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MTA outlines plan for East Side Access

East Side Access is the project that will

East Side Access is the project that will bring the Long Island Rail Road into Grand Central Terminal. Credit: MTA

Daily Point

A plan, outlined

If all goes well, and in the world of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority that can be a big if,  the capital plan it unveiled Monday could be the last to include money for East Side Access, the effort to connect the Long Island Rail Road to Grand Central Terminal.

That in and of itself is a significant feat. 

But on top of finishing East Side Access, and completing the third track on the Main Line, the MTA’s new 2020-2024 capital plan highlights the agency rolled out Monday include additional investments for the LIRR, like adding 160 new cars, electrifying the Central Branch, which runs between the Ronkonkoma and Babylon branches of the railroad, adding accessibility to seven more unspecified stations, and making additional track and signal improvements.

All told, the LIRR is getting just over $5.7 billion — more than 10 percent of the total $51.47 billion capital plan, and at first glance that appears significantly more than the $2.9 billion the railroad received in the 2015 to 2019 plan. But that comes with an important apples-to-oranges caveat: The last capital plan separated large expansion projects like East Side Access and third track into a separate category, so when adding those in, the last plan surpassed this one. 

Now, those two big-ticket items are folded in the LIRR’s total. Finishing East Side Access will require $798 million in the next five-year plan, while third track needs another $539 million. MTA Chief Development Officer Janno Lieber said the two projects together would increase peak capacity by 50 percent, and reverse commuting capacity by 60 percent. Both projects are expected to be up and running by 2022. Lieber said both remain on schedule — a big feat especially for East Side Access, which at one point was expected to be finished by 2009.

“That’s going to allow for significant growth in Long Island’s economy and allow Long Island’s businesses to attract from a larger, more diverse talent pool, which is great for the region,” Lieber said.

More than $40 billion of the capital plan will go to New York City Transit to fund key subway and bus projects — including modernizing subway signals, making 66 more stations accessible and building the next phase of the Second Avenue Subway, extending it to 125th Street. 

In an interview Monday, LIRR chief Phil Eng said the work that’s being done and proposed is “truly transformational.” 

“Having the resources and support to do that is exciting,” he said.

While highlights were made public Monday, the details and full breakdown of the plan have yet to be released. The MTA board is scheduled to meet next week and vote on the plan, which will then be sent to the Capital Program Review Board by Oct. 1. 

Nonetheless, the plan still could change, and an ongoing forensic audit is complicating the situation a bit, as it could lead to changes. 

About half the total plan — $25 billion — will be paid for by the tolling of Manhattan’s central business district and other new revenue streams approved by the state. Federal dollars will account for more than $10 billion, MTA Chief Executive Pat Foye said, while the MTA is hoping $6 billion will come from an even split of new money from the state and New York City. Such new funding would need approval from the State Legislature and City Council, along with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Mayor BIll de Blasio.

But if the plan goes forward, and East Side Access and third track finally become reality — again with the big ifs — commuters could see a very different LIRR in the years ahead.

- Randi F. Marshall @RandiMarshall

Talking Point

Take me out to the ballgame

Sandwiched between a credentialing ceremony for new ambassadors and a working visit with the Crown Prince of Bahrain, a different royal graced the White House on Monday: Yankee great Mariano Rivera, there to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom. 

Rivera, a naturalized citizen who was unanimously selected for baseball’s Hall of Fame this year, now gets the nation’s highest civilian honor in an East Room fete. 

So which New York politicians got invited to the ballpark, so to speak? 

Staten Islanders Joe Borelli, a city councilman, and Michael Reilly, a state assemblyman, were on the list and made the trip. Long Island Reps. Pete King and Lee Zeldin also were invited but couldn’t make it. Zeldin had mobile office hours in Montauk, said a spokeswoman. 

King emailed The Point that he’d met Rivera: “He is a great guy.” 

Those were the Republicans. 

The White House did not immediately provide a list of attendees but prominent hometown Democrats seem to have gotten the brushback. 

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, and Reps. Tom Suozzi and Kathleen Rice say they were not invited. Sen. Chuck Schumer also isn’t going.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, noted Red Sox fan, was not invited, according to a spokeswoman. And Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. was at a community college pool ribbon-cutting. A spokesman wasn't sure whether Diaz had been invited. 

Of course, Rivera’s event was an example of particularly treacherous politics on all sides, given our hyper-partisan era plus the no man’s land between New York’s two baseball clubs.

“I’m on a completely different team,” Suozzi joked, referring to both the Democrats and the Mets. He added that he doesn’t root against the Yankees, however. 

Rivera himself has praised President Donald Trump and called him a “friend of mine” on Fox.

No word on what medals of honor the Mets’ bullpen is up for this year. 

- Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano

Pencil Point

The dark side of vaping

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Quick Points

  • How’s this for an oxymoron: Sen. Bernie Sanders has released an affordable housing plan that would cost $2.5 trillion.
  • Suffolk County Legislature budget watchdog Robert Lipp has retired, saying that lawmakers continue to be unlikely to follow his advice for fixing the county’s finances. Lawmakers lamented his retirement, calling it a tremendous loss. No, the loss was not taking his advice and fixing the budget.
  • Former British Prime Minister David Cameron says he’s sorry for calling the 2016 Brexit referendum that led to the vote to leave the European Union and plunged the country into political chaos. Now he apologizes? Well, he does have a book coming out this week.
  • Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Cory Booker says anyone who is polling ahead now should be worried. Which is all you need to know to conclude that Booker is polling way behind.
  • President Donald Trump said reports that he is willing to meet with Iran’s president without preconditions are not true and a product of the Fake News. No, the reports actually are quotes from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, and a White House insider by the name of Donald Trump.
  • Wyoming GOP Rep. Liz Cheney says the world is “safer” and more stable because of President Donald Trump. Which is true only if you don’t count all the places that are more dangerous and less stable.
  • Former state Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia has a new gig, as a senior fellow at learning company Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. When her hiring was announced, not a single employee opted out.
  • Monday marks what would have been the 94th birthday of B.B. King. Even though The King of the Blues left the stage of life four years ago, he should know that when it comes to his music the thrill is never gone.

- Michael Dobie @mwdobie