A New Deal For MTA Capital Plan

Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo have reached an agreement in the long-fought battle over the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Capital Plan.

The governor has pledged $8.3 billion towards the plan’s proposed $26 billion budget, with the mayor contributing another $2.5 billion. MTA Chairman Tom Pendergast initially pushed for a $32 billion allotment.

The move comes at a time when the New York City subway system faces enormous debts and crumbling infrastructure. The subway system has long gone out of date, relying largely on technology over 50 years old, and some 83% of subway stations require significant repair. With the MTA facing $20 billion in debt, much-needed improvements have gone unrealized for years.

As part of the negotiations, the mayor has insisted that the MTA consult his representatives on projects, which has always been the case. In addition, the agreement bars the state government from raiding MTA funds, as outlined in a 2011 law.

The 2015-2019 Capital Plan will be submitted to the MTA board at the end of the month. Should it receive approval from both the MTA and a state review board, it will soon go into effect, ushering in a number of much-needed improvements. Previous Capital Plans have gone underfunded in accordance with inflation.

Most of the upgrades will go unnoticed by commuters, but carry major benefits. New tracks, signals and switches will bring the weathered utility into the 21st century, preventing delays and speeding up the march toward a “state of good repair.” Positive Train Control safety systems will help to avoid incidents like the 2013 Metro-North Crash, which killed four commuters. Other initiatives will work to connect the east Bronx to Penn Station, continue progress on the Second Avenue Subway, and replace the MetroCard with fare collection technology that could allow people to pay with a credit card or their smartphone.

Theplan has met some criticisms from NY Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, who argued that the plan did not go far enough given its price tag. According to Flanagan, any proposal should include improvements to upstate transportation as well. Flanagan has proposed a “pay-as-you-go system,” arguing that the current plan will accumulate too much debt. His Chamber of Assembly will have to sign off on the plan.

The plan did earn significant praise from transit and rider advocacy groups, though many experts echoed Flanagan’s concerns making the point that the devil is in the details and most of them are still to be determined. It’s great that we’re back on a path toward a fully funded MTA Capital Plan for the next five years but in the coming months, we must work out how the state will pay for it. NYLCV strongly urges continued conversations on creative revenue streams that do not burden riders or require the state to take on additional debt.