To some, last week was a turning point in Andrew Cuomo’s long battle to distance himself from his ailing transit agency, the MTA. Instead of shirking off responsibilities for the collapsing subway system, or pressing for token legislation to provide him with even more power, Cuomo seized it himself, declaring a “state of emergency” in the subways and promising $1 billion to help shore up the abysmal service.
As the Daily News points out, the recent amendment to the MTA’s capital plan that its board recently passed strips $1.2 billion from the current capital plan that would have gone toward new subway cars, in addition to $37.6 million for new signals. The MTA argues that because those train cars won’t be ready until midway through the next capital plan in 2023 anyway, it shouldn’t be budgeting for their purchasing. The $37.6 million, the MTA claims, was for new signals that would have operated solely with the new trains.
Ostensibly, that freed up more than $1.2 billion to go toward the city’s crumbling subways, which vitally need new signals to increase capacity on the lines. Currently, the MTA is finishing signal work for a single line, the 7 train, and has just recently begun work on the Queens Boulevard E/F/M/R lines, but only for the sections that run through Queens and parts of midtown Manhattan. Only the L train has been given completely new signals. That $1.2 billion could, theoretically, have gone to start another signal modernization project as soon as possible. Already, the MTA has pegged $3 billion in the current capital plan for new signals, although even the transit agency itself admits it won’t get around to outfitting the entire system with those signals until 2045 (and that’s a hopeful outlook).
Instead, however, the money is going toward Cuomo’s pet projects, including his poorly conceived LaGuardia AirTrain, a third track for the Long Island Rail Road (which is desperately needed but faces stiff local resistance), subway station enhancements that won’t necessarily increase station capacity, and cashless tolls. In keeping with his longtime neglect of the subways, Cuomo has shorted the system cash that had already been allotted to it.
Defending the move in a statement to the Voice, newly installed MTA chairman Joe Lhota gave us this statement: “Here are the facts — this Capital Plan has more than $3 billion for signals and more than $2.6 billion for cars. Every single subway car ordered is still coming to the MTA; the amendment simply reflects the delivery date during the next Capital Plan — which is the fastest any company could deliver them.”
The MTA also said it is currently looking into how it can get its trains made faster.
The billion dollars that Cuomo promised last week will not, in fact, add more money into signal modernization, as Cuomo claimed, but instead reduce some of the MTA’s massive debt. If that money ever comes to pass at all (it’s subject to next year’s always-dysfunctional budget negotiations in Albany).
So in the past month, with the MTA facing a crisis, and a “state of emergency” declared, what has Cuomo done? Shorted the one thing the MTA desperately needs by more than a billion dollars. But man, have you been checking out these light shows?