During Gov. Kathy Hochul’s State of the State speech she said “the $1 trillion federal infrastructure bill proposed and signed by President Biden will help pay for this and other roads, rail and bridge projects.” Hochul also promised to complete the LIRR Third Track project this year. Her statement, perhaps written by a ghost speech writer or transportation adviser, made no sense when you review the project history.
In 2017, the MTA added $3 billion, which included $1.95 billion for the LIRR Main Line Third Track to the $29 billion 2015 – 2019 Five Year Capital Program Plan. This brought it up to $32 billion. These dollars supplemented $600 million previously available resulting in the project being 100 percent fully funded. In January 2018, the MTA and LIRR awarded a $1.8 billion contract to the joint venture 3rd Track Constructors made up of Dragados USA Inc./John P. Picone Inc., Halmar International LLC and CCA Civil Inc., for construction, Stantec for design, Cameron Engineering for engineering and Rubenstein Associates for community outreach to support final design, engineering and construction of the LIRR Main Line Third Track.
An additional contract for $99.9 million was awarded to Arup-Jacobs joint venture to assist the LIRR in project management. The MTA LIRR could not have legally awarded these contracts without funding already in place. Four years later, with 11 months to go before promised introduction of service, a majority of the work has been completed or is underway. The remaining balance of work is anticipated to be completed prior to the promised December 2022 introduction of passenger service to coincide with opening ot East Side Access to Grand Central Terminal.
One of the few critical exceptions is replacement of the Garden City Denton Avenue Bridge with a below ground roadway. This work is just now underway. Most overall funds have already been expended or are accounted for under previously awarded contracts. Later in the year, the project emphasis will change. More time will be allocated toward completion of inspection and acceptance of all contractors work. This would include interlockings and signal systems, switches, electrical components, power substations and elevators to name a few.
There is also the need for completion of contract(s) punch list items to insure project components were constructed based upon contract specifications along with systems testing to insure trains can operate safely and reliably, These final activities represent a small portion of cost to the overall $2.6 billion project budget.
The LIRR followed state SEQUA rather than the federal NEPA environmental review process. Compliance with NEPA is a requirement to be eligible for Federal Transit Administration funding. Why would FTA consider funding for this project when it is already 100 percent locally funded and close to completion? Is this a back door way for the MTA to substitute federal funding to offset some of the missing $15 billion in Congestion Price Tolling revenues?
The MTA $51 billion 2020 – 2024 Five Year Capital Plan was adopted in late 2019 under the assumption that $15 billion would come from Congestion Price Tolling. Not a dime will appear until June 2023 or later. How will the MTA raise $15 billion over 18 months rather than five years? This project is not included in the MTA Feb. 8, 2022 FTA Program of Projects Public Hearing Notice. Here is the link to the document new.mta.info/document/28146.
(Larry Penner is a transportation advocate, historian and writer who previously worked for the Federal Transit Administration Region 2 New York Office.)