By Mark Hallum
Gov. Andrew Cuomo is calling on Amtrak to reimburse the Long Island Rail Road after announcing the acceleration of improvements to MTA bridges and tunnels to mitigate disruptions for commuters as Amtrak takes six weeks to complete major overhauls of Penn Station.
Some Queens elected officials, however, are not satisfied with Cuomo and the MTA’s plan to mitigate transportation woes because buses and ferries employed to make up for train service disruptions skip the northeast portion of the borough altogether. In a letter to the LIRR president Patrick Nowakowski and New York City Transit President Veronique Hakim, Avella asked them to revise their plan to include his constituents.
“As you are keenly aware, commuters in this area only have the option of LIRR service or the 7 train at Flushing Main Street to commute into Manhanan — and I do not feel the need to tell you yet again that the 7 train simply cannot accommodate more passengers at Flushing Main Street since it is 94 percent capacity,” Avella said. “Though some park and ride bus service will be added for commuters in Nassau County, the MTA is not providing these services to northeast Queens, which is already a transit desert. Having residents drive to Port Washington for a park and ride, Glen Cove for a ferry, or Flushing Main Street for the 7 train are not feasible options.”
State Assemblyman Edward Braunstein (D-Flushing) penned a similar request arguing that his constituents favor select bus service to Manhattan and this option is already overburdened.
Cuomo referred to the repairs scheduled between July 10 to Sept. 1 in which about 20 percent of the 21 tracks in Penn Station will be out of commission as the “Summer of Hell” in a letter addressed to President Donald Trump. He called on the president, a New York City resident, to help underwrite the repair work with federal funds. The governor is adding bus lanes to bridges and opening parts of the Manhattan-Queens Tunnel early while announcing the launch of 200 buses and ferries between Long Island and Manhattan in preparation for the emergency work period.
“The resulting question is – who pays for all of this.” Cuomo said. “My answer is clear and simple – Amtrak must pay. The Long Island Railroad currently pays Amtrak approximately $50 million per year for rent of the tracks at Penn Station. As the tracks are not available due to Amtrak’s actions, they are liable for the resulting damages.”
In April, Penn Station, the nation’s busiest rail hub, which is owned by Amtrak, was been besieged by two derailments, power outages in the East River and Hudson River tunnels, and scattered infrastructure failures, all of which have inconvenienced hundreds of thousands of commuters. Amtrak is responsible for maintaining the tracks.
According to Cuomo, the final cost has not been determined, but the LIRR will be offering a 25 percent fare reduction to LIRR passengers traveling to Hunterspoint Avenue in Long Island City, Jamaica and Atlantic Terminal, where they can get free transfers to the subway system. The discount applies to monthly, weekly and daily tickets and will be available through eTix July 1 and at all ticket windows and vending machines June 20.
“We do not know at this time what the total cost of mitigation will be, but I believe as a matter of principle, whatever the ultimate cost, it should not be borne by the commuters or taxpayers of the state of New York.” Cuomo said.
Compounding the expected chaos, the subway system has experienced frequent delays on many lines caused by heavy ridership using outdated equipment.
The governor also announced Tuesday he would be advancing legislation for the state to take over majority control of the MTA, which he said will address the current crisis facing infrastructure decline and other issues.
The legislation would add two additional seats appointed by governor to the MTA board, which would give him eight appointees and nine votes compared to the four appointed by Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Cuomo’s office said the MTA’s current structure was created in the mid-Sixties and has little accountability requiring constant coalition building to accomplish things and make decisions.
When Mario Cuomo, Andrew’s father, was governor, he pushed for control of the MTA but failed.
Riders Alliance Executive Director John Raskin criticized Andrew Cuomo’s plan to push the legislation, arguing the governor already exerts dominant power over the MTA through his ability to appoint a chair and the largest number of board members while dictating how the agency spends its funds among other aspects. The MTA, however, is still without as permanent chairman.
“The problem is not MTA board structure; the problem is the absence of leadership and the lack of a credible plan from Governor Cuomo for how he will fix the subway,” Raskin said. “Riders don’t have the luxury of quibbling over MTA board governance when we know it’s not the real issue. We need a plan from the governor and a reliable source of funding that can fix our disastrous commutes.”
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall