NY MTA: Capital Plan Will Not Go Broke, Platforms with Glass Walls Could Be Coming

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(New York, NY - WNYC) New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders have agreed to fully fund the last three years of the transit agency's five-year capital plan. The news came as a relief to transit watchers around the region, especially given that the capital plan ran out of money on the first day of the year.

Under the agreement, the NY MTA bond cap will be increased by $7 billion and the state will provide $770 million in new funds over three years. It also calls for a $2.2 billion loan request to the federal Rail Road Infrastructure Fund.

NY MTA Chairman and CEO Joe Lhota praised the deal after a meeting of the NYC Transit committee this morning. "It's about the quality of our entire system, the renovation and repair of our system, the continuation of our megaprojects," he said.

Those megaprojects are the Second Avenue subway on the East Side of Manhattan, access to Grand Central Terminal for the Long Island Rail Road, the Fulton Street Transit Center near the World Trade Center and the westward extension of 7 train past its last stop in Times Square. They are among the largest infrastructure projects underway in the U.S.

The money will also buy new train cars, 340 of which were ordered today at a cost of $748 million, and energy-efficient buses. Other uses for the funding include improvements to subway stations, such as new elevators and escalators, and upgrades to communication and signal systems.

The capital program is expected to generate 20,000 jobs annually and have an overall economic impact of $37 billion. It does not change scheduled fare hikes.

Transportation advocates generally supported the deal while warning that it burdens the MTA with another $9 billion of debt. Paul Steely White of Transportation Alternatives called the arrangement "an express train to higher MetroCard fares and less subway and bus service."

Another hot topic at today's transit committee meeting was passenger fatalities. New York City subway trains hit 147 riders in 2011, up from 128 people hit the year before. Those accidents produced 51 deaths last year. There have been 21 deaths in the subway already this year.

MTA president Tom Prendergast said a possible response to the problem would be to wall in subway platforms. He said the authority is thanking about adding glass walls with sliding doors that open when a train is in the station, similar to AirTrain platforms.

"The primary reason is safety, " he said. "The second is environmental control and the third is to have a better means of getting the train into the station, doing the loading and unloading, and getting the train out of the station."

Prendergast said "environmental control" meant the ability to cool or warm glass-enclosed platforms. He claimed that in other countries, subway systems with enclosed platforms see increased efficiency in boarding, which saves time. "The entire functioning of the Lexington Avenue line depends on smooth boarding at Grand Central Terminal," he said. "Cutting down or eliminating platform accidents would help us greatly."

The NY MTA chief did not say how much the upgrade would cost or how it would be funded, only that he assumes it would be "costly."