Readers Write: Is MTA’s $51B 5-year capital plan realistic?


How real is the MTA funding plan to support the $51 billion 2020-2024 Five-Year Capital Plan just passed by the MTA Board this past Wednesday including “LIRR to receive $5.7B in improvements” (Rose Weldon – Sept. 20)?

It is dependent upon taxes and fees including real estate transfer and internet sales tax along with congestion price tolling which combined equal $25 billion-plus $10.7 billion in anticipated Federal Transit Administration funding.

There is no guarantee of FTA providing up to $3.5 billion in New Starts funding for the Second Avenue Subway Phase 2 costing almost $7 billion.

In April, the MTA claimed a potential savings between $500 million to a $1 billion for this project.

This would have reduced the cost from $6 to $5 billion.  Promised savings were based upon a reduction in excavation for the 125th Street Station and building the 116th Street Station in space no longer needed for other work.

Under the $51 billion 2020-2024 Five-Year Capital Plan, the cost increased by almost $1 billion raising the price tag closer to $7 billion.  The previous federal share of $2 billion (33 percent) now assumes an amount which could end up closer to $3.5 billion (50 percent) by the time the next cost estimate update becomes public.  No one has come forward to explain these changes.

Second Avenue Subway Phase 2 is competing against the $12 billion no-frills Gateway Tunnel project which is also looking for $6 billion from the same federal funding source.  The full Gateway Tunnel project cost $29 billion.

The odds of both securing FTA Full Funding Grant Agreements are the same as the Yankees playing the Mets in the 2020 Fall Subway World Series.  FTA funding both in 2020 would leave little for many other proposed New Starts projects around the nation.

Congestion pricing does not kick in until January 2021 or the second year of a five year capital program.  The final details of who will pay what have yet to be worked out.

What is the implementation schedule for installation of electronic tolling equipment?  Elected officials behind the scene continue lobbying for exemptions. The MTA may not be able to count on all $15 billion in congestion pricing funding.

A downturn in the economy could also result in less revenue from the Real Estate Transfer tax.  There is a surplus of unsold Manhattan luxury apartments with even more coming on the market.

How will the Internet Sales tax be collected?  Many will avoid this by having family and friends in neighboring states do the purchasing.  There are other MTA tax income sources impacted by the economy.

Is it realistic to expect Albany to provide $3 billion in new direct aid given the state still owes $7.3 billion in support for the current MTA for the 2015-2019 plan?

The same is true for City Hall providing $3 billion who still owes $1.8 billion in support as well.  The plan assumes the MTA will borrow another $10 billion in new debt. How much will this increase the MTA’s debt service payments?  Even without including this new borrowing, the MTA forecasts that its debt will increase by 31 percent by 2023 and will cost $3.5 billion or more annually.  The MTA could easily end up with a shortfall in the billions.

There are other higher priorities than the $7 billion Second Avenue Subway Phase 2 project.  Why not postpone this project until the 2025-2029 Five Year Capital Plan?  Use the balance of $3.5 billion in unspent local funds designated for this project instead to accelerate bringing more subway stations up to a state of good repair and into compliance with ADA by adding elevators.

Stop wasting millions on transportation feasibility studies for future system expansion projects that will never happen in our lifetime.

Do not initiate any new system expansion projects until each operating agency, NYC Transit bus and subway, MTA bus, Long Island Rail Road and Metro North Rail Road have reached a state of good repair for existing fleet, stations, elevators, escalators, signals, interlockings, track, power, vent plants, yards and shops.

This should also include ensuring a majority of subway and commuter rail stations are in compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act. Ensure that maintenance programs for all operating agencies assets are fully funded and completed on time to ensure riders safe uninterrupted reliable service.

Larry Penner

Great Neck

Larry Penner is a transportation historian, writer and advocate who previously worked 31 years for the United States Department of Transportation Federal Transit Administration Region 2 New York Office.



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