There is still more to state Sen. Todd Kaminsky’s call for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Long Island Rail Road to speed up repairs to the four East River Tunnels. Amtrak, and New Jersey Transit also benefit from these tunnels. They use the tunnels for access to the Queens Sunnyside Yards, This facility is used for midday and overnight storage to position equipment for rush hour service.
Bringing the East River Tunnels up to a state of good repair is equally important as doing the same with both Hudson River Tunnels. Two of the four East River tunnels suffered significant damage as a result of Superstorm Sandy in 2012.
U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer said in June 2016 that the Federal Transit Administration provided $432 million in Superstorm Sandy funding to the MTA for repairs to the East River Tunnel. Almost five years later, there is little evidence that these funds have been used for their original intended purpose. If the MTA diverted these funds to other Sandy recovery or resiliency projects, how do they propose to replenish them given the multibillion-dollar shortfall they face in paying for the current $51 billion 2020-2024 Five Year Capital Plan?
In the meantime, the MTA and LIRR have yet to complete negotiations with Amtrak for both initiation, scope and duration of this critical work. LIRR riders will see little benefit to the MTA LIRR investing $2.6 billion for the $300 million West End Concourse in Penn Station, the $600 million upgraded Main Concourse and new entrance at 33rd Street and 7th Avenue along with the $1.6 billion Moynihan Train Hall without safe and reliable service.
LIRR operations will continue to suffer from delays, cancellation and combining of trains due to problems in the East River Tunnels until they are fully restored to a state of good repair.
Are there any other FTA-funded capital projects still not under contract, behind schedule, over budget or with excessive change orders to base contracts? Gov. Cuomo, Mayor Bill de Blasio, Sens. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, MTA board members and other elected officials, including Kominsky along with transit advocates, need to take a closer look at how the $12 billion in previously approved federal funds within active open FTA grants to the MTA are being spent. This is necessary to maintain credibility and make an honest case to justify increasing the future level of financial assistance from Washington via Federal Transit Administration grants.
Taxpayers and commuters deserve accountability and honesty.
(Larry Penner is a transportation advocate, historian and writer who previously worked for the Federal Transit Administration Region 2 NY Office.