Home Capital Program 2015-2019 New York budget features money for Second Ave. Phase 2 but not much else for the MTA

New York budget features money for Second Ave. Phase 2 but not much else for the MTA

by Benjamin Kabak

Phase 2 of the Second Ave. Subway, shown here in blue, has gotten an infusion of cash in the New York state budget.

So that he can claim credit for passing the New York state Budget “on time,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, Senate Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeffrey Klein, and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie came together on Thursday night to announce a budget deal. Everyone in New York State politics is working feverishly through massive documents to understand what’s in and out of the $145 billion behemoth, but we have a clear view of the transit implications. Mostly, the story shakes down as we expected with few actual dollars for the MTA and a false sense of “parity” with spending on upstate roads ruling the day.

For the MTA’s $27 billion five-year capital plan that is now entering its 16th month of being late, the budget allocates a whopping $1 billion in actual cash with some vague references to the overall $27 billion five-year program. Cuomo of course played this up as though the entire thing has been funded, but we are no closer to understanding how this money will be realized than we were yesterday, last week, last month or last year. Unless momentum behind a push for the Move New York plan materializes, it will be more debt or (or is that “and”?) bust for the MTA. (New York also committed to spend an equal amount on upstate roads despite a far worse return on its investment. At least the Erie County executive was happy. After all, New York City residents are the ones paying for his roads, but I digress.)

In response to this magnanimous nothing from his boss, MTA CEO and Chairman Tom Prendergast released a statement of praise, calling the budget appropriations a “monumental win for the people of New York.” It’s not really a win except that it paves the way for the MTA to gain Capital Program Review Board approval and start spending money it doesn’t really have for projects it badly needs. He continued:

“This $27 billion agreement marks the largest investment ever made in the MTA. It is an important victory not only for New York City and its suburbs but for all the communities across New York State. The plan will enable the MTA to maintain critical infrastructure while renewing, enhancing and expanding our system to meet the ridership and growth demands of the future and improving the current experience for the millions who critically rely on our system each day.

The Governor has once again assured a year-to-year increase in state operating assistance for the transit system and brought us a significant increase in support for the MTA, including a commitment to the second phase of the extension of Second Avenue Subway to East Harlem, and billions of dollars for the essential work of keeping the transit system safe and reliable…The MTA has been hard at work preparing projects supported by the new Capital Program and will now submit a revised plan to our Board as well as to the State’s Capital Program Review Board.”

Most of this is what we call pure puffery, but the last sentence is key. The MTA is going to submit their third version of the capital plan — and it will actually restore an important item cut from the last iteration. That’s right; Phase 2 of the Second Ave. Subway is back, baby.

The MTA has gotten a commitment of an additional $1 billion from the state for this phase, but the investment nods at the bifurcated nature of the plan. The current budget will allocate an additional $500 million to Phase 2 so that the MTA will have $1 billion for Phase 2 under the 2015-2019 plan. This should be enough to complete all studies and design refreshes necessary and begin utility reconstruction by the end of 2019 which MTA sources have indicated is an aggressive but doable timeframe. The remaining $443 million will be a part of the state contributions to the 2020-2024 capital plan in recognition of the reality that Phase 2 won’t be completed until the mid-2020s.

After significant blowback when the MTA essentially moved $1 billion of Phase 2 funding to the 2020-2024 plan by eliminating from the 2015-2019 plan, Assembly members Rodriguez and Wright (that is, Robert and Keith and not Alex and David, as baseball fans would hope) were instrumental in securing these funds for the MTA and their constituents. They issued a statement this afternoon. “The restoration of significant funding for the Second Phase of the Second Avenue Subway represents a huge victory for the residents of East Harlem,” Rodriguez said.

So what comes next? The fight for an actual source of dollars for the capital plan will continue; the MTA will submit a revised plan and hope to avoid debt; and Phase 2 of the Second Ave. Subway is exceedingly likely to become a reality within the next decade. It all sounds good, but next week, we’ll take a look at what Paris has planned to open before 2030. And then we can wonder how New York City went so far off the rails. In the meantime, tonight is but one step in a continuing saga.

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FakeyMcFakename April 1, 2016 - 1:12 am

Can’t wait for that barge facility.

Ian April 1, 2016 - 8:54 am

I think there’s a typo – while I personally wouldn’t mind having $145 million to play with that’s chump change in comparison to the $145 billion that is in this budget.

Larry Littlefield April 1, 2016 - 9:56 am

“The budget allocates a whopping $1 billion in actual cash with some vague references to the overall $27 billion five-year program.”

Is that actual cash?

I’m as ticked at this as anyone, but I’m not prepared to lose prospective or judge Andrew Cuomo unfairly.

How much actual cash was given to the MTA Capital plan in Mario Cuomo’s last three budgets, and George Pataki’s twelve? How much cash did Client 9 put up, or Patterson? The answer: zero.

Moreover, if this is cash does this mean DeBlasio has to put up cash too? How much cash was put up for the MTA in David Dinkins last two budgets, or any of Giuliani’s (aside from Port Authority money diverted from the N to LaGuardia) or Bloomberg (aside from the Flushing extension)? The answer? Zero.

It seems as if a small, inadequate but real step might have been taken in the right direction. Compare with New Jersey or Illinois, or worst of all what might happen at the federal level. As the Generation Greed era continues to collapse under its own burdens, this could have been worse.

Larry Littlefield April 1, 2016 - 11:33 am

And you know what? All the time all that debt was being built up everyone thought everything was great.

At least now that all those existing MTA dedicated revenues, and we can’t pretend there aren’t a lot of them, are going to debt service, (some) people realize the consequences. But I don’t hear the deserved condemnation of all those past (and many present) Governors and state legislators.

Perhaps that is in part because the current Governor and legislators are not prepared to point that finger, because in the end they are all on the same team.

AG April 1, 2016 - 6:55 pm

Agreed for the most part.
In the same way NYC subsidizes NYS overall – NYS subsidizes all but a handful of states (including NJ and CT) when it comes to federal revenue/expenditure. That’s the unfortunate part of how representational government works on a state and federal level. No sense complaining unless constitutional amendments happen on the state and federal level.

SEAN April 1, 2016 - 10:22 am

After significant blowback when the MTA essentially moved $1 billion of Phase 2 funding to the 2020-2024 plan by eliminating from the 2015-2019 plan, Assembly members Rodriguez and Wright (that is, Robert and Keith and not Alex and David, as baseball fans would hope) were instrumental in securing these funds for the MTA and their constituents.

Alex & David? Love the baseball reference there. Are you sure that this wasn’t an April fools joke?

R2 April 1, 2016 - 10:45 am

Cuomo’s office continues to play us as fools. Oh, look at the calendar!

NattyB April 1, 2016 - 10:51 am

we’ll take a look at what Paris has planned to open before 2030.

This right here. Sorry for getting ahead of myself but this honestly makes me angry. When I think about how we nickel and dime NYC and act like they city is being so fucking magnanimous with these minuscule incremental gruel. Like Ydanis Rodriquez is promoting NYC Car Free Day in which a couple blocks will be Car Free. For a Day. Like WTF.

Thank you your majesty Cuomo. How kind of you to allow the legislature, which you effectively control, to allocate $1B and then have your court jester announce full funding of $27B.

I mean, I’ll admit it, I’m a bit of a sell-out. I work in a high-paying field but it doesn’t fulfill me. I do it for the money. I’m not pure. But Pendergrast. WTF Man. Have you no shame. How can he say $1B is a $27B agreement? I could never do that. Jay Walder was the last one I could actually respect.

Alon Levy April 1, 2016 - 2:32 pm

Grand Paris Express is a $35 billion project. From the mid-2000s to the early 2020s, New York will have spent $10 billion on East Side Access, $5 billion on SAS Phase 1, $1.5 billion on preliminaries for SAS Phase 2, $2 billion on the 7 extension, $4 billion on the Calatrava PATH terminal, and $1.5 billion on Fulton Street Transit Center. This is $24 billion, and if the region builds Gateway in the next few years, it will be $48 billion. The big difference between New York and Paris is not funding levels, but efficiency.

