Newsday transportation reporter Alfonso Castillo talks about the impact of Gov. Hochul's pause on congestion pricing on LIRR riders. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

Gov. Kathy Hochul’s decision to pause the MTA’s congestion pricing plan could mean keeping the Long Island Rail Road’s oldest and least reliable trains in service for the foreseeable future, putting off a project to get Amtrak trains out of the way at a busy Queens junction, and delaying accessibility improvements to help thousands of LIRR riders with disabilities, according to officials.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority — the LIRR's parent organization — was counting on the $1 billion in annual toll revenue expected to be generated by congestion pricing to fund most of the remaining work in its 2020-24 $55 billion capital program. The total loss to the MTA's capital budget: $16.5 billion, which includes the cost of already installed tolling infrastructure.

Although the governor has vowed to make the MTA whole, agency officials, for now, are moving forward with a scaled-down capital program that focuses on maintaining, rather than expanding, the region’s public transportation system.

Because the LIRR was further ahead in its capital program than other MTA agencies, fewer railroad projects are in jeopardy than those involving the New York City bus and subway system. But the LIRR is not getting off unscathed.

Purchases of new trains, infrastructure work related to the Grand Central Madison expansion and upgrades at a pair of Queens stations are all being put on hold. That means while LIRR service won’t get worse because of the cuts, it won’t get any better, either.

“It’s disappointing, to say the least,” LIRR president Robert Free told Newsday of the railroad projects in jeopardy. “I’m hopeful that the governor will come through. I’ll keep her at her word.”

Hochul, talking to reporters in Manhattan on Tuesday, defended her decision to halt congestion pricing, which would have charged most vehicles $15 for driving below 60th Street in Manhattan. Hochul said “families are struggling” and “it's just not the right time” to add to their costs.

“Every project that is important, and they all are important, will be funded,” Hochul said of the MTA's capital program. “We will find the financing.”

Kyle Strober, executive director of Association for a Better Long Island, a business and development group that has supported Hochul's pause on congestion pricing, noted this isn't the first time the MTA has been forced to make tough decisions about how it will spend limited capital dollars.

“This is one more cycle allowing for a thoughtful review of how MTA predecessors successfully managed their challenges,” Strober said in a statement.

Here’s a look at how Hochul’s pause on congestion pricing will impact Long Islanders’ commutes.

The MTA has said that even with the reduced funding, it will look to prioritize purchases of new train cars with the $12 billion it still has to pay for the remainder of its capital program. Still, the MTA is looking to cut $2.5 billion out of its budget for its fleet of trains and buses, known as “rolling stock.”

That means that while the LIRR may still have the money to buy some new trains, it “simply won’t have the funding” for all the new trains it planned to buy, MTA deputy chief development officer Tim Mulligan said at a June 26 MTA meeting.

The MTA’s original capital plan earmarked $484 million for the purchase of up to 170 new M-9A electric train cars — enough to replace the 100 antiquated M-3 cars that remain in service, and turn 40 years old next year. The LIRR already has kept the relic cars in service eight years longer than it anticipated, in part because of delays in the procurement of new cars and the added service that came with the opening of Grand Central Madison.

The LIRR also has the option to buy more M-9 cars from Kawasaki Rail, which recently delivered the last of the 202 new cars the railroad initially purchased.

In a report earlier this week, state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said the dependence on the 1980s-era cars, which are far less reliable than modern trains, contributed to delays caused by train problems rising 31% last year compared with 2019. The report warned that putting off the purchase of new trains could lead to even more train delays.

Also up in the air are plans for the LIRR to purchase several new diesel trains, which operate wherever the railroad’s tracks are not electrified, including throughout most of Suffolk County. Most of the diesel fleet is more than 25 years old and far more prone to breakdowns than more modern trains. In its recently published 20-year needs assessment, the MTA noted the diesel fleet is approaching the end of its 30-year “useful life.”

The LIRR had budgeted about $148 million for new “dual-mode” passenger locomotives that run on both diesel and third-rail power, coach cars, and diesel-powered work engines used for various kinds of track maintenance, and to tow broken-down trains. Some of the LIRR's work engines date to the 1970s, Free said.

After decades of planning, the MTA’s East Side Access last year culminated in the opening of a second Manhattan terminal for the LIRR, Grand Central Madison. But there is still work planned as part of the $11 billion project, including a $188 million effort to streamline LIRR service into Grand Central by untangling tracks at the busy Harold Interlocking in Queens.

