Home View from Underground Rounding up the Reaction: Cuomo’s plans are going to cost how much?

Rounding up the Reaction: Cuomo’s plans are going to cost how much?

by Benjamin Kabak

Now that the dust has settled on Andrew Cuomo’s transportation and infrastructure tour of New York, the Empire State’s political watchers have had time to digest and assess the governor’s proposals. Inspired Robert Moses, the Master Builder who has been no stranger to controversy in life or death, Cuomo has promoted a bunch of plans aimed at improving the way people get into and out of New York City with only a superficial proposal to improve the customer experience for subway riders rather than system capacity or reach. A new Penn Station might be aesthetically pleasing, but where is the firm commitment to see through Gateway Tunnel, a project that, unlike those proposed last week, will extend well beyond the end of Cuomo’s tenure as governor?

I’ve said my share over the past few days, and I reiterated yesterday, these proposals, especially with regards to the subway system and inter-borough transit, leave me wanting more. But Cuomo likes his flashy ideas and hasn’t shown a willingness to take on bigger issues, including spending efficiencies, work-rule reform, and project staffing levels. But enough from me; let’s heard what everyone else has to say.

We start with cost. How much is this all going to cost? Well, according to a Cuomo aide, the full spending package comes in at $100 billion dollars which leads me to play this video clip for you:

It’s not clear how Cuomo’s team arrived this figure, what it includes and doesn’t include or how they’re going to fund $100 billion worth of infrastructure projects. But that is one large number, and already, commentators are wondering how Cuomo will fund it. As Jimmy Vielkind explored today, everyone is focused on cost. “Where’s the money going to come from?” John DeFrancisco, a State Senator from Syracuse, asked yesterday. “Once again, this sounds great — running around the state telling people a wonderful thing for them. But you have to take a look at what the cost is and what the other dollars could be used for.”

Vielkind adds:

For infrastructure, the state has a pot of $2.1 billion in un-budgeted proceeds from settlements and penalties wrought by the Department of Financial Services against major banks and insurers, $650 million of which was secured in the past year. Last year, Cuomo directed a much larger pot of settlement money to the Thruway Authority, to settle a dispute with the federal government over Medicaid over-billing and to fund an economic development competition.

The state currently projects spending between $3 billion and $4 billion for capital projects during the next four years, and borrowing another $6.5 billion to $7 billion for capital needs. Between 40 percent and 45 percent of that is marked for spending on transportation.

Some of this should factor into the $22 billion for upstate roads and bridges, but it’s unclear how much and exactly what programs — money for the Thruway Authority? A toll rebate program? $200 million for airports? — Cuomo has put into that overall number.

Meanwhile, Move New York proponents see Cuomo’s proposals as another opportunity to push through a rational traffic pricing plan. As Erik Engquist detailed, congestion pricing proponents see the revenue generated by the plan as a way to fund infrastructure improvements while disincentivizing driving. After all, Cuomo spent considerable time on Friday discussing mass transit usage as the best and most reliable way to ensure continually growth in and around New York City, and what better way to achieve that goal than to start pricing traffic as it should be?

But beyond the lofty price tags, a pair of pieces raise concerns regarding Cuomo’s approach. This too is a point I brought up last week. Much like Cuomo’s ill-conceived Laguardia AirTrain idea, his infrastructure projects aren’t the ones advocates view as most necessary, and many come across as aesthetic fixes to institutional problems or, in other words, lipstick on a pig. Jeremy Smerd in Crain’s says the governor has leapfrogged his agencies:

His love for a big project with his fingerprints on it seems to ignore the careful planning undertaken by the agencies charged with thinking about these things. The governor last week proposed adding a third track to the Long Island Rail Road—a project that was not important enough to make it into the MTA’s capital plan—and a Long Island-Westchester car tunnel that has gone nowhere since being conceived in the 1960s. His $1 billion idea to expand the Javits Center seems as slapdash as his plan four years ago to put a convention center next to Aqueduct. Consider that a similar Javits plan pegged at $1.7 billion in 2005 was canceled when the Spitzer administration found it would cost as much as $5 billion.

