Congestion pricing delay leaves MTA budget in limbo

For the first time in decades, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority was close to having the money needed to operate and repair the continent’s largest mass transit system.

That changed Wednesday, when Gov. Kathy Hochul abruptly declared she would suspend a tolling project that would have raised money officials needed for crucial improvements to New York City’s subways and buses.

The authority now faces a $15 billion shortfall in its capital plans, calling into question its ability to maintain the century-old infrastructure that millions of New Yorkers rely on by repairing and upgrading equipment aging, by modernizing signals and technology. and make metro stations more accessible to people with disabilities.

The governor could replace that money, at least temporarily, with funding from state reserves. She would also consider proposing a tax on New York City businesses, which would require approval from the state Legislature. That’s far from guaranteed, especially since there’s only one day left in the legislative session.

MS. Hochul’s decision put the MTA back in the familiar position of having to fight other state interests to fill its covers.

“The governor is between a rock and a hard place because she’s the one who said she had the money,” said Lisa Daglian, executive director of the authority’s Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee, a group monitoring. “Most of us will be very surprised to know where this money will come from,” she added.

As transit agencies across the country have struggled to save their budgets from pandemic deficits, Ms. Hochul and state contractors gave the authority a lifeline last year when they agreed to include new and recurring funding for the MTA in the state budget. Recently, New York transit leaders have been lurching from crisis to crisis, warning of a so-called transit death spiral, in which declining ridership would lead to an even greater decline in revenue until to the collapse of the network.

Until her ouster on Wednesday, Ms. Hochul seemed determined to fund the transit system and push congestion pricing to the finish line. Just two weeks ago, the governor told attendees at the World Economic Summit in Ireland that implementing a congestion charge was necessary to “make cities more liveable”.

This week’s development could now pit the governor’s political interests against the needs of the MTA. Authority officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The $15 billion from congestion pricing was to fund critical, long-planned projects as part of the MTA’s $51.5 billion capital program. Under state law, the money could not be used to support daily transit operations or to subsidize subway and bus fares. The $15 billion was to be secured by bond financing, supported by projected tolls of about $1 billion per year.

But in recent months, as the transit agency faced lawsuits over congestion pricing, MTA officials had halted new contracts for all but the most urgent construction. No bonds have yet been issued for congestion pricing, MTA officials said.

MTA officials have previously said that if funds for congestion pricing fail, they would have to delay or scale back those projects. On Wednesday, the transit agency referred questions to the governor’s office about the future of those projects.

Andrew Rein, chairman of the Citizens Budget Commission, a watchdog group, said further delaying critical repairs and improvements to the subway system would allow its aging infrastructure to deteriorate even further, affecting millions of riders.

“Our public transport system urgently needs investment to get it back into good shape; we should not rush into more ‘hell summers’,” he said.

Mr. Rein added that when the repairs are finally made, “ultimately it will cost a lot more.”

MTA capital projects currently on hold include:

  • $3 billion to upgrade signals on a section of the A and C lines in Brooklyn and on the B, D, F and M lines in Manhattan, whose switches date back to the 1930s.

  • $2 billion in projects to make stations more accessible, including adding elevators and updating public announcement systems

  • $2 billion for new subway cars, electric buses and charging equipment.

  • $3 billion in repairs and improvements to the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North Railroad.

And the MTA needs $3 billion to advance the second phase of the Second Avenue Subway, which would extend service north from 96th Street to 125th Street and add three new stations. New York has already received $3.4 billion from the federal government for this project.

In a report released last month, State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli highlighted the importance of the MTA’s capital program, which “is critical to returning riders to public transportation and increasing fare revenue “.

“The issues are about more than just delayed projects,” Mr. DiNapoli said in the report. “If the MTA closes the capital fund gap by using its operating budget to fund more borrowing, less money would be available for day-to-day operations and goals, such as increasing service. »

The sudden pause in congestion pricing raises questions about the more than $555 million approved by the MTA for the installation, operation and maintenance of dozens of gantries and other equipment intended for congestion pricing. congestion at nearly 110 toll points across Manhattan.

In 2019, the MTA selected TransCore, a Nashville transportation infrastructure company, to design, build and supervise the traffic controllers. A TransCore translation declined to comment, directing questions to the MTA

The MTA did not respond to questions about how much the contract paid, but most of the infrastructure needed for the tolls has already been installed.

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