Benjamin Kabak April 1, 2016 - 2:37 pm

Spoiler alert.

AG April 1, 2016 - 7:01 pm

Absolutely correct on your whole comment. In the same way people are saying “look LA is spending $120 billion on transit by 2057 – why can’t we”. Well if we go by this capital budget – the MTA will spend over $200 billion in that same time frame. Also of note – LA Metro also will be spending a good size portion on roads with that 120… MTA doesn’t manage the roads here – so LA’s numbers would look even less impressive in an area that is almost just as expensive.

Efficiency is the key though for our region.Plus – I wonder if Paris doesn’t get more help percentage from the rest of the country…?

AG April 2, 2016 - 11:57 am

Oh and don’t forget the 4 Metro North stations in The Bronx (which were also part of this budget per the WSJ) and expanded track and one reactivated and one new station for the LIRR.

Eric April 2, 2016 - 4:31 pm

You left out the other things Paris is building at the same time, like RER E, Metro 14, and over 100km of tram lines.

Also, the NYC region has ~50% more population and more than twice the GDP of the Paris region, so it should have a lot more money to spend.

AG April 2, 2016 - 10:16 pm

The question I have is how much more funding does it get percentage wise from the French government?

Rob April 1, 2016 - 11:24 am

‘upstate roads despite a far worse return on its investment.’ — pls point me to some documentation of that.

Walter April 1, 2016 - 1:28 pm

None needed. Erie County lost 600 people from 2014 to 2015. Monroe County lost over 700 people. The Bronx alone gained 13,000 people. Building more roads for fewer people equals a bad investment.

SEAN April 1, 2016 - 3:23 pm

It’s interesting how NYS keeps losing population on the whole, but the city is gaining people & they are staying for the long term as apposed to those who might come here to attend NYU & leave after graduation.

adirondacker12800 April 1, 2016 - 3:52 pm

It’s not 1977 anymore. The population of the state has been growing since then.

Larry Littlefield April 1, 2016 - 3:36 pm

By that measure, all the money spent on the NYC subway from 1950 to 1990 was a bad investment. Larger trends were against the city then, and Upstate now.

I can’t blame them for maintaining their infrastructure, or rationalizing and improving it. But I am against sprawl inducing road expansions, and wastefully high costs there as here.

AMH April 1, 2016 - 5:11 pm

There are actual cities upstate that could use real investment instead of funneling it into the highways that hollow them out.

adirondacker12800 April 1, 2016 - 5:13 pm

Except for comleteing I-86 some decade in the future what highways are being built? Rochester ripping one down and Syracuse’s plan to rip one of theirs down don’t count.

Larry Littlefield April 1, 2016 - 6:53 pm

Right. The problem is the cost of maintaining the existing roads is off the charts up there, along with several other costs. And there is no longer enough private sector activity to pay for all of this.

The one make-work proposal is a proposed expressway from Plattsburgh to I-81 north of the Adirondacks. But sensible people have proposed more reasonable cost alternatives to that one — improving the existing road with a few bypasses and passing lanes on hills, which other parts of the state have on state roads.

It comes down to cost, there and here.

And the way this is being presented is confusing. It isn’t “Upstate Roads” vs. the MTA. It is roads and bridges vs. transit throughout the state, as far as I know. The former should be in maintenance mode. The latter needs expansion downstate, but might not have enough money to prevent decline at current costs.

adirondacker12800 April 1, 2016 - 7:22 pm

Every decade or so the state senator and assemblyman ask why there isn’t a limited access highway in the middle of nowhere. The DOT does yet another study that concludes “what traffic?” and “there isn’t anyone out there”. Rinse repeat. No one, except the people who think Plattsburgh is a big city, takes it seriously.

