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MTA eyes new ways to fill $15B capital budget hole

MTA Chairman Tom Prendergast holds a press conference

MTA Chairman Tom Prendergast holds a press conference at MTA headquarters on Wednesday, March 25, 2015. Photo Credit: Louis Lanzano

The MTA will consider several new ideas to fill its $15 billion capital budget gap, including putting tolls on currently free East River bridges and taxing motorists depending on how much they drive, the agency's chief said Wednesday.

A day after the Citizens Budget Commission became the latest advocacy group to suggest new ways to fund the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, MTA chairman and chief executive Thomas Prendergast said at a meeting of the MTA board that he was open to ideas from outside parties on how to resolve the agency's funding woes.

"We would like to hear what all the different funding alternatives are and have them be part of the dialogue," said Prendergast, who has not publicly supported any specific plan. "We don't want to just look at a singular funding source. . . . A number of people who have looked at this think it may take more than one funding source to fill this gap."

The MTA has not found the funding for nearly half of its proposed $32 billion capital program, which would pay for maintaining, improving and expanding the region's transit system through 2019, including through the purchase of new Long Island Rail Road train cars and completing the LIRR's East Side Access connection to Grand Central Terminal.

In its report, "More Than Fare: Options for Funding Future Capital Investments by the MTA," the Citizens Budget Commission, a nonprofit research group, said that because significantly higher gas taxes or Department of Motor Vehicles fees may not be politically feasible, the agency's best options are a "vehicle miles traveled" tax for drivers, or a new tolls policy at MTA bridges and tunnels.

The group endorsed the Move NY plan by former New York City Traffic Commissioner "Gridlock" Sam Schwartz. It would add new tolls to four currently toll-free bridges into Manhattan, as well as along the length of 60th Street in Manhattan, while reducing tolls on such outer crossings as the Throgs Neck Bridge by as much as 48 percent.

"Increased reliance on motor vehicle user fees is consistent with widely agreed upon goals of using financial incentives to reduce the harmful consequences of extensive motor vehicle use," Citizens Budget Commission research co-director Charles Brecher told MTA board members Wednesday.

Prendergast said the plans forwarded by the CBC and Move NY are among "the funding sources to look at."

But AAA New York spokesman Robert Sinclair Jr. urged the MTA not to balance its capital budget on the backs of drivers, who already subsidize the agency through drivers' fees, gas taxes, and ever-increasing tolls.

"Drivers are not a bottomless pit of money," Sinclair said.

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