway to Laguardia will proceed over a bunch of NIMBYs’ dead bodies in Astoria. That’s all been around in one form or another, but yesterday’s hearing served as a reminder.

Things went south when the capital plan came out though. A read through WNYC’s Kate Hinds’ tweets reveals city politicians arguing, after the fact too, for pet projects in their neighborhoods. While Mark Weprin deserves a nod for voicing some support for the Move NY congestion fee plan, some City Council members (and, um, MTA officials sitting in the hot seat) didn’t even know the basics of BusTime.

Overall, the hand-wringing seemed largely appropriate for a political arena, but as the City Council offered up some half-hearted solutions for someone else’s problem, no one bothered to talk about their contributions to the capital plan. In the MTA’s $32 billion plan to help improve mobility in and around New York City, the city’s capital funding contributions are pegged at all of $657 million or two percent of the total required funding. This meager amount of $131 million a year assumes a 25% increase over previous capital plans and some additional money for the MTA’s bus program. Who has skin in the game? Not City Council.

Ultimately, this is all about the dollars. Those people who pony up and take the step necessary to identify funding streams can have their say in the planning process. For now, though, the political charade plays itself out. The end game is obvious, but how we get there is not.

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Larry Littlefield October 7, 2014 - 7:05 am

This is about a generation engineering consent and shifting blame.

They want to say “the MTA went with deferred maintenance and let the system go to hell” or “the MTA made itself go bankrupt after borrowing so much money” or “the MTA failed to expand the system.”

As when the CPRB turned down the capital plan.

How about names. Who has approved capital plan after capital plan at the MTA? Who is on the CPRB?

orulz October 7, 2014 - 9:51 am

Wait, let me get this straight. They are planning to bore under the pre-existing tunnels from 110th-120th street, rather than using them? Yowch. I wonder how that makes sense at all?

AG October 7, 2014 - 10:50 am

huh? what gives you the idea they won’t use those tunnels?

Benjamin Kabak October 7, 2014 - 10:51 am

The MTA statements at yesterday’s City Council hearing. They said they’re not sure if they’re going to use those tunnels for revenue service, storage with rev service tunnels running underneath, or not at all.

al October 7, 2014 - 1:12 pm

The 70’s era 99-105th st segment is hooked up to the 96th st launch box and will be used as tail tracks for layups.

It so damn close. 105th st is just a block south of 106th st. 2 blocks of cut and cover, and station work, would make it usable.

Nathanael October 12, 2014 - 10:12 pm

There’s supposed to be a station between 105th and 110th. Just do it cut and cover.

The only reason I can think of not to do this is if there’s some horrible problem acquiring the property for the launch box from 120th to 125th.

BruceNY October 7, 2014 - 1:50 pm

Because they don’t think they waste enough money already, when it already costs more to build here per mile than any other city in the developed world?!?! With the massive disruption to Second Ave. during construction of Phase I, with its interminable blasting, dust, massive, 5-story ‘temporary’ structures on the street, one has to wonder just how much worse could cut-and-cover really be?

AG October 7, 2014 - 2:03 pm

Really? Peculiar. Did they give a technical reason? if there is no technical reason – I guess I couldn’t blame that plan being part of the reason it was rejected.

Michael October 7, 2014 - 2:21 pm

Regardless of what spokespeople say at the hearings, where are the engineering and design drawings for the SAS? What do those actual working plans say about the use of previously built and paid for tunnels? Was there some changes in the plans, and for what reasons?

Why is there some kind of thought of a radical change from the previous plans? This issue needs more insight and discussion, because at first glance it does not seem to make any sense.


Benjamin Kabak October 7, 2014 - 2:29 pm

The engineering plans are well over a decade old right now. That’s a problem.

SEAN October 7, 2014 - 4:01 pm

Curious – what could have changed in a decade?

Bolwerk October 8, 2014 - 12:51 pm

They axed some three-track segment(s) back in the late aughties. Too expensive!

Rob October 9, 2014 - 2:11 pm

I would think even the mta could fit 2 tracks in a 3 track bore.

r October 8, 2014 - 10:46 am

I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised if they announce that for some mysterious reason, they won’t use the 63 St tunnels for East Side Access, but will dig new ones. And that the project cost has gone up.

