February 5th, 2009
Teaching an old dog new tricks? New York City transportation budget shortfall

Sandrine Magloire-Szlasa, Blueprint America

Last week, Elliot G. Sander, executive director of the Metropolitan Transit Authority of New York, announced that the authority would likely receive between $1.5 billion and $2 billion of federal stimulus money. Like so many other transit agencies around the country, the nation’s largest transit authority is in the midst of a severe budget crisis and is facing a $1.2 billion deficit. Its doomsday scenario includes threats of service cuts and layoffs. So, even though the stimulus money must be spent on capital improvements and not on operational costs, it is anxiously anticipated. Sander gave a preview of how the MTA plans to spend those dollars.

$497 million – a third of the MTA’s stimulus money – would be spent on the erection of an architecturally-stunning glass building atop the Fulton Street transit hub. This will be the final touch to a project eight years in the making and meant to simplify a tangle of subway stations close to the World Trade Center site. In Sander’s words: “The pavilion [will be] a highly visible portal to a modern transportation complex.” Budget overruns postponed the completion of the glass dome and left the neighborhood with an unsightly hole in the ground. Understandably, local businesses and neighbors are excited that the Fulton Street station may finally be completed.

However, a closer look at Sander’s plans raises the question of whether the implementation of the stimulus bill will bring about “the end of the culture of anything goes” and launch a new era of responsible spending. Critics of the Fulton Street project argue that the MTA has mismanaged the project from the get-go and do not deserve additional federal dollars. They also point to the fact that Sander must convince the New York State Assembly that the MTA will need a cash infusion soon, or else its doomsday scenario will come true.

The Fulton Street station is located in the district of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. Was Sander’s decision to give priority to the Fulton Street station politically motivated? Will the $497 million spent on the station generate the promised 15,000 jobs for New York State? Will the thirty-two other “shovel-ready” MTA transit projects on Governor Paterson’s wish list get their fair share of stimulus money?

To be continued…

Sources: change.gov, New York Daily News, New York Post, The New York Times

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