The transit system’s “summer of hell” was years in the making, and experts say the underlying problems will take at least as long to fix. But while a risk-averse bureaucracy got some of the blame for the crisis at a transit conference today, sentiment seemed unanimous that New York’s transportation infrastructure needs more funding.
Congestion pricing is now being kicked around as one possible source. And at the Crain’s event Fixing Mass Transit, a former top Metropolitan Transportation Authority official put forward another: creating a “transit-maintenance district,” similar to a business improvement district, that would pay fees dedicated to keeping the system in good repair.
“One of the major issues is underinvestment in capital maintenance,” said Michael Horodniceanu, who headed MTA capital construction for almost a decade until this summer and led work on the Second Avenue subway and the extension of the 7 line. He estimated that properly maintaining the MTA’s “trillion-dollar infrastructure” would require $6 billion to $8 billion a year. “We are not even scratching the surface of that,” he said.
Noting that the biggest beneficiaries of mass transit are Manhattan office buildings, Horodniceanu suggested adding a $1.50 charge to the core business district’s $60- to $70-per-square-foot rents.
“We have approximately 700 million square feet of office space south of 60th Street,” he said. “You’d be able to raise more than a billion dollars” annually.
Funding shortages also play a role in the lack of long-range planning, said Samuel Schwartz, a former city traffic commissioner and a longtime transportation consultant.
“You need a dedicated funding source,” Schwartz said at the conference, making a pitch for the traffic-congestion plan he has helped develop with the coalition Move NY. Describing the program as a “user fee” on cars coming into Manhattan, he said it would bring in around $1.5 billion a year, part of which would go to repairing bridges and roads.
“The majority goes to the transit system,” Schwartz said, “and that allows you to plan for the future.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who oversees the MTA, embraced the concept of congestion pricing in August and appointed a task force to come up with a plan. Schwartz serves on the panel.
The last transit-funding crisis, triggered by the recession of 2007 to 2009, led to a payroll tax in the MTA’s 12-county region. It was later scaled back because of political pressure in the suburbs and is now shouldered primarily by large businesses in the five boroughs.
Crains New York