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MTA aims to approve capital spending plan next month, Prendergast says

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 Metropolitan Transportation Authority next month is expected to approve a five-year, $26.8 billion capital spending plan, including funding for the LIRR, the agency's chief said Thursday.

But whether a fiscal feud with Mayor Bill de Blasio will trigger cuts is not yet known.

MTA chairman Thomas Prendergast took a less combative stance at the agency's full board meeting Thursday than on Monday, when he asked staffers to devise a plan to slash funding solely in New York City.

"I wouldn't characterize it as a fight," he said in Manhattan, but an "engaged discussion."

However, Amy Spitalnick, de Blasio's spokeswoman, Thursday reiterated the city's rhetoric from earlier this week. In an email, she stood by Monday's position that discussing any cuts to the capital plan before identifying where the extra state aid will come from, and returning $270 million diverted from the MTA and ending that diversion practice, would be "premature, divisive and irresponsible political game-playing."

The MTA, which is pressuring the city to boost its contribution to $3.2 billion from $657 million over five years, is analyzing cuts throughout the region as well, Prendergast assured the city's board representative Monday. De Blasio has resisted the pressure.

Though the mayor upped the city's share to $125 million a year, that only is $25 million a year more than what the city has given since 1982, according to the Straphangers Campaign transit advocates. If city funding had kept pace with inflation, it would be paying $363 million a year, the advocates said, citing a city Independent Budget Office analysis.

"This isn't a deal the city is getting, it's a steal," said Gene Russianoff, a Straphangers Campaign spokesman.

The MTA's Capital Program aims to fund infrastructure maintenance, expansion and improvement projects through 2019. This new capital plan is so far behind schedule -- previous programs were approved in June or July -- that at least two of its largest projects, East Side Access to link the Long Island Rail Road to Grand Central Terminal, and replacement of the MetroCard system, might be delayed a few months, Prendergast suggested.

A small example of the kinds of compromises LIRR riders have long endured arose Monday, when a new $20 million contract to fix communications was reviewed.

The system that was supposed to provide "next station" information over the public address system and on interior and exterior signs "has been inoperable for several years," the staff summary said. Work on the improvements is expected to start next year, MTA spokesman Salvatore Arena said by email, but he could not immediately say when the upgrades would be done.

Once the MTA board approves a revised spending plan, the state will be asked to enact it. However, getting Albany lawmakers to accept any revisions might prove tricky.

"If we go back and reopen those doors, it's a difficult place to be," Prendergast warned.

Spokesmen for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, the Assembly speaker, and the Senate majority leader had no immediate comment.

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