Funding for the MTA’s nearly $55 billion repair and modernization plan is coming in at a “historically slow pace” that threatens the authority’s ability to get the work done on time, according to a new report.
Transit officials have just $2 billion of the funds so far, according to watchdog Reinvent Albany, in part because of ongoing delays to the launch of congestion fees in Manhattan that were passed by the state legislature in 2019 — which are now expected to launch in late 2023 or beyond, more than three years later than initially planned.
Without $15 billion expected from congestion pricing over the course of the four-year modernization effort, the MTA will be forced to take on more debt that riders will have to pay for with fares and tolls further down the line, said Rachael Fauss, the report’s author.
“The more they get from funds like congestion pricing, the less they get locked into borrowing money on the back of riders. Every day of delay is dollars lost,” Fauss said.
“If congestion pricing money doesn’t come in, where does that leave them? There’s nothing else to plug the hole of billions of dollars for congestion pricing.”
Congestion fees in Manhattan below 60th Street passed in 2019 with the goal of starting at the end of 2020 to fund sorely-needed upgrades, repairs and expansions to the transit system. But the Trump administration refused to OK the program, and transit officials now claim they need 16 months to conduct an environmental review of the plan at the feds’ behest.
The current pace of funding lags behind where the MTA stood in terms of cash-on-hand during the past couple four-year modernization plans, in terms of both total dollars and the percentage of the total funding needed, according to the report.
Fauss said the MTA will likely be forced to borrow the money for capital projects, increasing its already-massive debt load.
State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli said in April that the MTA’s growing debt — which already gobbles up one-fifth of the authority’s fare, toll and tax revenues — could force officials to shrink or delay the $54.8 billion plan, which was supposed to finish in 2024.
To address the debt, MTA will have to find other sources of income to fund the sorely needed upkeep, DiNapoli warned — potentially including dramatic fare hikes.
Transit spokesman Ken Lovett in a statement pinned delays on COVID-19, and said the MTA is “now going full tilt and [does] not require congestion pricing revenues for several years.”
“The state Legislature has previously authorized the use of additional State and City sales taxes and the mansion tax for the 2020-24 capital program and we are using such funds, which we anticipate comes to about $10 billion,” Lovett said. “Not only are these sources of funding available, but — as publicly stated time and again–we always planned to use them before relying on revenues from congestion pricing.”
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