Editorial: ‘Is the MTA staffed by idiots?’

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced last week that the L train subway shutdown between Manhattan and Brooklyn wouldn’t be necessary – two years after the MTA said that it was.

Many Brooklyn residents were braced for the closure of one of the city’s busiest subway lines. Some moved out of their neighborhoods.

But Cuomo told a news conference that engineering experts from Cornell and Columbia universities that he put together had looked at the plans drawn up by the MTA and found them needlessly disruptive to up to 250,000 people.

The governor said the needed work could be done with just 15 to 20 months of night and weekend service reductions.

“Is the Metropolitan Transportation Authority staffed by idiots?” asked New York magazine writer Josh Barro in reporting the governor’s announcement.

“I do not mean that as a rhetorical question,” Barro added.

The MTA’s failure to figure out a less costly and less disruptive solution is familiar to Long Island residents who have watched the cost of the much-needed East Side Access project balloon to $12 billion.

The project, which would bring the Long Island Rail Road to Grand Central Terminal on Manhattan’s East Side, is on schedule to cost nearly $3.5 billion for each new mile of track, seven times the average cost in other cities across the world.

Early estimates said the tunnel would cost $2.2 billion and be finished by 2009 – not 2022 as now predicted.

The reason for the delays?

A New York Times investigation in 2017 found that “public officials have stood by as a small group of connected labor unions, construction companies and consulting firms have amassed large profits.”

The Times story said trade unions, closely aligned with Cuomo and other politicians, “have secured deals requiring underground construction work to be staffed by as many as four times more laborers than elsewhere in the world.”

Construction companies, which have given millions of dollars in campaign donations, The Times went on, have increased their projected costs by up to 50 percent when bidding for work from the MTA.

Consulting firms, The Times added, have persuaded the state-run authority to spend “an unusual amount on design and management.”

It is worth repeating that these conclusions – showing how a $2.2 billion estimate escalated to a $12 billion project – were the result of an investigation by The New York Times.

Not the state Assembly, not the state Senate, not the state comptroller, not the governor.

Nor have we seen any evidence that anyone in the state has addressed the findings of the Times report.

This at a time when the MTA has cut back on core subway maintenance and Long Island commuters suffer with a Long Island Rail Road operated by the authority that sets records for late service month after month.

Why no investigation into a system that produces projects whose final costs exceed their initial estimates by $10 billion?

The answer to this question may be obvious based on the Times’ reporting about the cozy, if not incestuous, relationship between Cuomo and other politicians and the trade unions and construction companies.

But it is still worth asking.

Public transportation is the economic lifeblood of Long Island and the entire metropolitan area.

The East Side Access project alone could serve as many as 200,000 commuters, according to the MTA, allowing Long Island riders to travel directly to the East Side of Manhattan and alleviating overcrowding at Penn Station, which is currently used by three railroads – the Long Island Rail Road, New Jersey Transit and Amtrak.

Last year, state Senate Republicans called on the Long Island Rail Road to reverse a 4 percent fare increase until service improved.

This would have been like applying a Band-Aid to a gunshot wound. It would have also probably made the LIRR’s ability to make repairs worse.

But it would have at least been something.

Making the MTA work is in the interest of everyone in the metropolitan area whether they live in the city or the suburbs.

Virtually every person running for state office says he or she can reduce state spending by eliminating waste and abuse.

Those now holding office can prove whether they mean it by taking a cold, hard look at how the MTA operates.

Hearings should be held by the state Assembly, the state Senate or both. An audit should be conducted by state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli on MTA construction projects.

The governor should use his newfound skills in solving transportation problems to oversee the overhaul of MTA operations.

Fresh off his L train intervention, Cuomo on Monday recommended that we “blow up the MTA” and give the governor control over the agency.

The governor currently picks the MTA’s CEO and six board seats, including the chairman. Mayor de Blasio has four votes. Nassau and Suffolk’s county executives get two votes and four county executives in the Hudson Valley share a single vote.

In other words, no one is in charge and no one is responsible for the MTA’s failures.

Whether or not it goes along with the governor’s offer, the public should demand action.

If not, then we’re the idiots.

1 COMMENT

  1. I am thankful that the Governor took the initiative and opportunity to find a better approach to the project that results in improved customer service for all the affected MTA riders. Should the MTA have kept abreast of current technologies and made the project adjustments based on new methodologies now available? Obviously, YES … but they didn’t and the bloated MTA bureaucracy now must suffer with cleaning the egg on their face. Hope this forces the MTA bureaucracy to LEARN from this and be more vigilant in all their project planning seeking improved ways to achieve projects with better focus on customer service impact of the riding public in all their projects as technologies and methodologies become available!

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