MANHATTAN (CN) — Promising action on New York City’s chronic subway delays and train derailments, the state-run Metropolitan Transportation Authority unveiled a more than $800 million emergency plan effective immediately – as soon as the dysfunctional political system sorts out funding.
On Wednesday, MTA Chairman Joseph Lhota said that the first phase of the program would start immediately, addressing 79 percent of what he describes as the major causes of delays.
“New Yorkers are rightfully frustrated with the current state of the subways, and their demands for better service have been heard,” he said in a statement. “We are committed to earning back their trust by implementing solutions that will enhance the customer experience in the short- and long-term.”
The plans include expanding a program to fix 1,300 failing signals, cleaning up 40,000 street grates to divert water and clean up debris, and enlisting the New York State Public Service Commission to address power issues.
In a rare sign of agreement, both state and municipal authorities applauded the plan as necessary, before coming to blows about how to fund it.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who denounced state neglect of the subways days ago at a press conference on a Manhattan-bound F train, offered cautious praise for Lhota’s plan.
“The good news is Chairman Lhota has offered a good-faith plan, a very clear step in the right direction,” the mayor said on Wednesday.
Underneath the cordial surface, combustible New York politics still simmers.
After defeating the Republican Lhota in the the 2013 mayoral election, Democrat de Blasio now has to work with his erstwhile rival on the city’s crisis because New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo appointed him last month.
Cuomo and de Blasio, though members of the same party, have a famously rocky relationship that has come to a head throughout the subway crisis.
De Blasio never tires of pointing out that Cuomo controls the state-run MTA, where the governor appoints the agency’s CEO, chairman and five members of its 17-person board.
When Lhota called for the city and state to each pony up half of the $456 million in operating funds — plus an additional $380 million in capital funding — de Blasio used the opportunity to dig the governor for sitting on those resources.
“To the operating budget, Chairman Lhota’s plan calls for $456 million in additional resources – it’s quite an amazing coincidence, that is literally the amount of money that the state of New York has diverted from the MTA’s budget since 2011,” he said at a press conference.
In an example that came to light earlier this month, the New York Daily News reported that the MTA cut a $4.9 million check to three upstate New York ski resorts in March 2016 to bail out the businesses’ climate change-induced shortfalls.
Lhota called it “befuddling” that de Blasio would not agree upon more funding.
“One half of a repair plan won’t make the trains run on time,” he said in a statement last night.
De Blasio noted that New York City — which only gets five seats on the MTA board — has no obligation to fund it, but invested $2.5 billion to it in capital funding two years ago.
The MTA spent only $75 million of that amount.
De Blasio has skewered Cuomo for letting the century-old system break down as he allocates money for it elsewhere, and the governor’s terse statement noting Lhota’s plan briefly before turning his attention to a plan for a Gateway Tunnel.
“The Gateway Tunnel is critical for rail traffic entering New York and the entire Northeast,” Cuomo said in a statement on Wednesday night. “It is essential that this project, which has been delayed for years, goes forward.”
Cuomo is traveling to Washington today to urge U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao to federally fund most of the $18 billion tunnel, which would connect across the Hudson through New York City.
Critics of the governor have blasted him for lavishing attention on major projects — such as an airport connector from downtown Manhattan to John F. Kennedy airport — while leaving basic infrastructure woefully underfunded.
De Blasio called for MTA transparency about its expenditures through what he called a “Compstat-like system” — referring a police database with information about arrests and stops — available to New Yorkers online.
“This is exactly the kind of accountability we’re going to need going forward to prove that the MTA can produce results for the people of this city,” he said.