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In little under a week, Governor Andrew Cuomo has gone from claiming that he has no real responsibility for the MTA to proposing a caustic and slapdash way forward for the troubled agency. Perhaps it was the avalanche of scathing criticism coming at him from seemingly every single press outlet? Who knows!
On Tuesday, in a hastily announced press conference at CUNY Graduate Center in Manhattan, Cuomo, along with city and local politicians (but notably not Mayor Bill de Blasio), announced a framework of a plan for how to fix New York City’s ailing transit infrastructure. In the 45-minute speech, Cuomo touted many of his own accomplishments — New bridges! Cashless tolling! Glorious light shows! — and conflated the deterioration of Penn Station (which is controlled by the federal government) with the chaos in the subways (which are controlled solely by him).
“The intolerable state of disrepair in Penn Station and its ripple effect of delays and dysfunction throughout the subway system have reached a breaking point, and we must enact this comprehensive action plan now to find both short- and long-term solutions to these growing challenges, upgrade outdated infrastructure, and meet the needs of current and future generations of New Yorkers,” Cuomo said.
Cuomo’s first major proposal: He’d like the federal government to either a) hand over Penn Station to a private company to manage it, b) have the Port Authority take over Penn Station, or c) let him run it.
Cuomo also called for a comprehensive vision for Penn Station that would combine his already announced but entirely cosmetic plan to turn the train station into a mall with the new cross-Hudson tunnel, whose fate the Trump administration is still mulling over.
To do that, he’s convening a task force to come up with a plan for Penn Station, stacked with local politicians and real estate executives, including Trump advisor Steve Roth, the CEO of Vornado. Yesterday, the governor appealed to President Trump to help fix Penn Station.
There is not a single career public sector transit professional on this list. Not one. https://t.co/dKXZp4wDmQ
— Market Urbanism (@MarketUrbanism) May 23, 2017
Cuomo’s focus on Penn Station was spurred by the recent announcement of Amtrak’s planned track closings, following weeks of derailments and signal meltdowns that laid bare the decrepit state of the tracks below the station. Cuomo described the track closings as leading toward a “summer of hell,” where the already cramped situation at Penn Station will only get worse. The task force will also be looking at options for alternatives for Long Island commuters, which might include a high-speed ferry (faster, perhaps, than de Blasio’s new ferries?!?!).
Cuomo then transitioned to the state of the subways, for which he has been taking considerable guff from commuters. Instead of allocating more funding, or the immediate dispersal of already promised funds, Cuomo took a page from the MacArthur Foundation and announced three “Genius” awards for companies that could figure out how to replace the subway’s aging signals as soon as possible, get aging subway cars to run better, and increase connectivity for commuters while they’re in tunnels. (You can throw your hat in the ring here.)
Perhaps the most somber (or hopeful, depending on your perspective) moment of the presentation was when Cuomo reminded everyone that he’d be dead in forty years and said he’d like to see the trains running better before then.
But unless he’s willing to put in real money and risk some political capital to actually improve the conditions of mass transit in New York City, the governor might expire with some train traffic still ahead of him.