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As legislative session wanes, MTA chief warns of more East Side Access delays

Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman and CEO Thomas F.

Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman and CEO Thomas F. Prendergast testifies at a hearing of the New York City Council Committees on Transportation and Finance on Monday June 1, 2015. Photo Credit: Bryan R. Smith / Bryan R. Smith

MTA chairman and CEO Thomas Prendergast said Wednesday the agency's delay-plagued megaproject to link the Long Island Rail Road to Grand Central Terminal could be set back even further if state lawmakers don't reach a deal soon to fund the MTA's $32 billion capital program.

At a meeting of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority Board, Prendergast said it appears "unlikely" the State Legislature will take up his agency's capital program before the current session concludes this week. But he said he remained confident the plan -- which had a $14 billion deficit -- would eventually be funded.

"However, I would be remiss if I did not state that the urgency is increasing. And it's increasing at a rapidly increasing pace," Prendergast said in Manhattan. "Without money behind the program, we can't award some critical contracts for the East Side Access project."

One specific contract in jeopardy is known as "CM007" -- a major construction project that would make strides in transforming the newly bored caverns under Manhattan's East Side into a viable commuter hub, including with new concrete structures and train tracks.

According to program executive Bill Goodrich, who oversees East Side Access, the contract -- expected to cost in the hundreds of millions of dollars -- needs to be awarded no later than January 2016, and preferably by November of this year, "in order to not impact the critical path of the program."

If the money were not there, Prendergast said the MTA would have to suspend the contract process.

"Hopefully, you could start it up in time so it doesn't result in a delay to the overall program. That's kind of where we are now," said Prendergast, adding other MTA contracts could also be put at risk. "We can't really wait until the next legislative session."

The next session would be due to convene in January.

East Side Access, which aims to save 160,000 LIRR riders up to 40 minutes a day in their commute, has been marred by delays since it was first proposed. It was originally projected to be finished by 2009 and cost $4.3 billion. The project now has a budget of $10.2 billion and a targeted completion date of December 2022.

Despite the increasing urgency of getting approval for a five-year capital program, which will fund MTA infrastructure maintenance, expansion and improvement projects through 2019, state lawmakers have given the subject little attention in the waning days of their session, even while taking up issues including allowing pets at outdoor cafes and regulating mixed martial arts.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's press office and spokesmen for Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport) and for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) did not respond to requests for comment.

MTA Board member Susan Metzger on Monday suggested the dangling East Side Access construction award could represent the first real casualty of the state's inaction.

"We've had discussions amongst ourselves about how long we can hang on without a capital plan approved," Metzger told fellow board members. "I think this is your first glimpse of how long we can hang on."

Although the MTA says it can come up with about $17 billion of the $32 billion needed for the full capital plan, Prendergast has said the agency's top priority in the program must be funding routine maintenance projects to keep the region's public transportation system -- the largest in North America -- in a "state of good repair." That's estimated to cost about $20 billion.

System expansion projects, such East Side Access, are the lowest priority in the program, which officials have suggested is likely to be pared down before it is funded.

Gene Russianoff, spokesman for the Straphangers Campaign, Wednesday chided the governor over what he said is his lack of leadership on the issue, and contrasted him with his father, Mario Cuomo, who as governor in the early 1980s, supported the MTA's early capital programs.

"Unfortunately, the governor [Andrew Cuomo] has not made it a priority," Russianoff said.


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