IMO, if they want to replicate existing tunnels, they should start with the IRT, and replace them with more compatible, cost efficient/higher capacity ones.

sonicboy678 October 7, 2014 - 10:51 am

I can only think of two reasons. Either they plan to turn them into a ridiculous mezzanine for 116th Street or they want to use the existing ones for a possible Bronx connection.

Bolwerk October 7, 2014 - 10:52 am

It’s probably a structural integrity issue. They can’t bore through the existing segment, and it would be enormously expensive to dig the TBM out, haul it past the segment, and dig a new launch box.

Well, that’s my guess. Maybe I’m wrong.

al October 7, 2014 - 1:08 pm

Your guess might be right.

The current launch box at E96th St connects to the 70’s era 99th st to 105th st segment. Take a look at the gap between 105th st and the 110th st to 120th st segment. That is 5 blocks long. A Launch Box/station could take up 3 blocks. That leaves a gap of 2 blocks. 2 blocks of cut and cover and you’ll have 2 stations (E106th St and E116th St). Is that a good reason to scrub cut and cover?

It might be unpopular, but what if we scrub the 125th St/Park Ave-Lex Ave station and instead send it to the Bx.

Bolwerk October 7, 2014 - 1:15 pm

The idea is to relieve the Lex. You can’t do that if you can’t get MNRR and Lex riders onto SAS.

So that transfer is probably a rather critical feature.

AG October 7, 2014 - 1:59 pm

True – but connecting to the 6 before it gets to Harlem would take a lot of ppl off… Plus if it mirrored where the old 3rd Ave. El was – it would siphon 2/5 train riders as well… Though it wouldn’t help Metro North riders…

Bolwerk October 7, 2014 - 2:37 pm

I guess it’s something, but I don’t know if that’s anywhere near as useful as the current project scope.

Plus I think we sacrificed enough with SAS when it was decided not to have four tracks. Potential service to both 125th and The Bronx is provisioned for in the current design, though Bronx service would halve 125th terminal service.

sonicboy678 October 7, 2014 - 8:59 pm

In that case, extend the T to logical points in Brooklyn at the first possible chance and have that run to 125th Street and Lexington Avenue (maybe even further across Manhattan, at that); have the Q run into the Bronx and follow the old 3rd Avenue El with an extension of the D to accompany it. The Bronx segment could be built with a similar setup to Pelham’s underground segment and cut down to two tracks after Fordham Road/Plaza (whichever is deemed more appropriate). Should there be further necessity, it would only help to have a Bronx alternative at the ready.

Granted, my planning is probably awful before even considering anything else, but it’s something.

Bolwerk October 7, 2014 - 9:09 pm

I don’t see anything inherently wrong with that idea (haven’t looked closely either). The possible issue is 125th Street would be a major transfer point, and you’d be cutting its capacity in half or thereabouts. As AG points out, maybe that can be alleviated by having one of the trains go to The Bronx and meet the 6.

sonicboy678 October 7, 2014 - 10:07 pm

That’s exactly what I had in mind. I’d think it foolish to not have a transfer at 3rd Avenue-138th Street.

johndmuller October 8, 2014 - 8:08 am

In a way it makes sense, keeping the whole run at the same (deep) level, instead of bouncing up and down (although the Lex does that sort of thing, probably because they built the express as an afterthought).

Interesting that an alternative use is for storage (for off-duty trains?). Insofar as at least some of the gaps in the old work are where the new stations are going to be, they could arrange for the old tunnels to be connected through the gaps while they are filling back in the excavations for the new stations (or at least avoiding precluding that possibility).

I’m struggling to imagine a reasonable use for this, but if it amounted to an extra two tracks for part of the Phase II stretch, it could somehow be used for thru-express tracks for this segment.

From another angle, if the 125 St. branch, assuming it is built out, is using all that capacity, if it shed half its business somewhere down the line to go to Astoria (La Guardia, etc.), the extra capacity could be used to free up some room for the Bronx extension. I’m not sure that there are enough people coming from either the Bronx or from the west on 125th who want to take this trip – I would think that such a line would be better fed from the south (i.e the tourists and downtown business people) than from the north (e.g. Metro North riders and people from Columbia to La Guardia), but that would just make for extra traffic in the Phase I section.

