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MTA to run out of money for new projects June 30, chief says

Chelsea Yamada with the Riders Alliance tries to

Chelsea Yamada with the Riders Alliance tries to use a satirical fare card at a protest Wednesday, March 23, 2016, at the Bowling Green 4/5 subway station. In October, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio reached a deal to fully fund the MTA's 2015-2019 capital program to fund infrastructure maintenance, improvement and other projects, but the state has yet to formally consider it. Credit: Craig Ruttle

The MTA will run out of money in about three months to pay for new infrastructure projects unless the state finally approves the agency’s proposed $26.1 billion capital budget, its chief said Wednesday.

Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman Thomas Prendergast pinpointed June 30 as the date that the MTA will have exhausted its ability to award new contracts and make new purchases as part of the agency’s 2015-2019 Capital Program, which has been awaiting approval from the state’s five-member Capital Program Review Board since September 2014.

It’s the latest a proposed plan has gone without approval since the MTA’s first capital program 34 years ago.

“June 30, this year — that’s when we run out of money,” Prendergast said at Manhattan meeting of the MTA Board. “That’s as far as we can stretch the money.”

Separate from the MTA’s annual operating budget, its capital program is used to fund infrastructure maintenance, improvement and expansion projects, and is largely financed by a combination of city, state and federal aid.

The MTA’s currently proposed five-year capital plan includes dollars to complete construction of its East Side Access project linking the Long Island Rail Road to Grand Central Terminal, to finish construction of a second track between Farmingdale and Ronkonkoma, and to install federally mandated “positive train control” crash-prevention technology throughout the LIRR.

In October, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio reached a deal to fully fund the plan, using $3.2 billion from the city, $8.3 billion from the state and $17 billion generated by the MTA. But, despite the agreement, the state has yet to formally consider the proposal.

Prendergast said he expects the program will be “part of the dialogue” when the State Legislature takes up Cuomo’s proposed state budget next month. Until then, the agency can continue to “keep the ball moving up the field” by advertising contracts for capital projects. But, as of July 1, the agency will not be able to award any of those contracts, Prendergast said.

“I understand we need to keep acting in a way so that we are ready. At some point projects will not be going forward,” MTA Board member Jeffrey Kay said at the meeting. “We’re now at the end of March . . . Now is the time. We’ve been talking for months.”

Even if the state approves the plan, there’s little indication of how it expects to come up with its promised $8.3 billion. Several proposals by lawmakers and transit advocates to create a new, dedicated revenue stream for transit — including by collecting tolls on currently free East River crossings — have failed to gain traction.

Cuomo’s office has suggested one way to generate capital funds is to use state funds to leverage new MTA bonds, but advocates and the office of State Comptroller have expressed concern that issuing more debt could put pressure on the MTA to further raise fares and tolls to pay it off. State Division of the Budget spokesman Morris Peters said Wednesday that would not happen.

“The governor put unambiguous and ironclad language in the budget to provide $8.3 billion towards the MTA’s capital plan,” Peters said.

But Gene Russianoff, spokesman for the Straphangers Campaign, Wednesday called Cuomo’s plan “inadequate, vague, and uncertain.’’ To illustrate their point, members of the campaign and of the Riders Alliance tried to pay for a subway ride at the Bowling Green station, just across the street from the MTA’s Lower Manhattan headquarters, using an oversized, poster board “I.O.U.” They were unsuccessful.

“If I can’t use an I.O.U., Governor Cuomo shouldn’t either,”

said Riders Alliance member Macartney Morris.

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