The head of New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority said he is "extremely worried" about sufficient funding to implement his subway-improvement plan.

Chairman Joseph Lhota again urged the city to contribute more and took another swipe at Mayor Bill de Blasio.

“The mayor shouldn’t put silly advertisements on his website, but actually do the right thing for the people of New York City, and that is, help our subway system,” Lhota said during a Wednesday afternoon conference call with reporters.

Then-MTA Chairman and CEO Joseph J. Lhota in Grand Central Terminal on Fri., December 28, 2012
"We planned for the worst and hoped for the best, and combined that with good management,” said MTA chairman Joseph Lhota. MTA New York City Transit/Marc Hermann

Lhota and his boss, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, have sparred frequently with de Blasio over how to fund the state-run MTA, one of the largest municipal issuers with roughly $38 billion in debt and which Cuomo controls.

De Blasio defeated Lhota in the 2013 mayoral election.

Lhota’s triage, which he announced July 25, would initially cost about $856 million, $380 million of that out of the capital budget. This would involve signal and track maintenance, train car reliability, safety and cleanliness, customer communications and what he called a “critical management group.”

Cuomo has said the state would pay for half the cost. De Blasio, seeking election to a second term, has lambasted the MTA of late.

“The MTA – look, let’s be very blunt about this – the MTA for years has done the wrong thing,” he said recently. “They’ve been mismanaged; they should have invested in all the basic things that keep the subway system going. They didn’t do it.”

According to Lhota, efficient planning mitigated some commuter angst during the so-called summer of hell, with Amtrak conducting emergency track and signal-system repair around Penn Station. The work affected Long Island Rail Road and New Jersey Transit commuters.

LIRR is an MTA unit. More than 90% of LIRR’s trains ran on time in July – the best performance for the year to date, according to Lhota.

“We planned for the worst and hoped for the best, and combined that with good management,” said Lhota.

Lhota’s new management team consists of president Patrick Foye, the former executive director of the Port Authority; managing director and former interim executive director Ronnie Hakim; and chief development officer Janno Lieber.

Lieber, a former operative in the administration of former Mayor Ed Koch, ran point on Silverstein Properties’ initiative to rebuild the World Trade Center site after Sept. 11.

Cuomo in late June declared a state of emergency for the MTA. He ordered Lhota, who also ran the MTA in 2011 and 2012 before running for mayor, to devise a reorganization plan in 30 days and a review of the capital program in 60.

Speaking Wednesday, Lhota said his subway triage, which would include an estimated $8 billion in long-term improvements, essentially combined those the two reviews.

“I couldn’t do the 30-day plan without incorporating the 60-day plan with it,” he said. “That said, we also have the genius competition.”

Cuomo launched a “genius transit challenge,” a $3 million competition intended to elicit new strategies and technology for one of the nation's oldest transit systems.

Lhota said the contest has generated more than 400 responses.

“We’re analyzing them now,” he said. “I am more than pleasantly surprised at some of the ideas that have come forward – all types of things to modernize the subway system. We’ve got to retool all of these proposals and then figure out which ones we want to implement.”

The governor also called for a 90-day review of Consolidated Edison’s role in subway power failures, with an eye toward clawing back funds.

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Paul Burton

Paul Burton

Paul Burton is the Northeast Regional Editor for The Bond Buyer and the author of the book "Tales from the Newsrooms." He is a sought-after public speaker and has appeared on radio and TV shows, including former CBS News White House correspondent Sharyl Attkisson’s public-affairs program, “Full Measure.”