Amtrak trains currently have to cross over LIRR tracks at Harold to enter the East River tunnels leading to Manhattan — forcing LIRR trains to stop and wait for them to pass. To resolve the conflict, East Side Access included plans for the creation of a “westbound bypass” that would have rerouted Amtrak trains through a newly built tunnel at Harold. That work is on hold because of the congestion pricing pause.

A spokesperson for Amtrak declined to comment on the project's deferral.

Bruce Becker, spokesman for the Empire State Passengers Association, an Amtrak rider advocacy group, said while the delays at Harold caused by the conflict “typically … are short,” they could be compounded once Amtrak begins work on a long-delayed effort to repair Superstorm Sandy damage in two of the four East River Tunnels. That work, scheduled to start this year, will require taking each of the tunnels out of service for an extended period.

“Dispatchers and controllers know what trains are coming from whatever direction and where they need to go, but it does slow down service and it does, certainly, present congestion,” Becker said.

Just days before contractors were set to begin construction work on a $152 million effort to renovate the Hollis and Forest Hills LIRR stations, the MTA notified contractors that they were “hereby directed to stop all work” as a result of the congestion pricing pause.

The projects would have included several upgrades, such as the extension of platforms to accommodate longer trains. But the key goal was to make both stations accessible per the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Forest Hills, built in 1906, was set to get two heated, ADA-compliant ramps that would have been less steep than the current ramps and would have automatically melted snow and ice that built up on them.

Hollis station, originally built in the late 1800s, was in line to finally get an elevator installed, along with a new ramp and various other upgrades.

Charlton D’souza, president of Passengers United, a rider advocacy group, said even with the loss of the congestion pricing toll revenue, he believes the MTA should prioritize the two Queens station projects, which already had been designed. D’souza, who opposes congestion pricing, said Hollis in particular should move ahead given the station’s dilapidated condition.

“It was an emergency crisis, I would say, four or five years ago,” D’souza said. “The MTA has been able to do some patchwork to shore it up, but that’s not good enough. That station should be done immediately.”

Although the cuts to the LIRR’s capital budget aren’t as deep as those to other MTA agencies, MTA chairman and CEO Janno Lieber noted that “Long Island Rail Road riders, overwhelmingly, when they get into the city, use the subway and bus systems.”

And so, Lieber told Newsday at a Lindenhurst news event June 28, Nassau and Suffolk commuters will feel the impacts of the cuts coming to the city’s transit network. That includes the deferral of the next phase of the Second Avenue Subway project, which would have extended the line into Harlem; nearly two dozen station accessibility projects; public address system upgrades at more than 70 stations; signal modernization on several subway lines; and the purchase of 250 electric buses.

Motorists also may be affected by the deferral of plans to rebuild a ramp connecting the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge to the Belt Parkway.

“There were a lot of great projects that were higher on the list to get started, but now have to be deferred a little bit,” Lieber said. “They just move down the list, and we hope it will be a matter of just a delay, and not a cancellation.”

But deferring some projects into the next five-year capital program, which runs from 2025-29, could have a domino effect, pushing out other infrastructure projects, like the potential electrification of the Port Jefferson branch, even further into the future, said Brian Fritsch, associate director of the MTA's Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee.

“There have been decades of kicking the can down the road on some of these projects. So we're just continuing that trend,” Fritsch said. “That's what we really lose when we lose something like congestion pricing. It feels like you're starting the race from the back of the pack, instead of the front.”

Gov. Kathy Hochul’s decision to pause the MTA’s congestion pricing plan could mean keeping the Long Island Rail Road’s oldest and least reliable trains in service for the foreseeable future, putting off a project to get Amtrak trains out of the way at a busy Queens junction, and delaying accessibility improvements to help thousands of LIRR riders with disabilities, according to officials.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority — the LIRR's parent organization — was counting on the $1 billion in annual toll revenue expected to be generated by congestion pricing to fund most of the remaining work in its 2020-24 $55 billion capital program. The total loss to the MTA's capital budget: $16.5 billion, which includes the cost of already installed tolling infrastructure.

Although the governor has vowed to make the MTA whole, agency officials, for now, are moving forward with a scaled-down capital program that focuses on maintaining, rather than expanding, the region’s public transportation system.

