Cuomo speech rails at MTA, offers fixes

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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo called for major changes to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and New York's subways — as typified by these No. 7 trains at Corona Yard in Queens — in a Thursday speech.
Ralph Spielman

NEW YORK — New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo told a civic group Thursday that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority needs a fundamental reorganization, saying “We have to make dramatic changes and we have to do it now, no matter how uncomfortable.”

While the MTA was only one topic of Cuomo’s speech before the Association for a Better New York, which works to bring the public and private sectors closer together, it was a significant part of the address to 450 civic leaders.

Cuomo said former Gov. Nelson Rockefeller’s organization of the MTA to include the Long Island Rail Road, Metro-North, New York City Transit Authority ,and the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority was the easy way out. The authority now has 70,000 employees. Its budget of $16 billion is larger than that of 17 states.

Cuomo called the MTA’s board dysfunctional and a political nightmare. He said that once the board acts, the governor, mayor, Senate Leader and Assembly Speaker have the right to unilaterally veto the capital plan, with no reason to say way. In the future, while those leaders will be able to veto, they will have to make their reasons known. He also noted a history of close connections between the MTA and its vendors, which he wants to end. Former MTA employees often go to work for vendors, he said, creating an unhealthy mix that blunted accountability, performance metrics, and created an entrenched bureaucracy at the Agency.

He called for an independent audit of MTA finances, noting that the agency’s four divisions each have different financial standards, language, and assumptions. And he called for a real capital plan of up to $80 billion for the MTA, while seeking a focus on the current action plan for the subway system — including the need to address water seepage that is short-circuiting signal and to clean cars and stations.

On other MTA-related topics, Cuomo:

— Criticized the East Side Access project to bring Long Island Rail Road trains to Grand Central Terminal. Noting that the project had an estimated cost of $75 million when first proposed in 1969 and that the current estimate is $11 billion, he wondered why the project has taken so long and why the financial estimates were so far off. He promised a new team would examine the construction and design to see if it could be done better.

— Noted that his solution of bringing in independent experts had dramatically changed the plan to rebuild the subway system’s L train. That project was originally expected to require a two-year closure, but that plan was scrapped in favor of one that will mostly accomplish the work during nights and weekends.

New York State uses design-build construction, Cuomo noted, and that will be the way that the MTA will function — overseeing contracts, with the private sector responsible for design and construction. Contractors who run 10 percent over budget or 10 percent over deadline will be barred from further MTA business, and could be barred from business with any state agency.

Funding for any makeover of the MTA will largely hinge on the congestion pricing plan passed as part of the state’s 2020 budget. [See “State budget will boost New York City transit funding through congestion pricing, other taxes,” Trains News Wire, April 1, 2019.]


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