moving ahead

How the MTA Plans to Spend Billions on its Subway Wishlist

Modernizing New York City's subway system is a long, expensive haul.
Modernizing New York City’s subway system is a long, expensive haul. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

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The wishlist for modernizing New York’s ancient transit system — everything from new subway cars to more station elevators to a fast-track signal system — carries an enormous price tag: a record $51.5 billion.

But the funding for the proposed 2020-2024 MTA Capital Program is no sure thing.

Here’s our interactive look at the MTA’s subway wishlist and the numbers that could derail the vision.

Signaling Quicker Commutes

Sections of six subway lines — including the busiest in the system, the 4, 5 and 6 lines — are marked for extensive signal modernization projects.

The proposed $7.1 billion signal modernization projects will come with another cost: ongoing inconvenience to riders. Previous installation of upgraded signals along the L and 7 lines required frequent weekend service interruptions that were scattered over close to a decade.

Signal modernization was among the top priorities pushed for by Andy Byford, president of New York City Transit, when he arrived in 2018.

“Gov. [Andrew] Cuomo specifically said that we need to push on with resignaling the subway,” Byford said last month. “So that was music to my ears, because that’s exactly what we should be doing.”

The updated L and the 7 now have the promptest trains of all the subway lines.

Giving Accessibility a Lift

Only a quarter of the nearly 500 stations in the subway and on Staten Island are now usable to riders with disabilities.

The MTA plans to spend $5.2 billion — 10% of the proposed plan — on upgrades that include installing elevators and ramps at 66 more stations.

“Stations serving approximately 60% of riders will have become fully accessible,” said Janno Lieber, the MTA’s chief development officer.

Not all of the stations that will become compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act have been announced yet. But the MTA says its goal is to ensure riders will never be more than two stations from the nearest accessible stop.

The MTA has faced repeated court challenges over station renovations that did not include funding to make subway stops ADA-compliant. Meanwhile, subway escalator reliability is way down, the latest figures show, at its lowest level since 2010,

Getting Priorities on Track

The 238-page proposed capital plan extends far beyond the subway — it also lists projects for the MTA’s buses and its two commuter railroads, as well as bridges and tunnels.

But replacing aging subway equipment is at the plan’s core, with the MTA looking to spend $6.1 billion on 1,900 new subway cars compatible with modern signals that allow for more frequent service. Along with old signals, hundreds of subway cars in service since the 1960s and 1970s have been a major factor in delays.

The Myrtle Avenue J station in Brooklyn
The Myrtle Avenue J station in Brooklyn Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Station improvements come with a projected $9.2 billion price tag, one that’s not limited to expanding the number of stations accessible to riders with limited mobility. The planned work also covers repairs or replacements of stairs, paint jobs, escalators, turnstiles and more at 175 stations, as well as renovations of 13 stations.

Overall, the MTA’s $51.5 billion proposal, approved by the agency’s board last month and now pending before a state review board, is about 70% larger than the current five-year capital plan.

Meanwhile, the MTA’s ability to spend the money and complete projects within five years is far from clear given consistent funding shortfalls. A recent independent audit showed that, as of June 30, the MTA had spent $9.8 billion — or less than a third of the budget — of its current 2015-2019 plan.

The entire plan counts on a combination of funding sources — including an expected $15 billion influx from congestion pricing tolls generated by vehicles driven into the busiest parts of Manhattan — and billions more from the federal, state and city governments.

Within 90 days of being approved by the MTA board, the plan also must be passed by a state capital program review board. The board’s members are nominated by Cuomo, Mayor Bill de Blasio, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.

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