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Jim O'Grady

Jim O'Grady appears in the following:

MTA Squabbling + Poor Management = Years of Delays and Nearly $2 Billion Over Budget on Mega-Projects

Thursday, December 23, 2010

WNYC

MTA Inspector General Barry Kluger is looking at why three of the agency's four big projects are behind schedule and over budget by nearly $2 billion. He said in a new report that squabbling at the agency is a big part of the problem.

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MTA Squabbling + Poor Management = Years of Delays and Nearly $2 Billion Over Budget on Mega-Projects

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

(New York -- Jim O'Grady, WNYC)  The Inspector General of the New York area Metropolitan Transportation Authority slammed the agency in a report for ignoring procedures it had set up to keep mega-projects on budget and on schedule.

Predictably, says Inspector Barry Kluger, three of those projects are now nearly $2 billion over-budget combined and delayed by two to five years. That means subway riders and others must slog through construction zones all the longer while waiting for expanded service that is repeatedly postponed as taxpayers rack up greater and greater debt.

These “mega-projects have experienced well-publicized budget overruns and disruptive schedule delays that have seriously undermined public confidence in the MTA’s management,” the report said.

Two of the projects are already five years behind schedule: an extension of Long Island Railroad to Grand Central Terminal, now expected to be done by April 2018, and the first leg of the Second Ave. subway, now scheduled for completion in 2017. The Fulton Transit Center, with its projected finish in 2014, looks good by comparison. It’s only two and a half years late.

Only the 7 Train Extension, the last of the MTA’s four megaprojects, does not suffer from significant lateness or cost over-runs. The four projects have budgets totaling $15.32 billion.

Kluger says MTA Capital Construction, a subsidiary charged with overseeing the agency’s capital spending, clashed with an “independent engineering firm”—it did not name the firm—over who was in charge of monitoring the projects. His report says the engineering firm was at times given too much to do with too little information. And the firm wrote bad reports that lacked clear summaries or were too technically detailed to be easily understood. Sometimes, when the firm did make a plain recommendation, MTA Capital Construction ignored it.

At Kluger’s insistence, the MTA has separated the squabbling entities. The agency’s Office of Construction Oversight will now manage the independent engineer. The Office's mandate is to bring about “less conflict and more effectiveness to the oversight process.”

Kluger said another problem was megaprojects bidding against each other for a limited number of highly specialized contractors, which drove up prices. He warned that this might soon happen again as each project goes shopping for contractors to install signal and communications systems.

The Inspector General said MTA Chairman Jay Walder has accepted the report’s findings and used them to tell the Office of Construction Oversight to get a firmer grip on spending and scheduling.

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Mixed Signals for City Pedestrians

Monday, December 20, 2010

New Yorkers are famous for crossing streets whenever they feel like it, taking a blasé attitude toward crosswalk signals. But the signs tend to capture the attention of pedestrians when the "walk" and "don't walk" icons are lit up at the same time, which is the case at intersections all over the city.

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The $128 Million Question: Where's the ARC Tunnel Letter?

Friday, December 17, 2010

(New York - Jim O'Grady, WNYC) New Jersey Governor Chris Christie stood up at a press conference on Thursday morning at the state house in Trenton and uttered what could have been a $128 million phrase.

“The offer was a nice start,” he said.

He was referring to a letter from federal Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood that offered a rebate in the above amount against a $271 million charge the feds have presented the state for preliminary work on the cancelled ARC rail tunnel under the Hudson.

Christie killed the project in October because of projected cost overruns. LaHood, in the letter, proposed to give the state $128 million back for projects that improve air quality by cutting traffic congestion. But only if New Jersey pays the whole bill by December 24.

The governor’s positive reaction on Thursday was a reversal of sorts. The prior two days, he’d refused to acknowledge the potential deal because the letter that contained it, dated Tuesday, hadn’t been sent to him. Instead, it was addressed to New Jersey Senators Robert Menendez and Frank Lautenberg. By Wednesday evening, though the offer had been widely reported, Governor Christie’s spokesman Michael Drewniak insisted it still hadn’t reached the state house.

“Neither the Governor’s Office or New Jersey Transit has heard from Secretary LaHood,” said Drewniak in a statement. “If and when we are contacted by the secretary, we will review their proposal.”

