MTA to get more city money as transit officials question if it’s enough

J train passengers enter the Jamaica Avenue & 111th Street subway station in Richmond Hill, Queens, Thursday, March 19, 2015.
J train passengers enter the Jamaica Avenue & 111th Street subway station in Richmond Hill, Queens, Thursday, March 19, 2015. Photo Credit: Uli Seit

The MTA will be getting more funding to fix up its system, but the amount has city and transit officials at odds over whether the de Blasio administration is pulling its weight to improve transit and fund the next leg of the Second Avenue Subway.

In a letter to a top mayoral official, MTA chief Tom Prendergast called on the city to provide a minimum of $1 billion to start the Second Avenue Subway’s second phase.And as the de Blasio administration touted a 25% increase in transit funding for the MTA’s repair program, to $125 million a year over five years, Prendergast said the city should kick in $300 million annually.

“Now, at this critical juncture is the right time for the city to acknowledge the need for significantly increased investment in the MTA and in the city’s future,” the letter to First Deputy Mayor Tony Shorris.

The MTA in September put the city down for thehigher $125 million contribution in its capital budget. MTA officials have stressed the need for the city and state to pony up and fund a transit system that’s critical to the city’s economy and way of life.

Prendergast told reporters last month the city should be giving much more than the anticipated $125 million.

The city backed away from funding the MTA over the decades, with former Mayor Mike Bloomberg kicking in $100 million a year.

The city would be giving $363 million today had it kept up with the rate of inflation since the first capital improvement plans of the early 1980s, when the city gave an average $136 million a year, according to the Independent Budget Office.

De Blasio’s budget spokeswoman Amy Spitalnick accused the MTA of moving the goal posts right before the release of the mayor’s budget proposal this week.

“After our budget went to print with full funding for the MTA’s request, we were surprised to learn this morning that they both nearly tripled their general capital ask and requested another $1 billion,” Spitalnick said in a statement. “As the Mayor has repeatedly said, we are committed to working with the State and our regional partners to find a long-term plan for this vital State authority.”

The MTA is in need of a way to fund its $32 billion plan that mostly covers maintenance work on the transit system ($22 billion); funds the Second Avenue subway; and pays for enhancements like new tracks, signal systems and countdown clocks. The plan is only half funded, with Gov. Andrew Cuomo kicking in $1 billion, $250 million of which is earmarked for new Metro-North stations in the Bronx.

The Riders Alliance and Straphangers Campaign, transit advocacy groups, panned the city’s contribution as a “missed opportunity to improve subway and bus service” that “does nothing to fill” the MTA’s funding gap.

A crucial part of the funding issue is the role of the federal government. Congress has yet to figure out how to pay for the nation’s transportation needs, as money will run out by June, causing states to push off projects. Advocates and city officials, in support of the Obama administration’s Grow America Act, called for Congress to pass a long-term six-year transit funding plan that boosts money to states; New York would get $1.9 billion, from $1.6 billion at current levels.

The city Department of Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said the debate in Washington is, “can the congress come together on one solution and can they do it in a reasonable time frame.”