Cuomo’s vision for Penn Station seems equally curious. Rather than right a historical wrong that saw the destruction of the original Beaux-Arts building, he will keep Madison Square Garden, severely limiting the ability to bring light and space into the station’s congested warrens. The plan also appears to ignore a binding agreement giving the Related Cos. and Vornado Realty Trust the right to develop the Farley post office across the street into Moynihan Station. If these ideas are not coming from the agencies overseeing infrastructure, where are they coming from?

And finally, in a piece I’ll return to later this week, Philip M. Plotch and Nicholas D. Bloom urge the governor to get New York’s current infrastructure house in order before over-extending for expansive and expensive projects that don’t adequately address capacity concerns. I have some disagreements with Plotch and Bloom’s piece that I’ll discuss in a day or two, but they bring up some valid points regarding capital priorities. In the end, the overall reaction to Cuomo’s plans seems to be that $100 billion could be better spent and somehow doesn’t go far enough.

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Larry Greenfield January 12, 2016 - 12:09 pm

All it takes is a look at the $4B PATH station at Ground Zero, the $10B East Side Access project and Governors Cuomo’s and Christie’s unwillingness to lead on trans-Hudson rail tunnels to realize these guys are never going to solve the regions’ transportation planning or funding problems. We are faced with such a disjointed array of competing political organizations and jurisdictions that I’m afraid this group of leaders is inadequate to the task of finding solutions.
Even though there are some good ideas around for funding, such as the Move New York Plan, I’m afraid we’ll have to wait for some new political leaders to take office before any major positive changes in funding take place.

Larry Littlefield January 12, 2016 - 2:47 pm

“I’m afraid we’ll have to wait for some new political leaders to take office before any major positive changes in funding take place.”

Let me know about your campaign for state assembly or state senate. Hopefully there will be others.

Otherwise, forget it. Those jobs are passed down within the families, and not just the Cuomo family.

Nathanael January 12, 2016 - 11:25 pm

The key is to win the governor’s office with a candidate who *won’t sign the bipartisan gerrymandering*.

The moment the district borders are de-gerrymandered even *slightly* — drawn by a judge, for instance — it’ll all get MUCH more competitive VERY quickly.

Nathanael January 12, 2016 - 11:26 pm

(Signing the bipartisan gerrymandering scheme to keep the incumbent criminals in power in the Senate and Assembly was the moment which I can never forgive Andrew Cuomo for. And nobody else should forgive him for it either.)

Bolwerk January 13, 2016 - 7:48 am

That was asshole, but I doubt it’d make overall legislative composition more “competitive.” Its probable effect probably would be locking Democrats into long-term control of the Assembly and making the Senate more competitive. That would actually be a big improvement over the situation we have now, but it’s understandable why Republikans didn’t go for it.

These “Independent Democrat” cretins are not making things better.

Duke January 12, 2016 - 11:34 pm

NOBODY is going to solve any of our transportation problems so long as a project like ESA continues to cost $10 billion. Come up with as many revenue raising schemes as you want, construction is still ridiculously expensive for no rational reason and unless that is fixed there are always going to be funding problems.

Larry Greenfield January 13, 2016 - 8:08 am

I agree that the projects are expensive and think they present a strong case for rationalizing the regions’ transportation infrastructure funding and spending by somehow combining the MTA ad Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. The amount of money is limited and the projects need to be prioritized much more rationally based on the number of people they serve, not on the personal preferences of this or that governor or mayor.

AG January 13, 2016 - 5:13 pm

You are absolutely correct. Reducing costs is the only thing that will help… Not another election. Frankly I wish there was some way to get an independent body to make the necessary changes.

