July 30, 2014
By Neal Tepel, LaborPress Special Report
New York, NY – The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) has made significant progress in repairing and modernizing the regional transit system, but a great deal of work remains and financing these capital investments over the next 20 years will be difficult, according to a report released by New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.
“Millions of New Yorkers rely on the MTA transit system and while it is in far better condition than it was 30 years ago, much more needs to be done,” said DiNapoli. “The MTA has to find a way to finance improvements without putting the financial burden on riders. This can be achieved only by working closely with the federal government, New York state and New York City to develop a long-term financing program and by using resources effectively and efficiently. Otherwise, needed repairs will be pushed even further into the future, and fares and tolls could rise even faster.”
DiNapoli’s report found that despite $90 billion in capital investments since 1982, the MTA has not restored the entire transit system to a state of good repair because it has not received all of the funding it has sought and because cost overruns on large capital projects siphoned off resources that could have been used to modernize the system. For example, East Side Access is now projected to cost $10.7 billion, more than twice its initial cost estimate.
Every five years, the MTA conducts an assessment of its transit assets including bridges, tunnels, commuter rail cars, subway cars, signals and stations, to determine their condition. The MTA estimates that it will need to invest $26.6 billion during 2015 through 2019 to maintain and modernize its assets. Billions more will be needed to finish current expansion projects, such as future phases of the Second Avenue Subway.
Funding the capital program has been an ongoing challenge for the MTA.
Consequently, transit assets that the MTA had expected would be restored to a state of good repair by now still need to be addressed. According to DiNapoli’s report, the next capital program could face a funding gap that exceeds $12 billion. The current 2010-2014 capital program had an initial funding gap of $9.9 billion, which was closed mostly by reducing the size of the program and by increasing borrowing.
Only 80 of the 468 subway stations have been fully restored and nearly one out of every five elevators and escalators in the subway system has aged beyond its useful life. The MTA estimates that it needs $9.4 billion over 20 years to repair and modernize subway stations.
More than half of the MTA’s bridges and tunnels are at least 70 years old. The MTA estimates that it needs to invest more than $12 billion in these assets over the next 20 years. The MTA has identified a capital need of $4.5 billion just for the Verrazano-Narrows and the Throgs Neck bridges during the next 20 years, mostly to address deficient structural elements such as toll plazas, approach ramps and anchorages. The Hugh L. Carey and the Queens Midtown tunnels will require $1.4 billion over the next 20 years.
The ventilation plants for 40 percent of high-priority subway tunnel segments do not meet industry standards. Ventilation plants remove smoke from the tunnels during fires. The MTA had previously estimated that it would upgrade all ventilation plants by 2022, but now doesn't expect to upgrade even all of the critical segments until after 2034.
New York City Transit operates a fleet of 4,428 buses and plans to purchase more than 7,000 new vehicles through 2034 at a cost of nearly $6.2 billion. Buses have a useful life of 12 years, but as of April 2014, 30 percent were 12 years or older.
The Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) will need $13.4 billion over the next 20 years, including $3.4 billion for the routine replacement of 689 miles of track; $2.3 billion for railcars; and nearly $2 billion for stations. The performance of the LIRR’s fleet of railcars has improved sharply since 2006, reaching an all-time high of more than 200,000 miles between breakdowns in 2013.
Borrowing for the 2010-2014 capital program is projected to reach a record $14.8 billion, which represents 61 percent of the program’s $24.3 billion estimated cost. Debt service (excluding the cost of the 2015-2019 capital program) is forecast to exceed $3 billion by 2018, triple the level in 2005. OSC estimates that debt service could reach $4.4 billion by 2025 if the MTA borrows to fill the funding gap for the 2015-2019 program.