Because the LIRR was further ahead in its capital program than other MTA agencies, fewer railroad projects are in jeopardy than those involving the New York City bus and subway system. But the LIRR is not getting off unscathed.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Gov. Kathy Hochul's pause on congestion pricing has led to the MTA cutting $16.5 billion out of its capital budget, which was to be funded by revenue generated from the new tolls.
  • LIRR projects being deferred include the purchase of new electric and diesel rail cars, accessibility upgrades at two Queens stations, and an effort to reconfigure tracks at a Queens interlocking so that Amtrak trains wouldn't get in the way of LIRR trains.
  • With limited funding, MTA officials said they are prioritizing system maintenance and will defer other projects, potentially into the agency's next capital program. But that could mean pushing other projects even further out.

Purchases of new trains, infrastructure work related to the Grand Central Madison expansion and upgrades at a pair of Queens stations are all being put on hold. That means while LIRR service won’t get worse because of the cuts, it won’t get any better, either.

“It’s disappointing, to say the least,” LIRR president Robert Free told Newsday of the railroad projects in jeopardy. “I’m hopeful that the governor will come through. I’ll keep her at her word.”

Hochul, talking to reporters in Manhattan on Tuesday, defended her decision to halt congestion pricing, which would have charged most vehicles $15 for driving below 60th Street in Manhattan. Hochul said “families are struggling” and “it's just not the right time” to add to their costs.

“Every project that is important, and they all are important, will be funded,” Hochul said of the MTA's capital program. “We will find the financing.”

Kyle Strober, executive director of Association for a Better Long Island, a business and development group that has supported Hochul's pause on congestion pricing, noted this isn't the first time the MTA has been forced to make tough decisions about how it will spend limited capital dollars.

“This is one more cycle allowing for a thoughtful review of how MTA predecessors successfully managed their challenges,” Strober said in a statement.

Here’s a look at how Hochul’s pause on congestion pricing will impact Long Islanders’ commutes.

New trains

The MTA said it won't have the funding for all...

The MTA said it won't have the funding for all the new trains it planned to buy. Credit: Howard Schnapp

The MTA has said that even with the reduced funding, it will look to prioritize purchases of new train cars with the $12 billion it still has to pay for the remainder of its capital program. Still, the MTA is looking to cut $2.5 billion out of its budget for its fleet of trains and buses, known as “rolling stock.”

That means that while the LIRR may still have the money to buy some new trains, it “simply won’t have the funding” for all the new trains it planned to buy, MTA deputy chief development officer Tim Mulligan said at a June 26 MTA meeting.

The MTA’s original capital plan earmarked $484 million for the purchase of up to 170 new M-9A electric train cars — enough to replace the 100 antiquated M-3 cars that remain in service, and turn 40 years old next year. The LIRR already has kept the relic cars in service eight years longer than it anticipated, in part because of delays in the procurement of new cars and the added service that came with the opening of Grand Central Madison.

The LIRR also has the option to buy more M-9 cars from Kawasaki Rail, which recently delivered the last of the 202 new cars the railroad initially purchased.

In a report earlier this week, state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said the dependence on the 1980s-era cars, which are far less reliable than modern trains, contributed to delays caused by train problems rising 31% last year compared with 2019. The report warned that putting off the purchase of new trains could lead to even more train delays.

Beyond upholstery, the 1980s-era M3 cars are less reliable and...

Beyond upholstery, the 1980s-era M3 cars are less reliable and contribute to delays, according to a state report. Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

Also up in the air are plans for the LIRR to purchase several new diesel trains, which operate wherever the railroad’s tracks are not electrified, including throughout most of Suffolk County. Most of the diesel fleet is more than 25 years old and far more prone to breakdowns than more modern trains. In its recently published 20-year needs assessment, the MTA noted the diesel fleet is approaching the end of its 30-year “useful life.”

The LIRR had budgeted about $148 million for new “dual-mode” passenger locomotives that run on both diesel and third-rail power, coach cars, and diesel-powered work engines used for various kinds of track maintenance, and to tow broken-down trains. Some of the LIRR's work engines date to the 1970s, Free said.

Untangling a Queens junction

Work on plans to reroute Amtrak trains and ease LIRR...

Work on plans to reroute Amtrak trains and ease LIRR delays at the Harold Interlocking in Queens is on hold. Credit: Charles Eckert

After decades of planning, the MTA’s East Side Access last year culminated in the opening of a second Manhattan terminal for the LIRR, Grand Central Madison. But there is still work planned as part of the $11 billion project, including a $188 million effort to streamline LIRR service into Grand Central by untangling tracks at the busy Harold Interlocking in Queens.

