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Queens Chronicle

MTA seeks $51.5B for modern transit

Capital plan would fund new signals, 70 new accessible subway stations

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Posted: Thursday, September 19, 2019 10:30 am

Talk always has been cheaper than action when it comes to modernizing the city’s mass transit system.

On Monday, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority challenged the state and city to put $51.5 billion where their mouths are.

The agency’s proposed 2020-24 capital plan would earmark more than $40 billion for New York City Transit, calling for 70 more handicapped-accessible subway stations; 1,900 new subway cars and 2,400 new buses; $7.1 billion for subway signal modernization; and $4.1 billion in station improvements at 175 stations.

The $880 million that would be allotted for bus depots includes the reconstruction of the Jamaica terminal.

NYC Transit President Andy Byford, in a statement issued by the MTA, was very hopeful.

“These proposed investments in our subways and buses have delivered beyond my wildest expectations,” Byford said. “The system has been stabilized and this capital plan offers us an extraordinary opportunity to now modernize it and provide world-class transit options to New Yorkers in an unprecedented time frame, and as we move forward we will rise to that challenge on behalf of our customers.”

Now, of course, Albany must approve most of the funding. Even New York City must approve the $3 billion that it has agreed to in principle.

Gov. Cuomo, in a press release, made it clear that he has priorities he wants to see in the plan.

“[A]nd I will review the details of the plan to make sure it fulfills those priorities,” he said. “ ... For decades the MTA was mismanaged and underfunded — that is why in 2017 we invested $836 million for the Subway Action Plan and $8 billion in State capital funds and $2.6 billion in New York City Capital funds. The success of that plan is inarguable — it led to the recent 84 percent on-time performance rate, a six-year high -— but its implementation was delayed, and that cannot be repeated with this new plan.”

Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers), Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) and Mayor de Blasio all must approve the plan, and all can unilaterally veto it.

John Raskin, executive director of the Riders Alliance, was taking nothing for granted in an email to the Chronicle.

“Governor Cuomo has made big promises to modernize the transit system, and this upcoming capital program is the first big test of whether he is serious about following through,” Raskin said. “The draft plan released today is a big step in the right direction: it’s ambitious in scope and it tackles the big problems like modernizing signal technology and making more subway stations accessible. If all of this work happens as proposed, the transit system will truly be on the road to repair.

“In the next phase, all of our elected leaders will have to step up to ensure that these promises become reality,” he added.

Raskin said Cuomo will have to lay out a detailed time line for the work and pressure the MTA to stay on time and on budget.

He also wants the governor to find the funding “without taking shortcuts or forcing the MTA into more debt.”

He said the Legislature must make sure the MTA is accountable for all funding that is approved.

The Legislature will have to cooperate to fund these much-needed transit repairs, as well as to ensure that the capital plan is fully vetted and approved and that the MTA is accountable to the public for the money being invested.

Jaqi Cohen of the Straphangers Campaign said in an email that things like modernizing the signal system — some signals still in the system were installed in the 1930s — increased accessibility and newer cars are directly in line with the priorities of riders.

She too put the onus on Albany.

“New York’s state Legislature and Governor must ensure that the MTA has the full funding necessary to turn this plan into reality, one that doesn’t borrow funds on the backs of riders,” she said. “We look forward to reviewing the full plan once it is released.”

Kathryn Wylde, president and CEO of the Partnership for New York City, said businesses like what they see.

“Today the MTA has laid out a clear agenda for the capital investment over the next five years that is required to achieve a world-class transit system,” Wylde said in a emailed statement.

“The business community is heartened by what is clearly an acceleration in upgrades of services, equipment and accessibility and will put its expertise and resources to work in support of this plan,” she added.

Andrew Rein, president of the Citizens Budget Commission, was somewhat more reserved in his statement, saying the MTA must determine if it is spending money on the right things and just how sound the financing is.

“The plan assumes $3 billion in funding from New York State and $3 billion from New York City; neither the State nor the City has authorized these commitments,” Rein said in an email.

He also asked if the MTA would be able to implement a plan of its proposed size, which he and the agency both said is 70 percent greater than the agency’s 2015-19 capital plan.

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