Sure could have used 4 tracks to do both the Bronx and 125th. (I know, …, Phase I might not even have gotten started then, blah blah blah, …, more expensive, …, yadda yadda yadda, …. Sometimes, though, one has to hold one’s ground against excessive compromise and just do it right the first time and save money in the end.

sonicboy678 October 8, 2014 - 12:16 pm

I’d prefer a three-track line for peak express and emergency service without driving up costs too much. The layout would primarily correspond to Bronx service but could be used for 125th Street service, as well.

johndmuller October 9, 2014 - 6:37 pm

There are a couple of problems with three track lines, but they mainly boil down to them not really increasing capacity. Unless there is someplace to store the express trains downtown, you have to have the capacity to run them all back on just the one remaining off peak direction track. So, if you can run them all on the one track anyway, you could have moved all the rush hour direction cars on the same track too. The express people might get there a little sooner, but as we know, the locals seem to keep up pretty well and the benefits to the express are mostly in the mind (not to say that passing all those stations without stopping doesn’t feel good though).

There is also the question of which way is the peak direction as these trains on the Lex at least are going between the Bronx and Brooklyn, whose peak directions are reversed. While there may be some utility to having three track branch lines, having a three track trunk line doesn’t give you much besides emergency redundancy and out of service parking.

sonicboy678 October 9, 2014 - 7:31 pm

That was a compromise of sorts; the third track would depend entirely on the Q. Given that the idea is to have the T serve some part of Brooklyn and 125th Street between Second Avenue and roughly Broadway while the Q serves the Bronx via Third and Webster Avenues to Gun Hill and White Plains Roads, I don’t see how the third track is that much of an issue. I can understand if it’s an issue if plans to expand to the Bronx and Brooklyn fall through along with any remote chance of a 125th Street Crosstown subway line, but that’s only if all fall through entirely.

For that matter, I wonder how the MTA will go about storage and maintenance for cars designated to run on the T once that starts up.

Michael October 8, 2014 - 5:15 pm

” (although the Lex does that sort of thing, probably because they built the express as an afterthought).”

The Lexington Avenue Express were NOT BUILT AS AN AFTER-THOUGHT but were designed and built at the same time as the local tracks. The basic reason why the express tracks were built at a lower level than the local tracks simply had to do with the width of Lexington Avenue (it is not a wide street).

One really notices that Lexington Avenue is not a wide street when one looks at the 103rd Street and the 110th Street local stations and notices just how short the platforms are. That is why the 86th Street station, and the 125th Street stations were built as two-level stations! Space was needed for the larger platforms, but had to fit within the confines of the street dimensions.

The 59th Street-Lexington Avenue express level platforms (and mezzanine) were built in the late 1950’s, due to the huge crowds that used the original local-only #6 station at 59th Street and the BMT’s 60th Street station. That area was and remains a big shopping area. The lower level express tracks go deep to allow the BRT/BMT tunnels to head to/from Queens as those tracks bisect the Lexington Avenue right of way, one of the features of the Dual Contract provisions that paid for all of this, and yes all of it – planned/designed/built from the beginning!

The other reason for building the express tracks at a lower level simply had to do with the Harlem Valley. Ever wonder why the Metro-North tracks become elevated about 97th Street on the eastside of Manhattan. Yes, its the Harlem Valley! Basically the same thing is happening with the local tracks!

The Lexington Avenue subway north of the 125th Street station is all of the Bronx-bound tracks have to lower themselves for for tunnel travel under the Bronx River to reach the South Bronx. All of this is easier to see from the “rail-fan-window”, and with an understanding of Manhattan geography. Learn your transit history!


BruceNY October 8, 2014 - 8:32 pm

There was a post that appeared here about a year or so ago regarding the 59th St. Express platform opening, including the cute 1950’s-era cartoon ad which publicized it. The fact that they were able to carve this out as recently as the 1950’s (Isn’t anything in the subway built after WWII “recent”???) gives me some sort of hope that maybe one day 10th Avenue/41st. St. could happen on the #7 extension.

johndmuller October 9, 2014 - 6:52 pm

Michael says:
“… The Lexington Avenue Express were NOT BUILT AS AN AFTER-THOUGHT but were designed and built at the same time as the local tracks. …”

Mea culpa; don’t know from which twilight zone I got that bogus info, but in this universe, you seem to be correct and I was wrong.

