Watchdog Report Says N.Y. MTA Subway Fix Backlog Huge

Register now

Prospects for bringing all 467 New York City subway stations to a state of good repair are dim even if the Metropolitan Transportation Authority receives full funding for its proposed capital plan for 2015-2019, according to the Citizens Budget Commission watchdog organization.

State of good repair is transportation parlance for basic maintenance.

In the commission's report, "Sisyphus and Subway Stations," research associate Jamison Dague examines why MTA subway stations never reach a state of good repair and recommends how to grasp the challenge.

The current pace of work brings 280 components per year to a state of good repair; according to the CBC. "Given the backlog and rate at which components depreciate and become in need of work, it is unclear when all stations will reach a state of good repair."

The MTA is one of the largest municipal issuers with roughly $36 billion of debt. Its proposed capital program for 2015-2019 of roughly $30 billion is still about $3.2 billion short, even when factoring in Gov. Andrew Cuomo's $8 billion commitment in next year's state budget.

According to the CBC, diverting some new-expansion project capital funds to state of good repair could fast-track some of the work. "Shifting funds allocated for the next phase of the Second Avenue subway to station investments would cover 85% of the cost to bring all stations to a state of good repair in 30 years, said the report.

CBC also advised the authority to minimize cost overruns. Of the 42 station rehabilitations and renewals completed between November 2010 and January 2014, 28 incurred cost increases, including 10 that more than doubled, said the commission.

Additionally, increased use of public-private partnerships can inject private-sector capital and expertise, said the CBC. The MTA's 2014 agreement with One Vanderbilt developer SL Green for $210 million in subway improvements along with a 65-story office tower next Grand Central Terminal, involved exchanging exchange of privately financed station work for additional development rights.

Another precedent, according to CBC, is the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation's establishment of parks conservancies.

"As nonprofit organizations, such 'station conservancies' could marshal resources to rehabilitate and maintain stations on an ongoing basis," Dauge wrote. "Appropriate governance and regulation of these conservancies is required to avoid abuses and inequities among neighborhoods, but they can yield significant public benefits."

Under another model, said Dague, the MTA could assign to a private firm or consortium responsibility for financing and implementing.

MTA Chairman Thomas Prendergast has said the authority could pare at least $3 billion off its capital needs through procurement streamlining and other efficiencies.

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, click here.