MTA bumps up capital plan amid crossfire with de Blasio

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While the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority's proposed 2.4% bump in its five-year capital program involved no new funds, it generated spirited debate Wednesday on several fronts.

The MTA's board approved the increase to $33.3 billion from $32.5 billion through fund transfers from previous capital plans. A state capital program review board must approve the request.

The MTA's deputy chief financial officer, Don Spero, said the roughly $800 million extra reflects the subway action plan and enhanced station initiatives, and the troubled East Side access project.

The running crossfire between Mayor Bill de Blasio and the state-run MTA continues to provide a backdrop.

Cornered by the state budget bill, the city recently agreed to contribute $418 million, or half the first-phase cost of the so-called subway action plan, a triage designed to fix the city's subway infrastructure.

De Blasio is scheduled to announce his fiscal 2019 executive budget on Thursday.

Right before Wednesday's board meeting in lower Manhattan, city officials released a letter from de Blasio and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson that called for monitoring of the subway plan.

De Blasio cited a jaded ridership.

"The public is skeptical when it comes to work performed by the MTA, especially given recent public reports about prolonged delays and billions of dollars in cost overruns on MTA projects," de Blasio and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson wrote authority Chairman Joseph Lhota.

The MTA, one of the largest municipal issuers with roughly $37.3 billion in bonds outstanding, said Monday that the cost of the East Side access project would rise by a further $1 billion, to $11 billion. The project, intended to route Long Island Rail Road trains into Grand Central terminal, started with a $4.3 billion budget with the original completion date scheduled for 2009.

Subway and bus delays and breakdowns over the past year have plunged New York-area transit into crisis mode.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo last summer declared a state of emergency at the MTA. City Comptroller Scott Stringer recently reported that subway delays could cost New York's economy up to $400 million.

De Blasio and Johnson want the MTA to redeploy staff and resources from non-critical efforts, such as station painting and retiling, to core needs such as signal and track inspection, and repair. They said that under the first phase, only 4% of the operating costs and 10% of the capital costs fund physical signal upgrades.

They also asked for better transparency and frequent reviews of the plan.

"We want to be more of a partner and more engaged in the oversight," said city transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, one of four de Blasio appointees to the MTA board.

Lhota dismissed as "hogwash" a suggestion earlier in the week by de Blasio that the MTA had withheld the latest East Side Access cost spike during the state budget process to get more favorable response from Albany.

"The mayor's making that up," he said.

Lhota announced the subway action plan last summer, shortly after beginning his second run as chairman.

"Look, I'm happy to partner with them," Lhota told reporters. "There's no need for a letter to do this."

This week, Andy Byford, president of the MTA's New York City Transit division, announced a separate turnaround designed to modernize bus operations. Byford provided no cost estimates, but told board members Wednesday that he would devise a scorecard and report frequently on progress.

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Transportation industry Budgets Bill de Blasio Corey Johnson Joseph Lhota Andrew Cuomo City of New York, NY State of New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority New York