The disconnect may have had something to do with testy public relations between the Republican Christie and the Democrat Lautenberg.

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The $128 Million Question: Where's the ARC Tunnel Letter?

Friday, December 17, 2010

WNYC

The prospect of a $128 million rebate for New Jersey may be all that’s needed to calm the collision of personalities and political agendas at the center of the ARC Tunnel debate.

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NJ Governor Christie Mum About Feds' Offer to Cut $271 Million ARC Bill Nearly in Half

Thursday, December 16, 2010

WNYC

New Jersey could be off the hook for almost half the $271 million the federal government says the state owes for scrapping a rail tunnel under the Hudson.

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NJ Governor Mum About Feds' Offer to Cut $271 Million ARC Bill Nearly in Half

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

(New York -- Jim O'Grady, WNYC) New Jersey could be off the hook for almost half the $271 million  the federal government says it owes for scrapping a rail tunnel under the Hudson after work had been started.

The U.S. Department of Transportation says it will give the state $128 million back for projects that improve air quality by cutting traffic congestion. But only if New Jersey pays the whole bill by December 24.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood released a letter containing the offer. A spokesman for Governor Christie said he had no comment on it because the department hasn't contacted him.

Governor Christie halted the $8.7 billion ARC tunnel project in October because of potential cost overruns. The decision has been controversial. New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg, for one, repeatedly decries it as “disastrous.”

Lautenberg took credit on Wednesday, along with fellow New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez, for brokering the rebate offer from Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. A press release from Lautenberg claimed that, “The Senator has been working quietly with DOT on reducing New Jersey’s burden since the project was killed.”

Now the Christie administration must decide if half a loaf is enough to end its scrap with the feds. Earlier this month, the governor directed New Jersey Transit—the state agency overseeing the project—to hire well-connected DC law firm Patton Boggs at $485 an hour to fight the tab from LaHood, which is for preliminary work on the ARC tunnel.

James Weinstein, executive director of New Jersey Transit, stood before reporters after a recent board meeting at the agency and contended the federal government was wrong to ask for money it spent in collaboration with the state.

“This isn’t like they sent us a check for $270 million and then walked away and let us spend it,” Weinstein said of the U.S. DOT. “They were a participant in everything we did, every day, every minute, every hour.“

If the Christie administration sticks to that position, it could be that the Transportation Secretary just made an offer that can be refused.

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U.S. Senate Voting on $230 Monthly Commuter Tax Benefit

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

(New York--Jim O'Grady, WNYC) The U.S. Senate is voting today on a tax cut compromise that includes a provision allowing transit riders to deduct up to $230 per month for the cost of their commute.

The move would be a big step toward extending a benefit that began last year as part of the Obama administration's federal stimulus package. Before then, a transit commuter's monthly pre-tax benefit was capped at $120. Raising the cap to $230 put bus and train riders--and van poolers--on par with those who drive to work and pay for parking.

Tri-State Transportation Campaign, an advocacy group that works in Connecticut, New Jersey and New York, has been pushing the provision. Spokeswoman Ya-Ting Liu said, "At the end of the day, given the growing need for affordable transportation options, and the growing economic cost of traffic congestion, fed policy should reward transit use. And that’s exactly what this does."

After the Senate vote, the tax package compromise will be taken up by the House. Should it pass there, the House and Senate would need to come up with a reconciled bill and then pass that bill before the end of the year.

Liu said the yearly suspense over the $230 benefit for transit riders could be avoided if the provision were to be written into the tax code, as it has been for drivers.

"The underlying issue is parity between transit and parking," she said. "Right now, this is a permanent benefit that only drivers enjoy."

For more on the issue and its economic ramifications, see this Marketplace report.

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NJ Transit Hires K Street Powerhouse to Fight $271 Million Tab for ARC Tunnel

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Law firm Patton Boggs is a major K Street lobbyist in Washington, DC.

(New York -- Jim O'Grady, WNYC) New Jersey Transit is ratifying Governor Christie's decision to hire DC law firm Patton Boggs to fight a $271 million tab from the federal government for work on a defunct tunnel project.

Patton Boggs is one of Washington's most influential--and best paid--lobbying firms. New Jersey Transit executive director James Weinstein says the firm's expertise in the ways of federal bureaucracies make them worth the $485 an hour they'll be charging the state.

"Whatever we pay this law firm is going to be far less than what the federal government and the Federal Transit Administration is asking us to pay them," Weinstein said.

The FTA is giving the state until December 24 to pay its "debt to the United States"--reimbursement for initial work on the ARC tunnel project. Governor Christie cancelled it in October, citing the possibility of cost overruns. The move has proved popular with 56% of polled voters in New Jersey.

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MTA Chief Talks Tough About Unions

Thursday, December 09, 2010

(New York -- Jim O'Grady, WNYC) MTA Chairman Jay Walder says unions have to agree to freeze their wages--or straphangers will have to pay more.

The MTA is hiking fares later this month--and is also planning another 7.5% increase in 2013. But Walder warns that fare hike will be even larger if unions don't help out.

He told a State Assembly committee that labor hasn't "played an active part" in helping the MTA face its budget crisis. Walder says he'll only agree to cost of living raises if the unions match them with increased productivity or fewer benefits.

Of the agency’s more than thirty unions, all but three are negotiating a new contract or will begin to do so in the next year.

Transport Workers Union spokesman Jim Gannon described Walder's style as "take it or leave it" and didn't think it would succeed. "That's not the way we do business," he said.

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First Fare Hikes, Now NJ Transit Users Will Pay More to Park

Monday, December 06, 2010

Over there, an empty spot.  Image by Flickr user JGNY

(New York -- Jim O'Grady, WNYC) New Jersey Transit is preparing to charge more money for parking spots. The cash-strapped agency says its plan to privatize eighty-one parking lots at train stations and bus stops will raise an estimated $100 million dollars.

The agency has narrowed the field of competing companies to seven. The winning firm will be chosen in May and offered a 30 to 50 year lease. It will then control 60% of the parking spots in New Jersey Transit's system.

Prices are expected to rise at lots that already charge drivers to park and fourteen free lots covered by the plan are likely to begin collecting fees. The increases come on top of a 25% fare hike in May for New Jersey Transit train and interstate bus commuters.

Critics say the agency is sacrificing steady income for a large up-front payment. Jay Corbalis, an analyst with the public policy group New Jersey Future, said the plan is mainly designed to deliver a spike of revenue toward next year's budget.

"But that compromises future revenue for the agency," he said.

He added that privatization will lock up some parcels next to train and bus stops that  might better be developed with office buildings and stores. "It raises a number of questions about the long-term use of the lots," he said. "This land would not be available for 30 to 50 years for transit-oriented development."

NJ Transit says a private operator will upgrade the lots and bring consistency to a  system that is operated by a combination of municipal, private and New Jersey Transit operators.

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First Fare Hikes, Now NJ Transit Riders Will Pay More for Parking

Monday, December 06, 2010

WNYC

New Jersey Transit is preparing to charge more money for parking spots. The cash-strapped agency says its plan to privatize eighty-one parking lots at train stations and bus stops will raise an estimated $100 million dollars.

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Christie Hires Law Firm to Fight Feds Over ARC Reimbursement

Thursday, December 02, 2010

WNYC

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has hired a law firm to challenge a $271 million tab the federal government says the state owes for the canceled ARC rail tunnel. Christie says he's approved the selection of high-powered Washington, D.C. firm Patton Boggs.

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MTA "Terror-Proofing" Bridges and Tunnels

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Manhattan Bridge, New York City. Image: (CC) by Flickr user barry.pousman

(New York — Jim O’Grady, WNYC) The MTA is coming to the end of a $250 million project to “terror-proof” seven bridges spanning the East River and ten subway tunnels passing under it, reports The New York Post. The hardening includes lining tunnels with high-impact metal, dropping massive slabs of rock and concrete on the riverbed where tunnels have not been dug through bedrock, and fitting bridges with blast-resistant plates and collars on cables.

MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz confirmed that the hardening was not a routine upgrade but “related to increasing security in the system.” He said the budget came from “a combination” of sources, including the MTA, the Department of Homeland Security and federal stimulus money.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is urging municipalities across the country to adopt New York City's security saying: "If you see something, say something."

Asked about other security projects in New York City, he said the agency continues to add surveillance cameras and police patrols at river crossings. The slow roll out of cameras are a sore point with the agency. In 2005, MTA hired Lockheed Martin to install 1,750 advanced technology cameras throughout the subway that could detect unattended bags on platforms. The technology didn't work. Now MTA and Lockheed are arguing in court over the $251 million price tag.

