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Transportation Nation

Financial Plan for Tappan Zee Bridge Probably Won't Come Until August

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Tappan Zee Bridge, which crosses the Hudson and connects Rockland and Westchester Counties (photo by Patsy Wooters via Flickr)

Thomas Madison, the head of the New York State Thruway Authority, knows the $5 billion-dollar question is how the state will pay for its planned replacement of the Tappan Zee Bridge. But he's able to maintain a sense of humor about the uncertainty.

Speaking Thursday morning at a breakfast sponsored by the Citizens Budget Commission, Madison pointed to his presentation about the bridge and said: "I'm going to go through these slides fairly quickly, because I understand there's a lot of questions on how we're going to finance the project that I can't answer --  so I will hedge those after the presentation."

But he did impart some information about how the state will fund what is expected to be a $5 billion to $6 billion cost: "The principal way -- and the predominant way -- will be toll-backed Thruway bonds. There's been talk about pension funds, or some other private equity introduction into the process. Those discussions continue, but ultimately this will be a publicly funded project."

Madison said the "hard target" for a financial plan is August, when the federal government is expected to sign off on the project, but it could come sooner.

Other details:

  • While the state is "confident" it will get that loan, it's also exploring other federal grant possibilities
  • Any private money won't come in the form of a public/private partnership, because the state lacks that legislative authority.
  • There's "no intent" to raise tolls -- but it's the state's goal to be consistent with other area crossings. And "the bridge itself and the New York State Thruway system generally is the biggest bargain in terms of toll roads in the Northeast." (Currently, the undiscounted toll for crossing the Tappan Zee is $5; the cash toll for the George Washington Bridge is $12.)
  • This is a roads project, not a transit one. "The Thruway Authority does not own or operate or maintain any transit systems today and we're not in the transit business." The bridge will be built so as to "not preclude" a bus rapid transit or rail line in the future. But as it stands today, "we can't afford to incorporate a full transit system beyond the bridge itself."
  • The MTA is giving the state information about loading capacity to make sure that's included in the design of the new bridge.
  • But what will the new Tappan Zee look like? "We will know the design of the bridge when we receive the proposals from the four teams (currently bidding on the project); right now that is slated for the end of July."
  • Even though the bridge is being expanded significantly, "capacity will still be an issue... so we're going to incorporate some intelligent transportation systems to manage the traffic better."
  • No news on what might happen to the existing bridge when the new one is operational. Madison said the contract calls for its demolition (which will cost $150 million). And the state is exploring "repurposing it," the Coast Guard and the Army Corps of Engineers have some "serious reservations."

Meanwhile, preliminary work on the new bridge is in full swing on the Hudson. And Madison said starting Friday, "they're going to start driving these ten-foot-in-diameter, 180-foot-long piles down into the riverbed, and then they actually weld another 180-foot pipe on top of that, and continue driving it down."

This, he said, will give the companies bidding on the project information they need on the bedrock and substrate.

You can see Thomas Madison's presentation here.

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The Empire

CBC makes the pitch for local Medicaid funding relief

Monday, December 12, 2011

Back in the summer--oh those many, many days ago--I wrote about a movement that began among suburban and upstate legislators to have the State start picking up the cost of Medicaid. Currently, localities--such as New York City, as well as county organizations--pay about 16 percent of their local cost.

The program was initially meant as a way to make urban areas--i.e. New York City--pay for having high concentrations of folks enrolled in the program. But now upstate and suburban communities are facing what they say are unsustainable costs and want the state to start taking over the full cost of Medicaid--something most states already do.

The Citizens Budget Commission has no weighed in on the issue, coming out in favor of a state takeover of the system:

Eliminating the local share policy would significantly improve the way New York State finances its Medicaid program. The policy has long placed an inequitable burden on residents living in lower income counties. Serious attempts to end the policy in the past have all fallen short. The recent focus on efficiency in Medicaid and the fiscal pressures on counties due to the property tax growth cap provide an opportunity to fix the policy now.

The full report is after the jump. Expect this to be an item on the agenda when the legislature returns next month.

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WNYC News

Trying to Plug Big Budget Gap, MTA Asks City to Pay for 2nd Avenue Subway

Saturday, July 30, 2011

WNYC

The MTA said the city pay should pay it half a billion dollars for building the Second Avenue Subway since, the authority claims, the city stands to gain a big boost in tax revenues as property values go up around the subway after its planned opening in 2016.

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Transportation Nation

NY MTA, Desperate To Plug Big Budget Gap, Asks City To Pay For 2nd Ave Subway

Friday, July 29, 2011

The 8.5 mile length of a fully constructed Second Avenue Subway. Phase 1, now under construction, will go from E 96th to E 63rd Streets.

