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Long Island

MTA approves $32 billion capital program, new LIRR contract

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority Wednesday approved its new $32 billion capital program, despite reservations from some board members who said it neglects underserved parts of the transit system and will be tough to fund.

The MTA also formally signed off on a new Long Island Rail Road labor contract that will give more than 5,000 LIRR workers raises totaling 17 percent over 6½ years.

The capital program aims to fund major infrastructure investments throughout the MTA through 2019, including $3.1 billion in LIRR projects. The plan now goes to the state's four-member MTA Capital Program Review Board for final approval.

All MTA board members except one voted for the plan, but several criticized it for not going far enough to address transportation needs in some parts of the MTA's service area. Staten Island representative Allen Cappelli cast the no vote against the plan, which he called "inadequate" and said "falls short in many ways," including by not expanding his borough's transit system.

But Long Island's two board members raised no objections to the plan, which Suffolk representative Mitchell Pally said "took care of most of our priorities that we can do at the moment." He said longer-term goals, like electrifying the Port Jefferson branch and building a third track on the LIRR's Main Line in Nassau, can't be addressed until other important projects included in the plan are finished. They include the completion of East Side Access and the construction of a rail yard in western Suffolk.

But some board members opined that the agency left out some key projects because of reluctance to ask state and federal lawmakers for too much money. The MTA says it is about $15 billion short of funding the $32 billion plan, and will probably count on government aid to make up some of the difference.

"I'm not sure why we drew the line at asking for an additional $15 billion to be funded ... when the needs are far greater," Cappelli said.

MTA chairman Thomas Prendergast disputed that financial concerns were the main reason some projects were left out, and said, rather, that the agency chose not to take on more work than it can handle at once.

"There's a point past which the system cannot sustain more work because you can't shut it down," Prendergast said. "One of the worst things we can do is cast a net so large, fight to get that money ... and not be able to spend it."

In another key vote, the board approved a new agreement with eight LIRR unions, two months after averting a strike that would have shut down the largest U.S. commuter railroad.

The contract, ratified by the unions last month, will give some 5,400 LIRR workers immediate bumps in pay of 12.5 percent, with an additional 1.5 percent raise coming in December. Under the contract, retroactive to 2010, workers will also receive lump sum payments by the end of the year averaging $25,000 in back wages.

Lead LIRR union negotiator Anthony Simon called the MTA's approval of the contract "a burden lifted" off workers.

"Now it's time to get back to the work that we were put in place to do," Simon said.

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