Home Capital Program 2015-2019 It’s time to end the Albany-NYC proxy war over the MTA’s capital future

It’s time to end the Albany-NYC proxy war over the MTA’s capital future

by Benjamin Kabak

The MTA’s next five-year capital plan is something of a mess. It’s a $28.5 billion extravaganza that underscores how MTA construction costs are out of control and increasing rapidly. The next five-year plan ekes in just below ten years of spending from 2000-2009, and the icing on the cake is a request for a few billion dollars for Phase 2 of the Second Ave. Subway without putting a concrete cost estimate behind this next segment. It’s not hard to argue the plan is enabling rather than sustaining.

But on the other hand, it’s also vitally important for the MTA to continue ongoing upgrades, maintenance and State of Good Repair work. Without an approved capital plan, the MTA cannot continue work that ensures the subways run more or less on time 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. It’s hard to overstate this point: If Albany doesn’t approve the MTA’s capital plan before the end of the year, the MTA will have to stop working on projects that maintain and modernize the subway system. No matter how overpriced they are, the work is necessary.

So, with that in mind, it’s time for New York City and New York State leaders to drop the act and come to terms on the MTA’s capital plan. For weeks, we’ve heard Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, either through himself or through proxies such as MTA head Tom Prendergast or TWU President John Samuelsen, battle it out over funding. Cuomo won’t say where the state’s $9 billion commitment will come from; de Blasio won’t promise to up the city’s paltry contribution; and now the MTA is threatening to cut New York City elements of the capital plan. Enough.

If you care to read through the recent history, you’ve got Prendergast threatening punitive cuts to the capital program that would unfairly target New York city, and you’ve got Prendergast slamming de Blasio in the Daily News. You’ve got de Blasio calling on Cuomo to explain the source of funding while expressing valid concerns that Cuomo may continue to raid MTA funding for other state purposes. Streetsblog too is skeptical of Cuomo’s take, and like me, The Observer is sick of it all.

“The governor is being small and counterproductive. He shouldn’t make the millions of New Yorkers who depend on the MTA the pawns in the next round of this gamesmanship,” the paper’s editorial board wrote. “The region’s health, prosperity and growth depend on a modern, well-functioning system. This is not the time for childish tantrums or bullying.”

The solution is a simple one: Cuomo can do a better job explaining where his contribution will come from; his proxy-statement via the Daily News that it wouldn’t involve more borrowing does little to clarify the picture. He can also ensure that the capital plan is approved before the MTA’s ability to fund current work dries up at the end of the year. De Blasio, meanwhile, should commit to additional city funding, and he can look to Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the 7 line extension as inspiration. The city can earmark money for a particular project — say, Phase 2 of the Second Ave. Subway or the Mayor’s pet project to send the subway down Utica Ave. — and the MTA will build it. Problem solved so long as our two fighting politicians can find some common ground.

Ultimately, the MTA’s capital plan is suffering from bloat and lack of reform. When the next five-year plan includes higher costs and ever diminishing returns, someone should step in to figure out what can be done about New York’s construction costs that make them exponentially higher than those in similar cities around the world. But for now, this current plan needs to be approved. The alternative is not a pretty future at all.

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pete September 23, 2015 - 7:58 am

