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MTA board approves $200M for subway station upgrades

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Seven stations in Manhattan, including at Penn Station, will get improvements

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Last month, Mayor Bill de Blasio scored what seemed to be a win in his ongoing feud with Governor Andrew Cuomo over the deteriorating subway system: The city was able to temporarily block more than $200 million in upgrades, as part of the MTA’s Enhanced Station Initiative, that would bring improvements to subway stops—but not the system’s aging signals or other issues the city deemed more pressing.

But it was a short-lived victory: Yesterday, the MTA board voted to let those repairs proceed, with reps from the city (including DOT head Polly Trottenberg) among the dissenting votes, according to the New York Times. Seven Manhattan stations will benefit, including both at Penn Station, along the A/C/E and 1/2/3 lines.

That decision, and Joe Lhota’s role in getting the package passed (as MTA chairman, he was one of the deciding votes), has raised eyebrows; as the Wall Street Journal points out, Lhota was recently appointed to Madison Square Garden’s board of directors, prompting questions of conflicts of interest. (Lhota defended his role to Politico, telling them that MSG has “no financial interest whatsoever in the station or the subway.”)

Disability advocates are also angry about the changes, which will not address one of the subway system’s greatest needs: more accessible stations. Though the MTA has committed $1 billion program to adding elevators to more stations, the work is not happening fast enough; only a quarter of the stations are currently accessible to New Yorkers who use wheelchairs or have other mobility issues.

“It just seems if we are investing a billion in station upgrades we think that some of those stations should get elevators,” Trottenberg said at the meeting, per the Times.

One of the people who was on board with the MTA’s proposed upgrades, and the stations that will receive them, is brand new New York City Transit head Andy Byford, who the Times says gave a “full-throated endorsement” of the plan. “If they were purely cosmetic then I would have a problem with it,” he said.

The ESI program, which was initially announced in 2016, has thus far brought largely cosmetic improvements—things like new signage, seating, and lighting—to stations in Brooklyn and Queens, with four Manhattan stops due to receive upgrades later this year.