By Larry Penner
A proposed amendment to the New York City charter by the City Council requiring both the New York City Department of Transportation and Metropolitan Transportation Authority to study potential light-rail systems and other transportation improvements, along with adding passenger service on existing active and inactive freight rail lines in all five boroughs, is a waste of time and money. Both issues have been previously studied on numerous occasions by various planning and transportation agencies going back decades.
Consider that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority has both five-year and 20-year long-range capital plans, which are periodically updated. Both documents clearly outline what capital funding is needed to maintain both a state of good repair for existing equipment, facilities and services along with safety, security and any future system expansion projects and programs. Specific costs and individual MTA operating agencies are also identified for both projects and programs.
The New York State Department of Transportation maintains the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program. Each Metropolitan Planning Organization for every urbanized area which is affiliated with NYSDOT maintains a local Transportation Improvement Program. The New York Metropolitan Transportation Council maintains a complete listing of proposed transportation projects, which is updated on a yearly basis. Both the STIP and TIP documents contain a complete inventory of potential transportation improvement projects, respective sponsoring agency and estimated cost.
Both the MPO and NYSDOT maintain five-year short-range and 20-year long-range lists of potential capital transportation improvement projects by recipient and operating agency.
Every year, millions of dollars are spent for planning studies to research the potential for new transportation capital investments and system expansion. This includes Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s own New York State Department of Transportation and Economic Development Corporation, state-sponsored Metropolitan Planning Organizations in every major urbanized area, including the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council, which serves New York City; the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the Metropolitan Transporation Authority along with each operating agency including NYC Transit, Long Island Rail Road, Metro North Rail Road and MTA Bus; Mayor Bill de Blasio’s own
Department of Transportation, Department of City Planning and Economic Development Corporation along with the Regional Planning Association and other private entities. All of them periodically conduct transportation planning feasibility studies.
Collectively, every decade a complete inventory of all these agencies would reveal dozens and dozens of transportation studies worth close to $100 million in costs have been completed. Funding for these studies comes from a variety of sources.
Has anyone ever taken a complete inventory of all these studies? Have they checked out the recommendations, estimated project costs, timeline for implementation and identification of potential funding sources for going forward? Who checks to see that one study is not just a duplication of a previous study for the same issue?
Too many transportation studies championed by numerous elected officials are nothing more than placebos designed to placate demagogues, who are not regular users of the numerous public transportation alternatives that have been available for decades.
The real problem is finding money to make things happen. All too often funding for many studies would have been better spent on real capital and operating service improvements instead of just lining the pockets of consultants. How many studies end up on the shelf of planners just collecting dust? How many times do we end up with a series of press conferences and news releases designed to provide free publicity for elected officials to assist them in greasing the wheels of future elections. These same elected officials promise a bright future but leave riders holding an empty bag.