Ortiz also said the Department of Homeland Security has officially adopted New York City’s “If you see something, say something” campaign. The department is urging municipalities around the U.S. to use the saying in their outreach to the public.

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Rebuilt Roosevelt Island Tram Aloft

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Riders looking noirish aboard the new Roosevelt Island Tram


(New York -- Jim O’Grady, WNYC) Hundreds of Roosevelt Island residents showed up this morning to do what they hadn’t been able to do for the past nine months: ride a tram above  New York's  East River into Manhattan. The tram had been shut down for three months longer than planned to undergo a $25 million renovation. All but the base of its three towers were replaced and sleek red gondolas with wraparound windows were put into service.

The tram now runs on parallel sets of cables that are powered separately, allowing its two gondolas to run independently of each other. Previously, the gondolas used a system that functioned as if they were on a clothesline so when one malfunctioned, the second stopped moving, too. And when one gondola was at the Manhattan station, the other had to be at Roosevelt Island, a mostly residential island in between Manhattan and Queens, NY.

Under the new system, both gondolas can be sent from one side or the other to handle rush hour. And a gondola can now be taken out of service at night if demand is light. Crucially, the tram can keep running with one gondola if the other needs to be grounded for maintenance.

The gondolas can now carry almost 200 people—up from 125—and travel on cables that are wider than before. That’s to help stabilize them as they glide 230 feet above the often windy East River.

Roosevelt Island resident Cynthia Baird showed up to check out the new tram but not to ride it. She said she and several of her neighbors had decided to wait before boarding the tram, though it’s much quicker than taking the subway's F train or Q102 bus. When asked why, she said: “In case it falls. I don’t want to be in it!”

Baird figures she’ll wait a day or two to let the kinks be worked out before returning to the tram and, along with many of the island’s 14,000 residents, her regularly scheduled commute.

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NYC's Roosevelt Island Tram, After Repairs, To Be Airborne Again

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Image: Roosevelt Island Operating Commission

(New York - Jim O'Grady, WNYC) The Roosevelt Island Tram will take to the skies above the East River this morning after shutting down for nine months of repairs. The $25 million overhaul was supposed to take six months.  But the Roosevelt Island Operating Cooperation says delays were caused by city and state reviews and stretches of bad weather. In the meantime, the tram's approximately 2 million riders per year have been getting back and forth to Queens and Manhattan by bus, bridge and F train, each of which takes a lot longer than a four-minute ride by gondola.

All but the base of the tram's three towers have been replaced. Refurbished red cars  have bigger windows for better views and waiting rooms and stations have been renovated and repainted. The cars will also travel along a wider cable designed to allow for faster service and less turbulence in high winds.

Safety has been an issue with the tram. A power outage in 2006 left 69 people trapped inside a gondola, dangling 200 feet above the river for several hours. Eight months before that incident, 80 riders were trapped on the tram for 90 minutes after a power outage.

The tram began service in 1976, about a year after the island itself opened to residents. A subway to Queens that served Roosevelt Island opened in 1989 but by then the tram had proved itself not only useful but iconic, so it remained in operation.

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Transit Schedules Beefed Up for Holiday Rush

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

WNYC

You may now flee to your ancestral homes. MTA and NJ Transit are adding extra trains and buses over the Thanksgiving holiday to handle the busiest three travel days of the year.

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Engine Blowout, Not Birds, Forced Flight Back to JFK

Monday, November 22, 2010

WNYC

FAA investigators say Engine 1 on a Delta flight to Moscow failed on Sunday, forcing pilots to fly back to Kennedy Airport using Engine 2. The Boeing 767 escaped serious damage, and avoided a possible crash, when turbine blades from inside the damaged engine shot into the air but missed the fuselage of the plane. It's unknown if the first engine caught fire at any point.

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Bloomberg Pushes Subway to New Jersey

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

WNYC

ARC is dead. Long live ARC in a different guise.

Tuesday's announcement that the city is seriously exploring sending the No. 7 subway line to New Jersey rippled through press conferences and urban planning groups. At a press conference to announce a comic book to help job seekers, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the crush of riders between New York and New Jersey continues to rise, and that reality demands more cross-Hudson transit capacity.

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