Richmond County residents continue to be losers within New York City when it comes to MTA transportation capital capacity improvement projects. Both MTA North and West Shore Bus Rapid Transit projects for Staten Island commuters, just like our Nassau Hub transportation project, haven’t made any significant progress in years, if not decades.
The MTA’s $51 billion 2020-2024 Five Year Capital Plan has been on hold for months due to unforeseen financial revenue shortfalls in the billions. Prior to the outbreak, funding assumptions were never realistic. Due to the economic recession as a result of COVID-19, billions anticipated from congestion pricing, real estate transfer, internet sales, along with other taxes, have disappeared. NYC’s forgotten fifth borough of Staten Island continues to be forgotten.
The NYC Transit North Shore Bus Rapid Transit estimated cost is $600 million. This project is in the planning and environmental review process with a shortfall of $590 million in funding. Once there was rail service along this same corridor until it was terminated in 1953. It provided a direct connection to the St. George Staten Island Ferry Terminal. Riders transferred to the Staten Island Ferry. They arrive at the Whitehall Street Manhattan Ferry Terminal in 25 minutes.
The NYC Transit West Shore Bus Rapid Transit is estimated to cost $1.5 billion. A planning study is under way with a shortfall of $1.485 million in funding. One alternative is to provide a connection for Staten Island residents to the New Jersey Transit Hudson Bergen Light Rail 8th Street Station. Transferring at the HBLRT Hoboken station provides connections to both the Port Authority Trans Hudson (PATH) subway and ferries offering commuters access to Manhattan.
Richmond County is the only one of the five boroughs which has no direct connection to the NYC Transit subway system. Commuters from Staten Island use either the Staten Island Ferry or NYC Transit express buses to Manhattan or NYC Transit local buses to Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, for connections to the NYCT subway system.
Both projects need additional funding for final design and engineering, land acquisition, business relocation, purchase of vehicles, construction and a possible vehicle maintenance and storage facility.
An MTA spokesman recently noted that all capital projects have been thrown into limbo as the agency seeks a federal bailout.
“This is a yet another stark example highlighting why it’s critical that the federal government provide $12 billion in emergency aid to keep the MTA running through the end of 2021,” said Shams Tarek, a spokeman for the MTA in a statement. According to The City, Tarek failed to acknowledge that there was never any funding programmed to begin with as part of the MTA’s $51 billion five-year plan to advance either project beyond planning or environmental review. MTA officials previously promised that additional funding could be found at a later date to be added to the existing $51 billion capital plan to pay for advancing the North Shore Bus Rapid Transit project.
The West Shore Staten Island Bus Rapid Transit project is still in the planning stage and has not yet begun a formal environmental review. The MTA request for an additional $12 billion in CARE COVID-19 funding has nothing to do with paying for construction of either Staten Island Bus Rapid Transit project. It deals with covering unforeseen revenue and operating costs as a result of COVID-19. Receipt of the $12 billion would also help preserve the $51 billion five-year plan from further cuts.
The MTA could consider requesting the Federal Transit Administration for permission to enter these two projects into the national competitive New Starts and or Bus Discretionary programs to pay for either project. The MTA will not enter either Staten Island project into the FTA New Starts program. This is because they would not want to compete against themselves. The MTA $6.9 billion Second Avenue Subway Phase 2 is looking for a FTA Full Funding Grant Agreement up to $3 billion from the same funding source.
The next opportunity for funding is the next MTA 2025 – 2029 Five Year Capital Plan. As a result, both the North and West Shore Staten Island Bus Rapid Transit projects may not be completed until 2030 or later.
If the MTA can find $6.9 billion for Second Avenue Subway Phase Two, perhaps some small change can fall off the table to finance Staten Island transportation projects.
(Larry Penner is a transportation advocate, historian and writer who previously worked 31 years for the Federal Transit Administration Region 2 New York Office. This included the development, review, approval and oversight for billions in capital projects and programs for the MTA, NYC Transit bus, subway, Staten Island Rail, NYC Department of Transportation Staten Island Ferry along with 30 other transit agencies in NY & NJ).