By Philip Newman
So serious is the problem that the $9 billion gap in the MTA's five-year budget running to 2013 has more than doubled, a transit activist agency leader estimated. “According to my calculations, the MTA now is looking at a $17.5 billion hole in the $29.5 billion plan,” said Gene Russianoff, attorney for the Straphangers Campaign. “You might say that is more of a hole than a program.”Approval of congestion pricing would have brought the MTA $4.5 billion in revenues from congestion pricing and $354 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation. The agency will not get neither.The MTA said it was “very disappointed that the proposal for congestion pricing has not been approved. The $354 million in federal funds that have been forfeited would have allowed the MTA to provide new and improved service to under-served areas across the city.”The DOT funds from Washington would have brought 12 new bus lines to Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx, increased service on 48 bus routes in Queens, Staten Island, the Bronx and Manhattan, 309 new buses and increased service on the E and F lines.”We will continue to work with our funding partners to find the billions needed to make these vital investments,” the MTA said.Elliot “Lee” Sander, the MTA's executive director, said “a big gap has to be filled somehow.”He added: “Now we need to go back and see how we fund the rest of it.” Sander pointed out that “New York has done this in the past. We were on our knees in the 1980s. We found the funds to advance the program and that's what we're going to need to do again.”The MTA's financial problems do not end there.Starting with David Dinkins and increasingly under Rudolph Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg, mayors have heavily cut or completely eliminated money for the MTA Capital Program.Now the bill for this prodigious borrowing is coming due.Estimates are that the MTA will owe around $2 billion by 2010.The MTA recently canceled a list of service increases and other improvements the agency had promised to soften the blow of the March fare increase for subways, buses and the Long Island Rail Road. It was conditional on whether the MTA could afford them. Weeks later the MTA announced it could not.