Larry Littlefield January 12, 2016 - 2:13 pm

“The governor last week proposed adding a third track to the Long Island Rail Road—a project that was not important enough to make it into the MTA’s capital plan.”

Don’t lump that in with some of the others. That is a project the politicians took out before Cuomo put it in.

The only problem with East Side Access and the third track is how much they cost and the fact that they are not done yet. Every day without them hurts Long Island.

Maggie January 12, 2016 - 2:59 pm

I keep thinking of the Austin Powers clip where Number Two gets around to telling Dr Evil they own a factory that makes miniature models of factories.

It’s like Cuomo maybe got some great new rendering software for Christmas, deleted all his budgeting programs to make space for the install, and then went hog-wild with it over the break.

I also love the combination of this Cuomo quote with the outstanding bet on which opens first: Star Wars episode VIII in May 2017, or the MTA’s SAS phase 1.

“Number one: reliability. Number one: when the trains says it’s coming at 12:07. You know what that means? It means the train has to come at 12:07. Not 12:08, not 12:10, not 12 – 12:07! Its reliability, first.”

(Of course, I get the difference between capital projects and operations. I just think the dissonance on meeting schedules is so classic it’s funny).

Herb Lehman January 12, 2016 - 3:25 pm

Definitely mixed emotions about all of this.

On the plus side, this is better than nothing. I’ll take a nicer Penn Station, a third LIRR track, and a bunch of countdown clocks over nothing, which is essentially the sum total of what we’ve gotten from Cuomo to this point.

On the minus side, all these billions of dollars won’t add a millimeter of train track on Second Avenue (let alone Staten Island, eastern Queens and other transit deserts), won’t renovate any stations that really need the renovations (no disrespect intended to the fine folks of Richmond Valley or Kingston-Throop Avs), and won’t improve the headways on my commute or anyone else’s.

AG January 12, 2016 - 5:29 pm

As to “improving the headways”…. Well I’m planning to write the Governor about just that. If enough people do it then maybe he will hear. No sense in arguing among ourselves. Someone got his ear to make him speed up these projects. I’m hoping that enough letters (well emails) can spur him to get them to speed up implementation of CBTC for reliability and capacity reasons. I first plan to say “thank you”… As an old Sicilian once told me “you catch more flies with honey than vinegar”.

Streater January 12, 2016 - 6:12 pm

It’s almost impossible to fix an organizations problems… the only way to solve the problems with the MTA is to create a new organization or privatize it. The new organization wouldn’t be constrained by all the bureaucracy since it would be a clean slate. The new organization would only be taking over the assets from the MTA.

But why not privatize? NYS would make a lot of money and it would be better run… think about it… money from the sale and then all the property is on the tax rolls to be taxed every year… which means money from the city.

It could be run similarly to the Hong Kong system, where they have special powers to develop land around new stations… which will promote growth in the system.

The system was made public years ago because of the misconception that the subway was making tons of money, and the city wanted a piece of the pie… instead, the system has just declined ever since… taken over by the state, for a continued decline… but while it’s change hands… guess what? Still stuck with the same unions!

AG January 12, 2016 - 6:50 pm

Your last sentence sums it up. NY City and State are firmly Democratic Party voters. The unions of the state own the party. We get what we ask for.

Nathanael January 12, 2016 - 11:22 pm

The ‘upstate roads and bridges’ money has the same problem. Cuomo is proposing to freeze or cut tolls on the Thruway, which is a terrible idea — giving away money now, with no benefit later.

He is *not* proposing to build useful stuff which will last us 100 years, like the high-speed rail plan.

Eric F January 13, 2016 - 9:06 am

Upstate NY is basically Appalachia. Imposing high tolls on commerce up there is just another reason for businesses to not locate up there. Thruway tolls are high and a toll freeze is likely viewed as giving businesses some cost visibility for the near term.