AG April 1, 2016 - 7:12 pm

Right but this is the Information Age. Whoever didn’t start re-tooling 20 years ago is falling further behind.
Albany is doing pretty well because of the nanotechnology taking place there based at SUNY with all the industry partners. Other than Rochester and Ithaca – there is nowhere else upstate producing for the 21st century economy. Ithaca is too small and will never be a city (which is why NYC is has the largest Cornell alumni in the country). Rochester is really the only city that can pivot it’s economy well enough. The rest of the economy will have to be based on tourism if fracking is banned (which I’m personally still “on the fence” about)…

AG April 1, 2016 - 7:05 pm

Very true. And for all the spending upstate – it still isn’t recovering economically… I don’t say it being smug because I love the beauty of upstate NY. Economically though – it is a drag on us down here. Sad.


Larry Littlefield April 2, 2016 - 7:38 am

A 40 year state policy of subsidizing large, declining companies while being hostile to new businesses, and 20 years of using downstate money to put everyone on the public payroll (and now on retirement benefits), didn’t help.

They don’t have a lot of cushy corporate employment left to lose, but they still have a lot of excess public employment.

AG April 2, 2016 - 12:16 pm

Very true… That’s also where the politics comes in. Reality is people are increasingly moving into warmer states (for better or worse). That causes a change in Congressional clout. So in the colder parts of states – governors still try to prop up the the services to try in vein to keep the populations there. Which yes – as you noted leads to more waste. Public sector unions still hold a lot of power.

You also make a good point about subsidizing big companies at the expense of the real back bone – which are small companies. GE got tons of subsidies and moved it’s headquarters to CT and operations all over the country. IBM has gotten a lot of subsidy but have been adding more jobs in Texas (especially Austin) than in NY which is a slap in the face.

Same principle as transit construction… Too much waste doesn’t allow us to get the most bang for our buck. Too much waste means taxes are high enough to make big companies leave and stifle many small ones from growing without “targeted tax breaks”.

Eric April 2, 2016 - 4:42 pm

I think NYS could gain more by adding people in NYC than trying to keep people in upstate.

AG April 2, 2016 - 10:15 pm

NYC is bursting at the seems and is the only real growth engine… That’s why the cost real estate is so high. In reality – if it wasn’t for NY residents trying to find more affordable housing – Connecticut would have shown a large net loss.

AG April 2, 2016 - 10:17 pm

meant “seams”

Eric April 3, 2016 - 4:15 pm

NYC has PLENTY of room. There is space for 2 million more people in Brooklyn alone, with minimal infrastructure needed (the subways are already all built, for example). The only obstacle is political (zoning).

Larry Littlefield April 3, 2016 - 6:54 pm

At what cost? That’s what you forget. If you have to tear down a six story building to build a 12 story building, including all the value of all the revenues of that six story building in the 12 story building, the cost is prohibitive.

There are no greenfield sites in NYC. Just land zone for the businesses needed for the jobs those future residents will need.

Thus new housing is prohibitively expensive here.

AG April 3, 2016 - 11:12 pm

True… And anyone who thinks the subway could manage an additional 2 million residents in 10 years – let alone in one borough – isn’t living in reality. Maybe in 50 years if we’re still here – but certainly not soon.

Eric April 4, 2016 - 6:02 am

There are lots of 2 story buildings in the outer boroughs that could easily be replaced by 10 story buildings. Since real estate prices are high, this would be profitable.

Eric April 4, 2016 - 6:40 am

Only some of the subway lines are full nowadays. The Inwood and Astoria lines could handle many more riders. So could nearly every line in Brooklyn. Since there are 9 subway tunnels/bridges between Brooklyn and Manhattan, there’s a vast amount of spare capacity there.

stan April 1, 2016 - 5:01 pm

sigh. we have articles groping for a way to get an absolutely necessary subway line funded SOMEHOW right next to articles about how new subway construction is shoddy and no one can figure out who to blame

everything sucks

Abe April 1, 2016 - 11:20 pm

Why wasn’t (a fraction of) this money spent to simply install surface lines (streetcar rapid transit) instead, with dedicated lanes and timed lights?

Eric April 2, 2016 - 4:45 pm

Because drivers refuse to give up their lanes.

Bronx Resident April 6, 2016 - 10:48 pm

Run the SAS to the Bronx, stopping at Third Ave/E 138th St and E 149th.

Would better reduce congestion on Lex.


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