NEW YORK CITY—MTA chairman Joseph Lhota, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo traded barbs on Tuesday over funding of the MTA’s $836-million Subway Action Plan.
Lhota released details on the multi-phased initiative aimed at stabilizing the troubled subway system. The subway plan addresses a New York City subway system in need of solutions following years of stress by factors including: a record volume of customers, aging infrastructure and lack of capital expenditure necessary to grow the system, the MTA states.
The initial phase of the plan will attack the key drivers of 79% of the major incidents causing delays on the system, including signals, track and power. According to the MTA, the plan would involve $456 million in operating costs and $380 million in capital investment. The MTA is looking to have the state and city each pay half of the subway plan costs. Lhota said the MTA would hire about 2,700 new workers to implement the plan, according to published reports. The long-term plan to fix the subway system could cost around $8 billion.
The release of the MTA prompted Mayor de Blasio to hold a press briefing in which he would not commit to funding the MTA’s sought after share for the program. While calling the plan an important first step in addressing the subway system’s issues, the mayor noted he was not ready to commit the funding from the city “because the state has the money right now that it has taken from the MTA budget. Again, literally—it’s a stunning coincidence—go look it up—the request is $456 million in operating funds and the exact amount that the state has diverted from the MTA budget since 2011, and still holds, is $456 million. That’s the way to solve that problem,” the mayor charged.
Mayor de Blasio’s remarks prompted a sharp rebuke from Lhota, a former mayoral candidate who was appointed in June by Gov. Cuomo. “It is befuddling that the mayor praised the MTA repair plan, but said he would not agree to fund it 50/50 with the State. One half of a repair plan won’t make the trains run on time. The MTA is looking for the city to be a funding partner that assists the six million New Yorkers, the mayor’s constituents, who use the subway.”
He added the mayor is “putting up a smoke screen,” when he suggested the state took money from the MTA. Lhota stated, “The opposite is true. The city has underfunded the MTA for years while the state has provided record funding levels to $5 billion this year. The mayor should step up to the plate and do what’s fair and fund the plan 50/50 and stop diminishing his responsibility so we can move forward on behalf of New Yorkers. This is not about politics it’s about good government and the mayor should exercise responsible leadership and meet the State in funding the plan,” he said.
Meanwhile, Gov. Cuomo released a statement praising the MTA plan. “The MTA is in crisis and hard-working New Yorkers deserve better. The plan outlined by Chairman Lhota is substantive and realistic. I am fully committed to making it a reality. I accept the 50/50 split of funds, and the state will do its part… He later added in reference to Mayor de Blasio’s comments, “Now is not the time for pointing fingers, but for moving forward – together as New Yorkers.”
Gov. Cuomo is traveling to Washington today to meet with U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to discuss the Gateway Tunnel project. Cuomo stressed the importance of the multi-billion dollar project for the regional economy. “The Gateway Tunnel is critical for rail traffic entering New York and the entire Northeast. It is essential that this project, which has been delayed for years, goes forward,” he said.
MTA’s Lhota said the subway action plan would begin immediately and deliver improvements within one year. It will focus on a better customer experience through increased reliability and capacity, enhanced stations and safety, and clear and accurate communication. The five components of phase one will attack the key drivers of 79% of the major incidents causing delays in the system including signals, track and power issues—which alone cause 54% of major incidents — as well as water-related damage and corrosion, track fires, car breakdowns, police activity and station issues.
Some of the key components include expediting a signal repair program that will fix 1,300 signals detected to be most problematic, launching a water management initiative that will seal leaks with chemical grouting, clean 40,000 street grates to ensure proper water diversion and eliminate debris clogging drains, clean the entire underground subway system to remove debris and reduce fire hazard and accelerating the repair of potential track issues across the entire underground track by dispatching 31 teams across the system to target locations with the highest rate of incidents and expanding major overhaul capacity from 950 to 1,100 cars per year to increase reliability.