On Monday, the MTA upped the stakes in the poker game being waged over its half-funded, $32-billion Capital Program. Agency chief Tom Prendergast threw the biggest chip on the table – completion of the Second Avenue Subway – when outlining what’s on the chopping block if Albany doesn’t come up with a means to close the current $15 billion hole in the plan.
Our elected leaders cannot allow that to happen. The full-length Second Avenue Subway, stretching from 125th Street to Hanover Square, is too critical to the region’s future to be stopped after only the first phase.
The Lexington Avenue subway is already choking on its teeming ridership. While the next phase from 96th to 125th Streets would mitigate crowding, only the full-build would bring conditions to bearable levels. Without any further work, the 4 & 5 lines would operate at 114% of capacity; this drops to 107% with the second stage, but not under 100% until the route reaches Hanover Square – in the fourth phase. The remaining three phases would carry more than half again the riders that the current phase would alone (358,000 riders vs. 202,000, for a total of 560,000 passengers).
The long and tortured history of the Second Avenue Subway is well known. It was first proposed by the city in 1919, first funded by a bond issue in 1936, then started, stopped, started, and stopped by World War II and myriad economic crises.
There are no crises standing in the way now other than a lack of political will. For an entity that the region cannot live without, the MTA curiously is too often the rejected suitor. Three decades after then-MTA-leader Richard Ravitch cobbled together the first 5-year capital program, the MTA remains on shaky financial footing at best, its cumulative debt of $34 billion exceeding that of 30 nations.
The Move NY Fair Plan is the leading alternative for solving the MTA’s funding woes once and for all. Through a toll swap, it would strike a balance between the tolled MTA crossings and the city’s free crossings, while generating a reliable and sustainable revenue stream that, when bonded fully, funds the capital program and brings much needed revenues ($375 million annually) to our city’s pothole-ridden streets and aging bridges.
It’s a win-win solution that equitably distributes the burden for using the region’s transportation network while causing the least amount of pain. Without it, the doomsday scenario that Tom Prendergast is forecasting could well come to pass. The SOS beacon is loud and clear. The region’s leaders need to act now to save our subway.