Amtrak trains currently have to cross over LIRR tracks at Harold to enter the East River tunnels leading to Manhattan — forcing LIRR trains to stop and wait for them to pass. To resolve the conflict, East Side Access included plans for the creation of a “westbound bypass” that would have rerouted Amtrak trains through a newly built tunnel at Harold. That work is on hold because of the congestion pricing pause.

A spokesperson for Amtrak declined to comment on the project's deferral.

Bruce Becker, spokesman for the Empire State Passengers Association, an Amtrak rider advocacy group, said while the delays at Harold caused by the conflict “typically … are short,” they could be compounded once Amtrak begins work on a long-delayed effort to repair Superstorm Sandy damage in two of the four East River Tunnels. That work, scheduled to start this year, will require taking each of the tunnels out of service for an extended period.

“Dispatchers and controllers know what trains are coming from whatever direction and where they need to go, but it does slow down service and it does, certainly, present congestion,” Becker said.

Station accessibility upgrades

While the MTA opened a new elevator at the Copiague...

While the MTA opened a new elevator at the Copiague station in May, other accessibility upgrades have been stopped. From left: Quemuel Arroyo, the MTA's chief accessibility officer, Janno Lieber, MTA head, and Arthur Simon, chair of the SMART workers union, at the Copiague opening. Credit: Rick Kopstein

Just days before contractors were set to begin construction work on a $152 million effort to renovate the Hollis and Forest Hills LIRR stations, the MTA notified contractors that they were “hereby directed to stop all work” as a result of the congestion pricing pause.

The projects would have included several upgrades, such as the extension of platforms to accommodate longer trains. But the key goal was to make both stations accessible per the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Forest Hills, built in 1906, was set to get two heated, ADA-compliant ramps that would have been less steep than the current ramps and would have automatically melted snow and ice that built up on them.

Hollis station, originally built in the late 1800s, was in line to finally get an elevator installed, along with a new ramp and various other upgrades.

Charlton D’souza, president of Passengers United, a rider advocacy group, said even with the loss of the congestion pricing toll revenue, he believes the MTA should prioritize the two Queens station projects, which already had been designed. D’souza, who opposes congestion pricing, said Hollis in particular should move ahead given the station’s dilapidated condition.

“It was an emergency crisis, I would say, four or five years ago,” D’souza said. “The MTA has been able to do some patchwork to shore it up, but that’s not good enough. That station should be done immediately.”

Subways, buses and more

A rendering of the Second Avenue Subway's 125th Street Station...

A rendering of the Second Avenue Subway's 125th Street Station entrance. Credit: MTA

Although the cuts to the LIRR’s capital budget aren’t as deep as those to other MTA agencies, MTA chairman and CEO Janno Lieber noted that “Long Island Rail Road riders, overwhelmingly, when they get into the city, use the subway and bus systems.”

And so, Lieber told Newsday at a Lindenhurst news event June 28, Nassau and Suffolk commuters will feel the impacts of the cuts coming to the city’s transit network. That includes the deferral of the next phase of the Second Avenue Subway project, which would have extended the line into Harlem; nearly two dozen station accessibility projects; public address system upgrades at more than 70 stations; signal modernization on several subway lines; and the purchase of 250 electric buses.

Motorists also may be affected by the deferral of plans to rebuild a ramp connecting the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge to the Belt Parkway.

“There were a lot of great projects that were higher on the list to get started, but now have to be deferred a little bit,” Lieber said. “They just move down the list, and we hope it will be a matter of just a delay, and not a cancellation.”

But deferring some projects into the next five-year capital program, which runs from 2025-29, could have a domino effect, pushing out other infrastructure projects, like the potential electrification of the Port Jefferson branch, even further into the future, said Brian Fritsch, associate director of the MTA's Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee.

“There have been decades of kicking the can down the road on some of these projects. So we're just continuing that trend,” Fritsch said. “That's what we really lose when we lose something like congestion pricing. It feels like you're starting the race from the back of the pack, instead of the front.”

Riverhead schools and armed guards . . . Giants training camp . . . Sands Point mansion  Credit: Newsday

Biden addresses nation . . . Alleged home improvement scam . . . FBI raids former Hochul aide's home . . . Giants training camp

Riverhead schools and armed guards . . . Giants training camp . . . Sands Point mansion  Credit: Newsday

Biden addresses nation . . . Alleged home improvement scam . . . FBI raids former Hochul aide's home . . . Giants training camp

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