Opinion | MTA Capital Spending Freeze Should Exempt Federal Transit Administration Funding

Opinion | MTA Capital Spending Freeze Should Exempt Federal Transit Administration Funding
Larry Penner
There is more to the MTA extending their hold on initiation of capital projects until they obtain a second COVID-19 CARE $3.9 billion federal bailout.  They continued to be unwilling to sacrifice some capital projects, as a way to cover operating deficits.  This makes no sense when you look at the facts. 
 
Most Federal Transit Administration grants require a 20% hard cash local share. In many cases, Uncle Sam accepted toll credits instead of hard cash for the local share.  This saved the Metropolitan Transportation Authority one billion dollars in each of the previous 2010 - 2014 and 2015 -  2019 Five Year Capital Programs. Even more savings thanks to Washington will be true with the 2015 - 2019 Five Year Capital Program.
 
The MTA has $12 billion worth of FTA funding for projects and programs in active grants  What is the current balance of these grant funds not yet under contract? The FTA has made available $1.4 billion in various formula program funds.  Has the MTA submitted grant applications to access these funds? 
 
There is no savings to the MTA when federal dollars are left on the table unspent.  In many cases, FTA is funding the purchase of new buses, subway cars or renovations to subway stations.  MTA Chairman Pat Foye should make it clear that all federally funded capital projects, including those not yet awarded, are exempt from his freeze and will go forward. The alternative is to take advantage of reprogramming these funds toward covering capital improvements and operating deficits as a result of COVID-19.  It is difficult for the MTA to make a case for additional discretionary funding from the Federal Transit Administration if you don't use your previously approved FTA formula along with Super Storm Sandy Recovery and Resiliency funds.
 
Millions of Americans make due with what they have, when facing a loss of income.  They delay purchasing of new appliances, automobiles, central air conditioning, roof and other home improvements.  We prioritize based upon risk assessment of what is needed today and what can wait until tomorrow or next year.  If the MTA has billions in carryover projects not initiated in previous capital plans worth $29 and $32 billion, the odds are they would have all been initiated under the new $51 billion 2020 - 2024 Five Year Capital Plan even if fully funded.  MTA has an asset management plan for each operating agency by category.  MTA has an asset management plan for NYC Transit subway, bus, Staten Island Railway, MTA Bus, Long Island Rail Road and Metro North Rail Road for agency by category. 
 
These categories include bus & commuter rail fleet, stations including elevators to meet Americans with Disabilities Act and escalators, track and switches, signals and interlockings, communications, line structures as well as painting, power substations, yards and shops and supervisory vehicles. Billions in capital projects scheduled for award and notice to proceed in 2023 may have to be delayed two years until the first year of the next 2025 - 2029 Five Year Capital Plan. Even more planned for in 2024 may have to be delayed one year until 2025.
 
MTA Management must stop crying and step up to the plate.  Difficult decisions must be made today, not next year.  Commuters, taxpayers, transit advocates and elected officials should ask for no less.
 
 
Written by
Larry Penner
 
Larry Penner is a transportation advocate, historian and advocate who previously worked 31 years for the Federal Transit Administration Region 2 New York Office. This included the development, review, approval and oversight for billions in capital projects and programs for the MTA, NYC Transit bus and subway, Staten Island Rail Road, Long Island and Metro North Rail Roads, MTA Bus, New Jersey Transit along with 30 other transit agencies in NY & NJ