On Monday, the board of New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority expects to hear a presentation of the proposed four-year capital plan the MTA must submit to state officials by Oct. 1.
This time, there is more pressure for the authority to shift its focus from Manhattan to the outer boroughs, while coping with an aging infrastructure.
The capital plan traditionally funds infrastructure, from routine train repair to megaprojects. The MTA, a state agency, is one of the biggest municipal bond issuers with $34 billion of debt.
State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli warned in July that the MTA's capital funding gap may exceed $12 billion. The report found that despite $90 billion in capital investments since 1982, the MTA has not restored the entire transit system to a state of good repair, partially because cost overruns on large capital projects siphoned off resources that could have been used to modernize the system.
Just how to fund this capital plan, expected to cost around $30 billion, might not emerge until after the state elections in November.
"Basically, the capital plan is a laundry list. They never seem to connect the dots," said Gene Russianoff, an attorney and chief spokesman for the Straphangers Campaign subway ridership lobbying group. "They're not going to tell you there's 50 new buses for the B41 in Brooklyn."
Moody's assigns an A2 rating to the MTA's transportation revenue bonds, its primary credit. Fitch Ratings and Standard & Poor's rate them AA-minus and A, respectively. The MTA operates New York City's subway system, seven bridges, two tunnels, and two large suburban commuter railroads.
"As is typical of older, more mature urban centers, we expect the MTA will need to balance the needs of aging infrastructure and tight budgets-particularly with so much less support from the federal government," said Loop Capital Markets vice president Rachel Barkley. "I would note, however, that this not a new issue for the MTA, which has a history of managing these competing pressures quite well."
Headline capital projects in the pipeline include the Second Avenue subway line, East Side access for Long Island Railroad trains, the expansion of the No. 7 line from midtown Manhattan to the West Side and the nearly-finished $1.4 billion Fulton Street transit center in lower Manhattan.
Future capital plans may call for significant alternatives to the traditional hub-and-spoke system that funnels riders into midtown and lower Manhattan, and new transportation modes that reflect job growth and changing commuter patterns in Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Staten Island. New clustering of health care and educational centers and demographic shifts from gentrification are also in play.
While agendas vary, the outer boroughs are essentially saying, "Hey, what about us?"
"It is too soon to get into specifics on how it might impact capital spending in the future. However, one can see the MTA is planning to address this from its published studies on expanding its transportation network," said Barkley.
She cited the MTA's references to increasingly complex travel patterns, including reverse commuting and variable work hours, in its 40-year planning report. Potential strategies include expanded service in Queens, enhanced service at outer-borough commuter rail stations and additional stations in what the authority considers underserved markets.
In July, the MTA's 28-member Transportation Reinvention Commission, formed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, held three days of meetings at the authority's headquarters, talking about the capital plan to more visionary concepts. It expects to issue a report later this month.
Joan Byron, policy director for the Pratt Center for Community Development, wants to see more equitable transportation policies. "Obviously the capital plan is imbalanced. I'm talking about East Side Access, the Second Avenue Subway and the No. 7 line," she said. "There are natural benefits to real estate developers from the No. 7 line, the Hudson Yards project. It's time to work for equity."
Beyond the MTA, alternative transit proposals run all over the lot — and above it, so to speak. Real estate executive Dan Levy has proposed a new East River tram that would connect the Brooklyn Navy Yards and Williamsburg with lower Manhattan. Levy said private funding could cover the cost.
State Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder wants to reactivate a Rockaway rail line in Queens that the Long Island Rail Road closed in 1962. A potential Major League Soccer stadium adjacent to Aqueduct Race Track could help revive that initiative.
A Staten Island business group, meanwhile, is lobbying for light-rail trains on the island's West Shore.
"Whether or not the financial interests of lower Manhattan keep pecking away at the MTA capital plan, the future of the plan lies with JFK Airport, Hunt's Point and other job centers, certainly the hospitals and educational centers," said Russianoff. "I think the consensus is to better serve those neighborhoods in the outer boroughs."
Mayor Bill de Blasio's administration is touting select bus service — bus rapid transit in New York parlance -- in conjunction with the MTA. City transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said the city would like to add 13 SBS routes in four years.
Select bus service involves limited-stop service, off-board payment, dedicated bus lanes and traffic signal property, all designed to move crowded buses more efficiently. This year, the city and MTA have added such routes as 125th Street in Harlem; Webster Avenue, which carries U.S. Route 1 in the Bronx; and Woodhaven Boulevard in Queens.
Supporters say SBS is more time- and cost efficient than rail, and cite success stories elsewhere, from Cleveland to Bogata.
"Webster Avenue we can do a lot quicker than a Cleveland or a Bogata," Robert Thompson, manager for long-range bus service planning at MTA unit New York City Transit and former senior manager at the New York City Department of Transportation, said last week at a public meeting on SBS at the New York Transit Museum in downtown Brooklyn.
Byron, speaking at the same meeting, also cited resiliency benefits to bus rapid transit and dedicated lanes. "They can go where trains can't go. Look at how the hurricane knocked out the A train."
The Staten Island Economic Development Corp. has begun an online petition for light rail, looking to present Gov. Andrew Cuomo with 10,000 signatures. As of mid-September, the group had nearly 2,000.
According to first vice president Steve Grillo, the group is seeking $5 million for an alternative analysis study and a further $5 million for an environmental study. The former, a more immediate priority, needs sponsorship from a local transportation agency and therein lies the problem, said Grillo.
"We've encountered some negative attention from virtually every group. These agencies consider us an afterthought," he said.
Grillo, however, said West Shore growth warrants the rail service. He added that it could effectively link that part of the island to an SBS route along the North Shore rail corridor, which has sat unused since the early 1950s. An MTA study two years ago touted bus rapid transit along that corridor as more feasible than reviving North Shore rail.
One-size-fits-all solutions don't apply to Staten Island, according to Grillo.
"We need a strong, comprehensive transit plan that actually considers equity. This isn't Queens or the Bronx. Here you have to think a little," he said.
"The MTA runs the buses and trains, but they're mired in debt and they can only manage to keep the system running as it is," said Grillo. He envisions light rail crossing a reconstructed Bayonne Bridge and connecting with New Jersey's Hudson-Bergen light rail, which Port Authority of New York and New Jersey operates. "[But] it's an organization that is quite difficult to deal with, as we've seen," said Grillo.
"If the governor wants four new Metro-North stations in the Bronx, there are four new stations in the Bronx," he said. "We'll present the signatures to the governor."
Cuomo in January endorsed running some of Metro-North's New Haven commuter rail line trains over the Amtrak line to New York's Pennsylvania station, which would add four new east Bronx stations -- Hunts Point, Parkchester, Morris Park and Co-op City. All Metro-North trains now run to Grand Central Terminal.
State officials hope federal disaster relief aid, confirmation of which could come later this fall, would cover much of the estimated $1 billion cost for the purchase of new railcars and possibly new track. They say a Penn Station route would provide alternative access to Manhattan should storm or other damage happen at Grand Central Terminal and the same happen to the Harlem River Lift Bridge and Mott Haven Junction.
Access to Manhattan now hinges on both remaining fully operational. Two years ago, a fire nearly destroyed the lift bridge.
While outer-borough needs vary, Pratt's Byron called for a unified front from city transit leaders.
"New York City has four seats on the MTA board and we haven't always been disciplined about using that leverage," she said. "We have to use our seats on the MTA board and the legislature and provide a strong unified voice for things to change.
"We have to put our money where our mouth is. If the city can increase our own contribution to the capital plan, we can look other constituencies in the eyes and say look, we're ponying up, you should, too."