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MTA board approves $29B 2015-19 capital spending plan

MTA chairman and chief executive Thomas Prendergast is

MTA chairman and chief executive Thomas Prendergast is seen here in Manhattan on July 10, 2014. Credit: Craig Ruttle

The MTA Wednesday greenlighted a streamlined $29 billion capital program that aims to find new ways to stretch dollars, including by closing LIRR stations during construction work.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority Board unanimously passed the 2015-2019 spending plan, which will now go before the state's Capital Program Review Board for final approval.

The revised plan, which shrank from its originally proposed $32 billion, follows a deal between the state and New York City to put up a combined $10.5 billion. The MTA says it will pay for the rest by issuing bonds and through federal subsidies.

"While the underpinning of the capital program is 'renew, enhance and expand,' we need to look at new delivering strategies so that we can deliver this program faster, cheaper and better," MTA chairman Thomas Prendergast told the board at a Manhattan meeting.

The spending plan proposes several initiatives to raise efficiency and productivity, including by closing LIRR stations during midday hours when construction work is underway.

Prendergast said temporarily shuttering stations during construction projects will allow LIRR work crews to "get in, get very productive and get out."

But MTA Board member Ira Greenberg, who represents the LIRR Commuter Council, said the strategy will come at a price for railroad customers.

"People should be prepared. They may not pay a lot more for the capital program. But they may pay in time," said Greenberg, who supported the proposal. "We're going to close stations. We're going to have more inconvenience. But I think, in the long run, it may be better."

The LIRR stands to receive $2.8 billion from the plan, including funding for the next fleet of train cars; to complete construction of a second track between Farmingdale and Ronkonkoma; to advance a major renovation at Jamaica, including by building a new track platform; to design a new station near Republic Airport in East Farmingdale; and to begin work on a new yard for the Huntington/Port Jefferson line.

The plan also includes funding for the LIRR and Metro-North to complete installation of federally required positive train control (PTC) crash-prevention technology.

The MTA received some good news on that front Tuesday, when the House passed a bill to extend at least three years the deadline for all railroads to have the technology in place. Without the extension, railroads would have had until Dec. 31 to have the systems in place before being hit with huge fines.

The LIRR and Metro-North, which are well ahead of most railroads in installing the systems, have said they won't have them fully in place until 2018.

In positive train control, radio transponders installed on tracks and on trains communicate with one another to automatically slow or stop a train if it is going too fast, about to hit another train or violates a signal.

Experts have said PTC could have prevented several fatal accidents, including the May derailment of an Amtrak train in Philadelphia and the December 2013 Metro-North derailment in the Bronx.

Prendergast said Wednesday that, while the MTA is "heartened" by Congress' deadline extension, "That's not going to change our commitment to deliver it as soon as possible."


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