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Editorial: MTA will be a juggling act for Thomas Prendergast

Thomas F. Prendergast speaks during an Assembly public

Thomas F. Prendergast speaks during an Assembly public hearing in Manhattan on the MTA's finances and operations. (Jan. 11, 2013) Credit: Rory Glaeseman

Thomas Prendergast did an admirable job running the city’s bus and subway system, and later, as interim boss of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. So now, for his trouble, Prendergast has been nominated by Gov. Andrew Cuomo as permanent chairman and chief executive of the largest transportation system in the Western Hemisphere.

Lucky guy. This has to be one of the toughest jobs in the universe. Assuming the State Senate confirms him, his first challenge is to hammer out a new contract with Transport Workers Union Local 100 that doesn’t break the bank.

Beyond that, the new boss will need to:

- Discover fresh revenue streams to keep the city’s buses and subways rolling without forcing the MTA to reach deeper into riders’ pockets. Subway riders already pay 72 percent of operating costs, the highest rate in the nation.

- Stormproof, in an age of climate change, more than 800 miles of subway track and 468 stations — not to mention the MTA’s two major commuter rail lines and its complex network of bridges and vehicular tunnels.

- Keep thinking about tomorrow. Phase one of the Second Avenue subway line — from 96th to 63rd Street — is inching toward a 2016 completion. The Long Island Rail Road will burrow foot by foot into Grand Central by 2019. So what comes next? It had better be phase two of the Second Avenue subway project — to relieve East Side subways that will become even more packed after the LIRR arrives.

- Revisit Secaucus. Mayor Michael Bloomberg has made a new case for an old transit perennial. He wants the MTA to build a rail tunnel under the Hudson River, directly linking the workforce around Secaucus, N.J., with Manhattan’s job-rich canyons. This was the plan — in another form — that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie scuttled in 2010 for lack of cash. While the MTA has always harbored doubts about the idea, it needs to happen. Prendergast should give it a new look.

His great strength is that he knows railroads and he understands the MTA system in all its complexity. But it’s not enough to make the trains run on time.

We also need someone who can build us a future.
 

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