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.