Even as it continues to sift through the wreckage of Hurricane Sandy – some of it way beyond public view -- New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority must move quickly on the first $2 billion worth of repairs under federal reimbursement guidelines.
“It’s a federal requirement that we have to do it within 24 months, no two ways about it,” acting chairman Fernando Ferrer said after Wednesday’s board meeting in midtown Manhattan. “We’ll do everything we can within that short time period, and we’ll do it in a prudent and responsible way.”
The MTA expects to make many of those repairs through its Fast-Track program, which involves shutting specific lines down over blocks of time such as weeknights or weekend to accelerate projects.
While service is back for most of the system, save for the shutdown of the new South Ferry station and the mainland-to-Rockaway Peninsula portion of the A train in Queens, less visible components such as signal switches sustained costly damage that the MTA is still estimating.
“If you have a signal degradation, it’s likely the introduction of salt water into the system,” Ferrer said.
The authority stands to receive $8.8 billion in federal relief aid for equal parts repairs and hardening the system.
“Every time you push that button, there’s a cost involved,” interim executive director Thomas Prendergast said at Monday’s New York City transit and bus committee meeting. “It’s a step function, not a lineal continuum. We don’t want to spend money foolishly. We want to effectively spend that money in a very short period of time. So there are going to be greater outages.”
Next month, the MTA plans to reopen the old South Ferry station, retired when the new one opened in 2009, adjacent to the Staten Island ferry terminal and known for its loop that forces riders to exit trains only from the first five cars. Train operators still use those tracks for turnarounds.
As part of its first funding round, the Federal Transit Administration reimbursed MTA New York City Transit for an initial $629,100 of recovery work at the new station, which included pumping out water, removing debris, assessing damage and inspecting equipment. The new station sits below the water table.
In one of its shortest meetings in recent memory – only 20 minutes -- the board on Wednesday rubber-stamped the finance committee’s approval two days earlier of $1.7 billion of transportation revenue bonds, and authorized the use of the liquidity facilities under negotiation for Sandy interim financing for other existing approved capital projects.
Moody’s Investors Service rates the MTA’s transportation revenue bonds A2, while Standard & Poor’s and Fitch Ratings assign A ratings. The authority has just under $32 billion in debt outstanding overall.
The board also approved new guidelines for swap transactions and added Covington & Burling LLP and Anderson Kill & Olick PC to the MTA’s list of approved law firms. They will advise the authority on Sandy-related insurance claims.
No word has come yet from Gov. Andrew Cuomo about a new chairman of New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority, but that doesn’t bother Ferrer.
“The governor’s office said they’re working on it, and since they’ve cooperated fully on everything from Superstorm Sandy mitigation to reopening South Ferry station to budget proposals that benefit the MTA, I take that as face value,” said Ferrer, who has said repeatedly he doesn’t want the permanent job.
Joseph Lhota resigned as chairman on Dec. 31 to run for New York City mayor. Cuomo must name a successor, subject to state Senate approval.