OTOH (and I must say, not as significant a misrepresentation), someone seems to have visited the geography department of that same twilight zone when mistakenly substituting the Bronx River for the Harlem River.

Michael October 9, 2014 - 10:54 pm

I’ll give you that mistake, I was writing fast, and did not proof-read I as should have. Good call.


?ar?chitect October 7, 2014 - 10:09 am

Do we understand why the MTA is thinking about skipping the existing tunnels? Cost? Grade? ADA issues with the existing station shells? Unions?

Second question: Do they have to redo the EIS? I mean, they held a huge press conference in the shell back around groundbreaking, and reuse is in the preferred alternative…

Larry Littlefield October 7, 2014 - 11:15 am

I think the reality is the MTA is thinking about skipping the rest of Phase I (original plan, now called phase II) of the Second Avenue Subway.

With $32 billion in existing debt, underfunded pensions, a broke federal government, the nation’s highest tax burden, younger generations who earn less than those who came before — and Generation Greed still in charge and running up the tab.

johndmuller October 8, 2014 - 8:28 am

I hate to think that you could be right about this, but you do have more direct experience in this area than most.

It does make perverse sense that when a politician wants to kill something, what they do is propose actually doing it.

Let someone else do the dirty work and you look like the good-guy (“I tried to get it done”).

So in this scenario, they are just throwing it out there to be something that gets cut in order to get the rest of the (more boring) stuff funded?

lawhawk October 7, 2014 - 11:23 am

The MTA and Gov. Cuomo better sit down and hash out what he is planning on doing with the bank settlement funds. He’s suggesting an infrastructure bank, and the amount of money we’re talking about could fund several notable projects, including additional phases of SAS.

It’d be a worthy use of the funds – either directly so that the agency doesn’t have to deal with the debt, or to leverage additional financing at even lower rates to build even more.

Either way, the City has to recognize that they need subway expansion badly, and that it requires more than a token payment that barely covers a percent of the annual operating budget. If the City wants more than to just maintain a state of good repair (and the system isn’t truly in that category with stations that are in disrepair and in need of rehabilitation, let alone the unseen portions of the system that), then it must find the will and way to send more funds to the MTA to cover projects that will benefit the city and region in the long term.

lop October 9, 2014 - 10:27 pm

I thought Cuomo talked about the infrastructure bank as something to be funded by one time windfalls like the bank settlement. How would that be a better debtor than the MTA or state as a whole? What happened to the 25 billion from 2012?


John October 7, 2014 - 12:07 pm

Pardon the ignorance, but why is so much of this resting on Albany? I understand that somewhat for Metro North and LIRR stuff, but it seems like anything relating to the subway should be primarily funded by the city. Yes there should be some state funding too, but the city pitching in 2% seems ludicrously low.

Larry Littlefield October 7, 2014 - 12:38 pm

What you describe is having NYC taxpayers pay city taxes to fund the city portion of the capital plan, and NYC taxpayers paying state taxes to fund the MetroNorth and LIRR portion of the MTA capital plan.

Not everyone would think that’s fair.

My suggestion was NYC taking over the city bus system, the state cutting off operating funds for buses throughout the MTA area (with each jurisdiction paying for itself) and the MTA/state paying for rail.

sonicboy678 October 7, 2014 - 9:48 pm

Doing that would probably cause everything to worsen. The buses are notorious for horrid cost-recovery rates and the fare integration between the bus and subway systems is what really helped spark subway patronage, not to mention making buses more viable under circumstances where subways are inadequate or simply need a boost. What is needed more is some sort of vehicular traffic tax to dissuade people from using private vehicles, primarily in Manhattan. The exceptions would be shipping trucks, MTA vehicles, school buses, NJT and PA vehicles, buses that utilize space at either PABT or GWB Bus Terminal, Sanitation vehicles, buses loaned to the MTA, PA, or NJT in a pinch, official cabs, emergency services, and special vehicles designated to transport the elderly or disabled (think AAR).

It’s by no means popular, but it’s more of a necessity than we would like to admit.

AG October 7, 2014 - 2:01 pm

Sure… However – if NYC was able to keep more of the revenue it sent to Albany it could do it. Likewise if Albany didn’t have such an imbalance in what is sent to Washington vs. what comes back – the state wouldn’t have as many budget issues.

Larry Littlefield October 7, 2014 - 2:53 pm

That imbalance was unjust when the city was flat on its back, but it is inevitable now.

