For decades, the MTA capital construction plan has come down the pike every five years. Collectively, the multi-billion dollar spending plans set the long-term course of New York's transit system. With the next one due in September, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has weighed in to say that the plan should focus heavily on coping with one factor: "a changing climate."
Toward that end, the governor has ordered MTA Chairman and CEO Tom Prendergast to convene a "transportation reinvention commission" to contribute to the plan. A letter from Cuomo to Prendergast says the commission "should include international transportation experts and be selected by the MTA," though it doesn't say who those experts might be. The commission would also hold public hearings.
The letter laid out Cuomo's rationale for having the commission:
"We have been operating the same subway system for the last 100 years. The next 100 years, however, look radically different for New York. The clear evidence of a changing climate in our nation makes more major storms like Superstorm Sandy a real and present threat. Increasing population, demographic shifts and record ridership pose new challenges to operating and maintaining our existing mass transit network, meeting and exceeding New Yorkers’ expectations, and spurring the continued growth of New York’s economy. Already, there are more than 8.5 million riders — more than the entire population of New York City — using MTA trains and buses every day."
The letter caught transportation advocates by surprise.
There was wariness among a group that has recently criticized Cuomo for cutting tolls on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and re-appropriating $40 million for transit in the latest budget. And there was concern with the relatively limited time frame within which the group has to operate. But on its face, the idea of the commission pleased advocates.
"The MTA needs every bit of help it can get," said Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers' Campaign. And NYU Rudin Center Director Mitchell Moss said it was appropriate develop a grand vision for the MTA's next century. "We need to reprogram mobility. The way people use transit has totally changed," Moss said.
If the MTA follows its own precedent, a draft copy of the next five-year capital plan will be released around the end of July. That plan would then be subject to revisions before the MTA board votes on it in September, in order to submit the plan to Albany by an Oct. 1 deadline.