Kill the capital plan, it is a waste of money. Replacing brand new city buses with brand new buses. CBTC that doesn’t increase speeds and just maybe (yeah right) 1 TPH more with a decade of slow zones and N/W services changes. 3 weeks ago my train was delayed for 20 minutes due to the train ahead BIE’ing on a bag of concrete rubble left by the track workers. The CBTC system will be obsolete before the contract is finished. Trash on the tracks will be mixed with the concrete so they have to do it over again. SBS that decreases farebox revenue and doesn’t speed up the ride with no reduction of bus stops, no traffic light prioritization, and a strict DeBlasio 25 mph speed limit with every other vehicle wizzing by the city bus. Cubic will make a fortune maintaining more SBS ticket machines on the sidewalks. Contractors that always fail to deliver, keep getting bids http://nypost.com/2011/01/09/mta-plan-d-railed/ (Boyce Technologies Help Points). Mobbed up contractors keep getting bids http://www.nydailynews.com/new.....e-1.456546 http://www.mta.info/news-east-.....mta-awards . Track workers who work 1 hour a night for an 8 hour shift, and never repair anything so they get even more do nothing shifts http://www.mta.info/press-rele.....derailment . Replacing 10 year old elevators in rich neighborhoods just because they smell like piss (53rd lexington). Running railcars into the ground so more money for cornfield upstate railcar builders (LIRR M3 fleet, MNRR M4/M6). Replacing switches for no reason just to keep workers busy. Many capital plan entries are tear down MTA repair/backoffice/warehouse buildings just because they are more than 20 years old and they have money to burn for new walls instead of painting walls of an employees only space. Replace the deck on the Throgs Neck bridge for the 3rd time in 30 years due to incompetent construction specifying and maintenance. Subway station stair replacements every 5 years since they invented a new groove pattern to the steel step covers. There is your “component repair” but they can’t remove the paint that walls in magazine size pieces off the ceiling.

NYCT doesn’t fix shorts in the tunnel lighting, instead they keep the lighting section off until they get “capital money” to rip the conduit off the wall and replace it with a contractor working on a work train for months. Metro North overhauled its diesels 5 years ago, all the paint fell off of 1/4 of the units by now. Graffiti artists do more reliable and permanent painting on trains than the MTA. NYCT trains peak at 35 mph and rarely go above 30, they used to do 50 and 60 mph. NTT trains are much lighter than previous rolling stock and even have unpowered axles. Any talk of “substation upgrades” for the subway is a scam in the capital plan.

LIRR’s mainline 3rd track is dead, and suffolk 2nd track’s capacity can never be used and is pork. Still no diesel fleet changes, no orders, no leasing of railcars from other commuter railroads like every other USA commuter railroad does. $60 mil for replacing all of GCT’s train schedule screens, just because they have too much money. $2 million to install lights at MNRR’s 125 street station. $90 mil for new software for GCT’s new screens.

The only thing in the 2015-2019 capital plan is threats and blackmail that if you dont give us the money, we will double your commute time to get revenge.

Quirk September 23, 2015 - 2:44 pm

+1 So so true.

I can’t believe some people here suggested building a station at 41st street for a mind boggling $800 million, when it reality it would jump to $1.4 billion when all is said and done. It’s never going to happen anyway.

Everything is clearly a money grabbing scheme and people want more? Lesson learned: Don’t use logic on transit forums.

Ben’s blog is better than other transit sites though…

Plus, every “bickering” from Ciumo, Warren Smith, to Prendergast is a setup. It’s all acting. I mean, have people seen them on television on these 2 minute news clips? The acting is just so clumsy.

Larry Greenfield September 23, 2015 - 8:29 am

The Cuomo-di Blasio squabble is an excellent example of what’s diving our nation-wide disgust with politicians. Political posturing has become more important to them than problem solving.

It also discourages good people from seeking political office.

Larry Littlefield September 23, 2015 - 9:15 am

Cuomo and DeBlasio are fighting over who will take the blame for what has gone on for three decades. To fix it, many people will have to make sacrifices.

But since all politicians are in the same crowd, no one will tell them that. They don’t want to hear it, particularly those in older generations that benefitted one way or another.

If they really wanted to solve problems, they’d start by blaming the past rather than each other. And make sure everyone understands this.

As a matter of personal self interest, however, they either want someone else blamed, or to defer things another few years even if it makes things far worse. Have their been any consequences as a result of the absence of a capital program? How long can that go on? Until they are gone?

eo September 23, 2015 - 9:32 am

The reality is that DeBlasio will fold eventually. He does not have the high ground and if he resists to the end one way or another the Governor will force the cuts into NYC. Stealthily expect delays in the MetroCard replacement, the signal upgrades and the purchase of new rolling stock.

Larry Littlefield September 23, 2015 - 11:21 am

As occurred when the MTA caved on the LIRR contract?

