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MTA post-Sandy repair new chief's top priority

Interim MTA Executive Director Thomas F. Prendergast speaks

Interim MTA Executive Director Thomas F. Prendergast speaks to the media about repairs and the future of MTA storm damage prevention post superstorm Sandy. (May 16, 2013) Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

The newly approved head of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority comes to the agency after a six-month absence of top leadership and with vast repairs needed following catastrophic damage from superstorm Sandy.

One of new chief executive Thomas F. Prendergast's first assignments also will be coming up with a plan to pay for system improvements.

"Making sure the resources are there to do the necessary work is a big part of what Tom's facing now," said Bill Henderson, executive director of the MTA's citizens advisory committee. "There's not a lot of identified funding for capital spending for the next program, and that's a big concern of all the advocates."

Prendergast, 60, also the MTA's chairman, must prepare for the 2015-19 spending plan for capital improvements, which will include federal Sandy aid.

The MTA's day-to-day operations funding plan for the next few years projects a $550 million cash deficit in 2016. So working with unions to negotiate contracts that will keep labor costs flat could help ease the deficits.

For riders, capital spending doesn't just include such major projects as the Second Avenue subway and the extension of the 7 line on the West Side. It also includes financing to make repairs throughout the system, including replacing equipment in tunnels, such as signals and cables, that are being eaten away by the saltwater dumped by Sandy.

The MTA estimates that returning the transit system to its state before Sandy will cost nearly $4.8 billion. Then, there are the repairs to strengthen the system against future storms.

"People love the big sexy projects," said Adam Lisberg, the MTA's communications director. "But we also need to do really unglamorous things."

Rich Barone of the Regional Plan Association said that without lawmakers in Albany devising a way to generate money or increasing funding, system improvements could be a lesser priority in the capital budget."We want to keep the infrastructure, the core stuff, the really important stuff, on track and not slip backward," Barone said.

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