The biggest of transit agencies and the smallest of states are vexed by the same problem: how to fund repairs for crumbling infrastructure.
On Wednesday, New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority forwarded its second-chance, five-year, $29 billion capital program --$3 billion self-funded -- to a state review board. The MTA got most of what it originally sought only after a year of turmoil followed by an intricate compromise among city, state and transit officials.
And even the unprecedented $8.3 billion commitment of state money from Gov. Andrew Cuomo and $2.5 billion from New York City comes with questions and strings. MTA Chairman Thomas Prendergast on Wednesday likened the travails of the past few months to a hazardous steeplechase competition in his high school gym class. Prendergast, though no Olympian, must now prepare for a different kind of joust.
City officials will have more say in capital projects that affect commuters in the five boroughs and just how the MTA will receive the city money is uncertain, as is legislative approval for the Cuomo commitment.
"I wouldn't say I'm nervous," said MTA Chairman Thomas Prendergast. "There have been some trying times and some difficult issues, but we got to the point where we got the commitments from the major stakeholders, and support across the board.
"Certainly the city is saying that for its level of commitment they want a seat at the table as part of the dialogue."
The MTA is one of the largest municipal issuers with about $36 billion in debt. It operates the city's 100-year-old subway system, two commuter rail lines and several bridges and tunnels. About 70% of the capital plan is for state-of-good-repair, or basic maintenance, with funds also earmarked for resilience against future storms such as Hurricane Sandy.
One day earlier and about 180 miles northeast, Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo spoke to investors and analysts at a Bond Buyer event. Raimondo, a first-year governor who became a national figure for championing pension overhaul, is hinging her state's economic rebound on infrastructure initiatives.
"Do something for me," she said. "As you go to the airport on I-95, look at our bridges. Some of them are rotting, falling apart. In some cases it's like Lincoln Logs.
"We cannot have a vibrant economy when we have the worst bridges in America."
Raimondo's RhodeWorks plan to impose interstate highway tolls on large commercial trucks to backstop a $700 million bond for transportation infrastructure passed the union-friendly state Senate but stalled in the House amid trucking leaders that say it unfairly targets one industry.
Raimondo said the state needs revenue but the gas tax is now unreliable, given driver habits and the fuel efficiency of modern cars.
"The gas tax is going in the wrong direction. It's going down," she said in an interview.
Connecticut, which lies between New York and Rhode Island, is home to Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy's 30-year, $100 billion transportation infrastructure program. Republicans argue the plan could be less expensive, and the state's recently announced $121 million deficit could force Malloy to downsize his ambitions.
In Massachusetts, 100 inches of snow last winter crippled Greater Boston's subway system and inspired Gov. Charlie Baker and state lawmakers to overhaul the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. A Baker-appointed special panel cited an infrastructure backlog.
"This is not a spring-chicken system by any stretch of the imagination," MBTA General Manager Beverly Scott said in February shortly before she resigned.
According to former New York MTA Chairman Richard Ravitch, infrastructure projects provide little short-term political gratification.
"Politicians would rather spend the money on other things," said Ravitch, a former New York lieutenant governor best known for advising New York City as it emerged from its mid-1970s brush with bankruptcy.
"There is little short-term gratification. Term limits has been a terrible thing for the public infrastructure because -- and I've had mayors and governors say this - 'Why the hell should I start something cause I ain't gonna be around when they actually get it financed and get it built.' "
Ravitch called U.S. public infrastructure underfunding dramatic.
"We are spending a fraction of our [gross domestic product] on our public infrastructure," he said Wednesday at a Standard & Poor's conference at the Harvard Club of New York. "The Chinese are spending nine times as high a percentage of GDP as we are."
In metropolitan New York, the biggest urgency is well beyond public view.
"The rail tunnels underneath the Hudson River have been deteriorating for years. They are the biggest bottleneck in the metro region's transit network, causing delays that ripple up and down the Northeast corridor," Tom Wright, president of think tank Regional Plan Association, said in a video.
Amtrak has said the tunnels, built in 1910, might not even last through the next decade. Damage from Hurricane Sandy in October 2012 worsened their condition, with residue eating away at walls and wiring.
"Closing one of the existing tunnels before new tunnels are built would deliver a terrible blow to the region's economy," said Wright, who noted that passenger demand has more than doubled since 1990 and projected to spike by more than 40% to 2040. "The only way to avoid this is to build a new pair of tunnels."
Amtrak, and officials from New Jersey and New York, have recently resumed discussions over funding for a new tunnel after U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx pushed the parties back to the table.
According to Ravitch, who called the MTA funding dance "absolute nonsense, if you really want to know," political theater such as the feud between Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has eclipsed serious discussion about basic transportation needs.
"It became a story about a conflict between the governor and the mayor, which is fun politics but has nothing to do with maintaining a state of good repair on the public transportation system."
He added that New York's round-the-clock subway system, while expensive, fills a dire social need.
"I remember some of my business friends saying to me: 'Why don't you let a business company run the buses in New York City and close down all those routes where not very many people use them?' and I said your maids would never get to your apartments to get your clean your houses every day."