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MTA approves $3B capital spending bump, but subway fixes aren't prioritized

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Instead, the plan increases financing for projects that are priorities for Governor Cuomo 

Photo courtesy of Mike Morey

In the wake of increasing subway delays, as well as growing pressure on Governor Andrew Cuomo to address them, the board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority approved a new version of its capital plan—though to the chagrin of many, its focus is less on improving train service and more in big-ticket projects.

Board members voted on the plan this Wednesday, despite concerns of the fund allocations as well as the MTA’s rising debt. The Wall Street Journal reports that three of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s appointees would not vote, “saying the 10 percent increase in agency spending, to $32.5 billion from $29.6 billion, was a threat to the agency’s finances and was being rushed through without public scrutiny.” Even Polly Trottenberg, the city’s transportation commissioner, told the paper she didn’t understand all of the elements of the 178-page plan.

The increase in spending would increase the debt over the next five to seven years from $38 billion to about $43 billion, according to the WSJ. That wouldn’t require the MTA to raise fares and tolls beyond gradual increases scheduled every two years, the authority’s chief financial officer promised. But Andrew Saul, an appointee of the Westchester County Executive, said of the figure: “You got a time bomb here.”

Then there’s the matter of how the budget is being allocated. A New York Times report focuses on that issue, saying “the nearly $3 billion of additional funding for the capital plan largely focuses on other projects backed by Mr. Cuomo, who controls the authority.”

The plan allocates $1.5 billion for a new track on the Long Island Rail Road, about $400 million for electronic tolling at bridges and tunnels, $700 million in additional funding for the next phase of the Second Avenue subway, and $750 million for a program to enhance 32 subway stations.

But it reduces spending on new subway cars—some of which date back to the 1960s—by $1.2 billion, deferring the expense for a future capital plan. It also reduces spending on subway signals and communications—a common cause of delays—by $38 million.

As Joe Raskin, executive director of the Riders Alliance, told the Times, “These changes won’t address riders’ core concern of the increase in crowding, breakdowns and delays.”

The paper of record also reports the board had a contentious debate concerning if the capital plan could pass. Members worried about both the MTA’s mounting debt and if the plan aligned with what the public has needed as delays and overcrowding increase.