Bolwerk September 23, 2015 - 10:23 am

Cuomo is offering $5 billion* for a new tunnel for New Jersey commuters that, speaking of brinkmanship, someone else will have no choice but to pay for eventually. That money could go toward the capital plan.

* Granted, at some unspecified point in the future.

JJJJ September 23, 2015 - 11:43 am

Its time for DeBlasio to order a traffic study on the Metro North and LIRR lines. If all the suburbanites start showing up 2 hours late to work maybe Someone in Cumomo’s office will realize that the MTA stretches past the city border.

Bolwerk September 23, 2015 - 11:48 am

Is this a dig at someone who specializes in traffic studies? :-\

JJJ September 23, 2015 - 12:52 pm

You cant properly understand suburban ridership demand without single tracking and slow zones. And it has to be done during the peak period because thats the most valuable data. Simple statistics.

pete September 23, 2015 - 6:45 pm

From 2012 to 2015 MN NH line’s runtime time increased by 12-15 minutes between GCT/Stamford due to ridiculous speed limits after MN’s accidents in 13 and 14. PTC will further downgrade most signal blocks by 5-15 mph on the NH line according to the plans I saw because emergency braking is not allowed as an automatic enforcement measure for a PTC violation, only a light brake application. This is because on paper it is a derailment/safety issue to dump the brakes on a freight train, so the speed zone changes must be 2 miles before the start of the PSR hazard on each side. MN officials have also officially said that any increase in TPH on NHL will come with shorter signal blocks and lower speed limits so the era of < 1hr express from Stamford to GCT is gone forever. For all official rider complaints of schedules on NHL, MN officials respond with "passenger safety" is more important.

Alex September 23, 2015 - 12:01 pm

What irks me is how Prendergast has inserted himself into this as a Cuomo proxy. Yes, they have a point, but they also ignore that New York City residents pay NYS tax.

TSTC had an excellent post yesterday about how the state and city need to work together, harping on points made by Richard Ravitch, not even the most neutral of observers but a clarion voice on the matter at hand.


Fool September 23, 2015 - 4:25 pm

The only solution to our transportation problems is more revenue. Cutting costs would unfairly fall on the Local 3 Electrician and his compatriots.

Larry Littlefield September 23, 2015 - 8:09 pm

They ought to bring signal replacement in house. And not just because of Local 3.

And contract out the LIRR. Or do through-running and let NJT do the work.

Nathanael September 24, 2015 - 1:26 am

Andrew Cuomo deliberately gerrymandered the NY State Senate in favor of the Republicans, despite the fact that numerous graft scandals had already come out about the Republican State Senators… *and* Cuomo is supposedly a member of the Democratic Party.

This man is never going to do anything useful unless he is dogged from door to door, threatened, and generally bullied into submission. Which is what the anti-fracking activists did.

For some reason the coalition which ought to be throwing Cuomo out at the next election (the “Democratic Party”, to coin a phrase) hasn’t properly coalesced.

But bluntly, Cuomo is weak because he’s alienated absolutely everyone.

Larry Littlefield September 24, 2015 - 9:33 am

“Despite the fact that numerous graft scandals had already come out about the Republican State Senators…”

I don’t know if you noticed, but there have been quite a few scandals among Democratic Assemblymembers too. And they also like gerrymandering.

Instead of focusing on Cuomo, why don’t YOU run against your local hack? I did.

Bolwerk September 24, 2015 - 9:45 am

Why the obsession with partisan “balance”? The Republikans pretty much are a living, breathing scandal hive mind. The Democrats are a bunch of petty, squabbling children who represent so many different interest groups that they can’t put up a coherent front on almost any issue.

Why don’t you run against de Blasio?

Nathanael September 26, 2015 - 1:17 am

Someone runs against my local hack every single year. And usually the other local hack. And sometimes the third local hack. Because my very small city has been carved into three pieces for the State Senate map.

Cuomo is actually the problem here, because he signed the gerrymandering. Without Cuomo, we’d have one State Senator rather than, effectively, none.


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