In the dark of night, as 2019 turned into 2020, a little-known state board, without any public meeting, discussion, or vote, approved the massive Metropolitan Transportation Authority capital plan.
By law, that’s exactly how it’s supposed to work.
It didn’t matter that the Capital Program Review Board was missing a member because the New York City nominee wasn’t officially appointed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. It didn’t matter that the other three members — representatives of the State Senate and State Assembly and the executive branch — never convened in an open setting. It didn’t matter that commuters have no way of reaching the board since it lacks a website, an office, or a contact person.
All that mattered is that no one vetoed the $51.5 billion MTA capital plan, a move that would’ve stopped it. Instead, the plan sailed forward.
Clearly, the 2020-2024 MTA plan, which details significant infrastructure and construction spending for subways, buses and commuter rails, should go through. It funds critical improvements to the Long Island Rail Road, and to New York City Transit, including new signals, switches and cars, and the completion of projects like the LIRR’s East Side Access connection to Grand Central Terminal.
Over the years, the CPRB, as the board is known, has been used repeatedly for hostage-taking and political game-playing. It’s been a way for individual lawmakers to advocate for their pet projects, or reject important regional efforts because someone’s constituents are unhappy.
This time, that didn’t happen. But that doesn’t mean the system worked. Without a public review or vote, the CPRB, established in 1981, is a sham of an approval process without either process or approval. The governor and the State Legislature should amend the law to establish a better way to greenlight these critical MTA plans.
But in the short term, state lawmakers and city officials have to evaluate the capital plan, since the MTA wants $3 billion each from the state and city. It’ll be important for Long Island representatives to make sure that the $5.7 billion the MTA says the LIRR needs is not diminished.
Commuters don’t care about board antics. They have a train to catch.
— The editorial board