Bolwerk January 13, 2016 - 10:11 am

Viewed that way or not by some parochial politicians, it doesn’t exactly take an MBA to understand why the idea is nonsense. A 7-axle truck hauling 24k lbs of freight (half loaded or thereabouts) is currently asked to pay about 35/100ths of a penny per pound in tolls to travel the full length of the Thruway.

Eric F January 13, 2016 - 11:27 am

vs. zero if they are based in the Lehigh Valley or the I-80 corridor.

Spuds January 13, 2016 - 12:06 pm

The I-78 bridge over the Delaware River heading east has a toll and so does I-80. So your 0 is not so

Bolwerk January 13, 2016 - 12:12 pm

Even ignoring those routes aren’t exactly perfect substitutes, and that neither avoids tolls to New England, aren’t those much more congested routes?

Avoiding a toll and paying in more hours billed by the driver likewise doesn’t put anyone ahead.

Spuds January 13, 2016 - 11:52 am

Would you kindly explain by what you by calling Upstate NY “basically Appalachia”?

Spuds January 13, 2016 - 12:00 pm

*what you meant

Eric F January 13, 2016 - 3:30 pm

It’s an economicically moribund area, losing population, best and brightest flee. That sort of thing. Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse used to be important cities. I know the weather up there is horrid, but it’s not worse than Minneapolis which seems to be doing more or less ok.

AG January 13, 2016 - 5:35 pm

Minneapolis is definitely an outlier among cold weather cities. While Chicago is certainly powerful – it’s hard to say it is “thriving” right now. Minneapolis is really the only thriving cold weather city in the nation (NYC and Boston are much more moderate being on the coast so not included in that) that does not have oil or gas.

AG January 13, 2016 - 5:36 pm

That being said – Toronto to the north is thriving and Montreal is doing pretty well also… Strange.

Bolwerk January 13, 2016 - 12:12 pm

Well, part of Appalachia literally is upstate (at least depending what you call upstate), so he can’t be completely wrong on that.

Duke January 13, 2016 - 7:09 pm

The trouble I have with the claim of “high tolls” is that the New York State Thruway is actually a very inexpensive toll road compared to its peers. Compare the following for traveling the full length of the road (cash rates, for simplicity sake):

NYS Thruway: $22.75 for 496 miles, 4.6 cents per mile
PA Turnpike: $48.90 for 359 miles, 13.6 cents per mile
NJ Turnpike: $13.85 for 117 miles, 11.8 cents per mile
OH Turnpike: $17.75 for 239 miles, 7.4 cents per mile
MA Turnpike: $7.10 for 135 miles, 5.3 cents per mile
IN Toll Road: $10.20 for 157 miles, 6.5 cents per mile

I could keep going, but you get the point. The NYS Thruway is exceptionally inexpensive, and any claim that the tolls are too high and need lowering is laughable.

adirondacker12800 January 13, 2016 - 7:46 pm

The toll for the Tappan Zee is collected southbound/eastbound only. Coming from Ohio to New York City the toll is 27.75.

Eric F January 13, 2016 - 8:57 am

Great piece. I like how you brought together several reactions from around the state.

I think Crains is way off:

“Penn Station seems equally curious. Rather than right a historical wrong that saw the destruction of the original Beaux-Arts building, he will keep Madison Square Garden”

I agree that it would be great if MSG were moved. It’s presence atop Penn constrains the station. It’s also perhaps the ugliest exterior in midtown. But he’s operating in the realm of the possible. He appears to have the Dolans on board, probably facilitating real movement on the project. And he’s poised to remove the Felt Forum from the station footprint, which is a huge win.

“His love for a big project with his fingerprints on it seems to ignore the careful planning undertaken by the agencies charged with thinking about these things.”

(1) you mean the agencies that have gotten nothing done?; (2) the way to get a politician to actually build stuff is to allow him to get his fingerprints on them.