The average worker in Downstate New York’s private sector (excluding Wall Street) earned $75,000 in wages and benefits in 2013, compared with just $35,000 in Upstate New York.

The average public employee earned $100,000 downstate and $75,000 upstate.


AG October 7, 2014 - 4:35 pm

Ok – but I don’t understand how you relate that to funding schemes from state to county and local levels. The argument is that the city should be responsible… So let the highly paid city residents keep more of their own money at home and it would be easier for that to happen. Same with NYS to DC arguments.

Larry Littlefield October 8, 2014 - 9:12 am

Higher incomes mean higher federal and state tax payments. That in itself creates an imbalance, even if poorer areas don’t get anything extra on the spending side. That’s if you are talking about having the city get more out of the state and federal governments.

On the other hand, if you are talking about more local revenues rather than state and federal revenues, some of which will be diverted elsewhere, it makes sense.

Tex Bennett October 12, 2014 - 4:22 pm

Third or Forth track a necessity. Just ride the #1 train from 242nd street to 96th street. This is the slowest subway ride and the unused third track does not go all the way. Thank heavens for the 168th street A train transfer.
The Els demonstrated the need for at least a third track. This need was abandoned when building Phase one of the 2nd avenue subway. The 2nd avenue El express service was faster than the 2nd avenue subway of the future. Need transportation experts not bean counters to determine public needs.

T Rider October 13, 2014 - 9:24 pm

It’s been a while since I’ve seen the EIS, but I recall that there were two pieces of 2nd Ave subway built (and then abandoned) in the UES in the 1970s.

One cut n cover section ran from 99th St to 105th St, the second cut n cover section ran from 110th St to 120th St.

The section from 99th St to 105th St has been connected to the new 96th St station being built as part of SAS Phase I, and these tracks will be used to layup trains north of the 96th St station before SAS Phase II is opened.

The gap between 105th St and 110th St will become the new 106th St Station and connecting tunnels during SAS Phase II construction. Because of the soil conditions this will likely be built as cut n cover too.

The completed tunnels between 110th St and 120th St appear to have a 116th St station shell included in their original construction, so it is likely the new 116th St station will be cut n cover so that they can gain access to the completed tunnels and the unfinished station shell to build the new platforms, then the mezzanine and entrances &tc. on top of the completed tunnels. I haven’t been able to determine just how much of the 116th St station shell was actually built in the 1970s, nor if the mezzanine was actually included in the original construction contract.

North of 120th St, there are plans for new tunnels to swing towards the east edge of 2nd Ave to be within the minimum radius to make the westwards curve under 125th St. Because parts of this curve will also have to go under private property, a TBM is proposed be used to quickly descend deep enough under 2nd Ave before having to tunnel under various buildings with minimal underpinning necessary. Even though this is a small length of tunnels for a TBM to do (the short blocks from 121st St to 125th St and a long block from 2nd Ave to 3rd Ave), the tight curve and existing buildings make use of the TBM cheaper than property acquisition.

Also from the previously-completed tunnels north of 120th St, there are plans for tunnels to continue north under 2nd Ave up to the Harlem River bulkhead. These tunnels will be built descending northwards so that later this millennium they can be connected to new tunnels under the Harlem River which will allow 2nd Ave trains to run into the Bronx. It appears to me that the curved tunnels into 125th St will be deeper than these straight tunnels under 2nd Ave, so although they are descending to get under the Harlem River, at 124th St they will still pass over the curved tunnels – then continue their descent to the edge of the Harlem River. These tunnels will become the new layup tracks when the SAS Phase II is opened.

There will be tail tracks west of the new Lex-125th St station, but I think they will be used primarily for turning trains during the day, rather than mid-day layups.

It would make sense that there should be a diamond interlocking at 121st St to handle the train movements at the junction of the 125 St and the 2nd Ave branches north of 120th St

There may be some partial truth to the notion of ‘boring under’ subway tunnels as part of SAS Phase II, but many people are confused about what was already built in the 1970s, and the plans for two branches of SAS north of 120th St. Since these two branches will be all-new construction, and the curved section actually does pass under the straight section, some people are partially correct that the bored (curved) section passes under other subway tunnels, but wrong by assuming this means the 1970 –era tunnels south of 120th St can’t or won’t be used.


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