Readers Write: MTA dragging its feet on planning studies

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Why has the Metropolitan Transportation Authority stalled for months in releasing final reports for several transportation planning studies?  In other cases, they have not initiated proposed transportation planning studies even though funding has been provided under the existing MTA $32 billion 2015-2019 Five Year Capital Plan.  Consider the current status for the following four transportation planning studies.

The Long Island Rail Road Belmont Park Arena transportation improvements study is still missing in action. Former MTA Chairman Joe Lhota informed the Empire State Development Corporation that there is no current Penn Station capacity to support new Belmont Park service.  He said his agency must first perform a planning study.  The study was started in July with a September completion date.  It appears they may have recently shared results of the study with the Empire State Development Corporation. Why has there been a delay in making it public seven months later?  They have yet to even make a presentation to the monthly LIRR or full MTA committee board meetings.  What happened to Gov. Cuomo’s promise of the most transparent administration in history?  Wasn’t transparency also suppose to include all state agencies and authorities, including the MTA and LIRR?.   

What ever happened to the feasibility study for restoration of LIRR service on the old Rockaway Beach line in Queens?  The original completion date was June 2017.  It was subsequently delayed until December 2017 and again to June 2018.  Another nine months have come and gone with draft and final reports yet to have been made public.  The MTA will not even commit to a new schedule and date for release of the study.  Continued delay in release of the study could imply that both feasibility and costs have been found to be prohibitive.  The estimated costs have already grown from $600 million to $1 billion over recent years.

At the request of Mayor Bill de Blasio, the MTA allocated $5 million in funding under the $32 billion 2015-2019 Five Year Capital Program to initiate a feasibility study for building a Utica Avenue subway extension in Brooklyn. The Utica Avenue subway was originally proposed by New York City Mayor Hyland in 1922. The concept would construct extensions for both the No. 3 and No. 4 original IRT subway lines in East Flatbush.  It would be built along Utica Avenue from Eastern Parkway to Avenue U.  Costs for both the first phase of Second Avenue and No. 7 subway line extension averaged $2 billion plus per mile.  One can only imagine how many billions would be required to do the same along Utica Avenue. 

Four years later, the MTA has yet to issue a Request for Proposals to hire any engineering consulting firm to perform this study. This contradicts a past Regional Planning Association report, which states that “an assessment should be forthcoming.” It may be a clear sign that the MTA is not interested in pursuing this project. This proposal may represent a waste of taxpayers dollars for yet another transportation feasibility study.

Why has there been a lack of progress toward looking into the potential feasibility of constructing a new downtown Flushing Bus Terminal?  There is seed money in the current MTA 2015-2019 Capital Plan to look into the possibility of replacing the long-forgotten Flushing Bus Terminal, which closed in 1954. This need has been previously documented in planning studies going back to the 1960s. What is the current status of this study?  Has a consultant been hired? When will the public see a draft or final report?

Results from any final planning study report should identify the path for the next steps, including a project schedule, budget, funding sources and future steps of environmental review, design, engineering and construction.

Why has any public official, MTA board member or other transit advocates not held the MTA accountable for the lack of progress for these transportation planning studies?  If the MTA has no intention of progressing a study, why not reprogram the funds toward a capital project instead?  Diogenes is still searching for a brave MTA board member or elected official to speak up.

Sincerely,

Larry Penner

(Larry Penner is a transportation historian and advocate who previously worked 31 years for the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Transit Administration Region 2.  This included the development, review, approval and oversight for grants supporting billions in capital projects and programs on behalf of the MTA, NYC Transit, Long Island Rail Road,  Metro North Rail Road, MTA Bus, New Jersey Transit,  NYC Department of Transportation and over 30 other transit operators in New York State)

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