“The governor last week proposed adding a third track to the Long Island Rail Road—a project that was not important enough to make it into the MTA’s capital plan”

That is daft. The third track was taken off as a political sop to L.I. Nimby’s. It’s been on the MTA’s radar for decades. You know, courtesy of the agency charged with thinking about it.

“a Long Island-Westchester car tunnel that has gone nowhere since being conceived in the 1960s.”

His argument is not to pursue because it wasn’t previously built? “Look kid, I know you really want to go to college but you’ve been talking about this for the 18 years you’ve been alive and have not set foot on a campus. Let’s just forget about it and move on.”

“His $1 billion idea to expand the Javits Center seems as slapdash as his plan four years ago to put a convention center next to Aqueduct.”

Um, the flaw in the plan four years ago was that it moved the center to Queens. His new plan may or may not work, but it addresses what was identified as the fatal flaw in the old idea. The notion that the new plan is a nonstarter because a totally different previous plan didn’t advance seems to be simple pique.

AG January 13, 2016 - 5:27 pm

Yeah – I agree with most of your comment.
I was especially surprised at Crain’s. They are usually very level headed and pragmatic. They should know that moving MSG is the most difficult and most expensive option there could be.

Ralfff January 13, 2016 - 8:35 pm


Spuds January 13, 2016 - 11:57 am

A car tunnel from Westchester to the North Shore of LI? Has someone on his staff looked at Google Earth or something similar to see what such a project would entail? Somebody might be self medicating here?

Eric F January 13, 2016 - 3:34 pm

It’s insane! What’ll he think of next? Maybe building huge hundreds of mile long tunnels to pipe drinking water from northern mountain ranges right into the heart of Manhattan! The man is a fool!

Spuds January 14, 2016 - 9:19 am

I believe someone beat you to that idea almost about 150 years ago when they started the East of Hudson system. Of course the king’s hero Boss Tweed made sure that they could “save money” by cutting back on the amount of masonry for the Boyd’s Corner Dam which caused a massive leak and shut down/emptying of the reservoir back in the late 70’s.
Back to the tunnel bridge, …you could build something akin to the New York City reservoir system both east and west of the Hudson during their respective times because those “pesky” environmental, cultural resource and environmental justice laws and regs did not exist. Plowing through developed communities just for the approaches is going to put many a million dollar home owner and EJ advocate panties in a knot. So that torpedoes your analogy.

Spuds January 14, 2016 - 9:21 am

*couldn’t build…. dang these virtual keyboards

Spuds January 14, 2016 - 9:50 am

Could not build today

kevdflb January 13, 2016 - 1:30 pm

From 2004 to 2009 Madrid built a two track tunnel, over 8 km in length, under the center of the city from Atocha to Chamartin stations. They also build 2 intermediate stations along the line.
Total cost?
550 million Euros.

Spain is currently building another tunnel connecting the same two stations (this one only 7.3km in length) to serve High Speed AVE trains, with no intermediate stations. The stations already have underground platforms for High Speed service.
Total cost?
206 million Euros.

Maybe it is time for us to admit that we just can’t build things anymore, and simple hire the people who can.
We could probably import all the engineers, equipment, material and labor from Spain, put them all up in nice apartments for 5 years and still save money on any NYC tunneling project.

kevdflb January 13, 2016 - 3:22 pm

*Granted, US wages are roughly double Spanish Wages

Eric January 13, 2016 - 3:44 pm

Yep, Spain builds brand new subway lines for the same price per mile that NYC replaces the signals in existing subway lines.

LLQBTT January 13, 2016 - 2:00 pm

2 Reactions:

I’m glad that Cuomo is actually doing something. Complain and moan all you want, but something is started which leads to my second reaction:

Since he is a Prince and we (those in NYS) are his humble subjects, we will taketh whatever the Prince giveth.

Bolwerk January 13, 2016 - 2:49 pm

Gaetano Bresci knew how to deal with princes with Italian surnames.


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