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MTA board approves massive $51.5B capital plan to overhaul city’s crumbling public transportation system


The Metropolitan Transportation Authority board on Wednesday unanimously signed off on a $51.5 billion five-year capital plan, which contains a slew of big ticket initiatives that include overhauling the subway’s outdated signaling system and making 70 more subway stations accessible.

The 2020-2024 plan is the largest in the agency’s history, and aims to remedy decades of neglect and disinvestment in New York City’s transit systems.

“The proposed investments in our subways and buses have delivered beyond my wildest expectations,” said NYC Transit President Andy Byford, adding that the plan will bring “world-class transit options to New Yorkers in an unprecedented time frame.”

The money to pay for the projects is still not yet guaranteed — the city and state still need to kick in $3 billion a piece, and the whole deal hinges on $7.5 billion from the federal government.

Mayor de Blasio sent a letter to MTA chairman Pat Foye Wednesday, stating that the city would only put up its part of the money if the agency uses the dollars generated by the incoming congestion pricing scheme before it dips into the municipal pot.

Even if all of the funding is secured, some experts worried that transit officials may not be able to get the promised work done on time. For years many of the MTA’s major capital construction projects have been far over budget and behind schedule.

Rachael Fauss, an analyst at good government group Reinvent Albany, published an analysis on Wednesday pointing out that the MTA has never spent more than $6.6 billion on capital construction work in a calendar year. The new plan puts the agency in a position to spend well over $10 billion a year.

Janno Lieber, who will oversee the new capital plan, said he is working to improve the way that transit officials complete projects by bundling several of them together.

“We now have approximately 1,300 to 1,400 separate projects in the [2015-2019] capital plan because we do them one-by-one,” Lieber told reporters Wednesday. “We’re going to be looking at opportunities to create entire programs and to bundle that work into larger projects, which we will then execute faster, better and a little bit cheaper.”

Fauss thought Lieber’s strategy was fine, but was concerned that it would lead to a lack of transparency into how the work was being done.

“For a cap plan that’s 70% larger to have less detail than the last one is not okay,” Fauss said.

Lieber also said that a new state law requiring a “design-build” strategy for MTA projects costing more than $25 million would help keep his department in line and on time.

The design-build requirements forces transit officials to bid out the bulk of the engineering and construction to a single company, instead of handling some of that work in-house. The strategy is controversial among urban planners — it sometimes results in fewer hiccups during construction, but can also lead to higher price tags for projects.

Even more concerning for riders is the MTA’s dire financial state. Andrew Albert, the rider advocate on the MTA board, pointed out on Wednesday that the infrastructure improvements will be meaningless if the agency does not have enough money to provide adequate service.

“We’re going to have the most fabulous new signals, the most fabulous new signals, accessibility for all,” said Albert. “But it’s all going to be running less frequently because we don’t have dedicated funds for operating.