Opinion: MTA and its riders can’t afford to wait

Gazette photo by Katelyn Cordero

To the editor:

While New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo continue to fight over who is responsible for management of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and how much each should contribute for funding the current $32 billion 2015-2019 Five Year Capital Plan, Washington continues to be a reliable funding partner.

Federal support for transportation has remained consistent and growing over past decades.  When a crisis occurred, be it 9-11 in 2001 or Hurricane Sandy in 2012, Washington was there for us.  Additional billions in assistance above and beyond yearly formula allocations from the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Transit Administration was provided.  In 2009, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act provided billions more.

Most federal transportation grants require a 20 percent hard-cash local share. In most cases, the Federal Transit Administration accepted toll credits instead of hard cash for the local share. This saved the MTA over $1 billion in the previous 2010-2014 five-year capital program. The same will be true with the 2015-2019 five-year capital program.

Washington has made available over $1.3 billion in 2017 Federal Transit Administration formula funding for the MTA which helps pays for 25 percent of its capital program.  This includes $23 million in Buses and Bus Facilities; $699 million in State of Good Repair and $647 million in Urbanized Area federal funding.  There are other opportunities for up to several hundred million more in discretionary competitive federal grants.  The MTA can also take advantage of Federal Transit Administration pre-award authority prior to grant approval.  Use of Pre-award authority affords the MTA an opportunity to start projects months earlier and incur costs for reimbursement at a later date after grant approval and obligation of funding.  The MTA currently manages an active portfolio of federally funded capital improvement projects and programs in open grants worth over $12 billion in direct Federal Transit Administration financial assistance.

Instead of complaining, Mayor Bill de Blasio should come up with the balance of $2.5 billion the city still owes toward fully funding the $32 billion MTA 2015-2019 Five Year Capital Program and provide several billion more.  City Hall should match Albany dollar for dollar in any increased assistance.  Governor Andrew Cuomo should deliver the outstanding balance $5.8 billion balance toward his original $8.3 billion pledge plus his most recent new commitment of an additional $1 billion.

MTA can’t afford to wait until 2018 or 2019 for both de Blasio and Cuomo to make good on their respective promised financial commitments. Neither can transit riders and taxpayers who are looking for accountability, efficient and timely completion for both capital projects and routine maintenance to assure more reliable and safe on time service.

Larry Penner is a transportation historian and advocate who worked 31 years for the US Department of Transportation Federal Transit Administration Region 2 NY Office.