(New York, NY - WNYC) The NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority says the city should pay it half a billion dollars for building the Second Avenue Subway. It's only fair, the NY MTA reasons, when the city stands to gain a big boost in tax revenues as property values go up around the subway after its planned opening in 2016.

The proposal is one of nine different sources of funding the authority is counting on to plug a $9 billion gap in its $13.5 billion capital construction plan covering 2012-2015.

But Mayor Michael Bloomberg sounded unconvinced when asked on his weekly radio show about the NY MTA's idea for revenue-sharing. "Let me check," the mayor said sardonically. "I'll call our finance director and see if taxes came in yesterday."

Bloomberg said he preferred having the authority plug its budget gap with new revenue, like tolls on the East River Bridges. But that idea was most recently defeated by the New York State legislature in 2009. "We should find some ways to raise money for the MTA," the mayor added. "Something that would encourage people to take mass transit so there'd be more fare payers."

But NY MTA Chief Financial Officer Robert Foran said Albany "has no appetite for new dedicated taxes or fees."

As a result, the bulk of the NY MTA's strategy for funding the capital construction plan is to float new bonds worth $4.7 billion and obtain a low-interest federal loan for $2.2 billion. The plan has not pleased transit watchers.

The Citizens Budget Commission, a watchdog group, said it was "better than doing nothing to meet the essential infrastructure needs of mass transit. But it has a critical flaw – it proposes to borrow billions without presenting a corresponding plan for new revenues to match the increased long-run debt service burden."

Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers Campaign told WNYC that it's likely the borrowed money, plus interest, will be obtained down the road from the fare box. "I have sympathy for the MTA because it's not getting help from Albany or City Hall," he said. "But then it's turning to the riders and saying, 'Well, we'll see how this goes. There's a good chance your fares going to balloon down the road.'"

The NY MTA's capital construction plan will run out of money at the end of the year. Should the authority's funding plan not yield the billions expected of it, work on mega-projects like the Second Avenue Subway and a tunnel bringing Long Island Railroad trains into Grand Central Terminal could start to slow down by next year and, eventually, grind to a halt.

That doesn't even take into account the budgetary havoc to be wrought should some state lawmakers come through on their threat to eliminate the payroll mobility tax, which is expected to yield $1.2 billion for the NY MTA in 2012 alone. On Monday, Foran told a briefing for reporters on the budget that, "if we lose that tax, we have a big hole that we can't overcome."

And another thing. Balancing the NY MTA's budget also depends on saving $1.2 billion by convincing labor unions to agree to work three years in a row, beginning next year, without pay raises. John Samuelson, president of the 38,000 members of the Transport Workers Union, has said he’ll fight such a deal.

Foran said the NY MTA is doing its part by finding $2 billion in savings through cost-cutting measures like revamping an employee health plan, consolidating 34 data centers into three and eliminating 3,000 agency cell phones. He said funding must be found because the NY MTA's capital projects create 25 percent of all construction jobs in the metropolitan area, and are crucial to improving New York's subway and bus system.

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Transportation Nation

TN Moving Stories: Gas Prices A Political Problem for Obama, and Saab Stops Production--For Now

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

President Barack Obama inspects an AT&T all-electric vehicle on display during a tour of the UPS facility in Landover, Md., April 1, 2011. (Office White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Rising gas prices present a problem for President Obama's reelection hopes. (Los Angeles Times)

Meanwhile, in Pennsylvania yesterday, he talked about electric vehicles, increasing fuel-efficiency standards, and alternative energy sources. (White House transcript)

Gothamist interviewed the bicyclist who was arrested on Manhattan's Upper West Side for either running a red light or resisting arrest.

Swedish automaker Saab has temporarily shut down production due to "limited liquidity," lack of supplies, and ongoing negotiations with suppliers who need to be paid (Wall Street Journal). Meanwhile, a slowdown in Toyota's production is causing ripple effects in Japan (NPR).

But it's not all bad news for Toyota, which just sold its one millionth Prius in the U.S. (Wired/Autopia)

New York's fire department is expanding a program that requires firefighters to follow traffic laws, operate at reduced speeds and turn off lights and sirens when responding to certain non-life threatening emergencies to Brooklyn and Staten Island after a successful pilot program in Queens. (WNYC)

Caltrain cuts may not be as bad as originally projected, but "there is still some pain." (San Francisco Chronicle)

The Citizens Budget Commission released a report that says New York's subways are among the most efficient in the country -- but the MTA's bus operations, and two commuter rail roads, are "relatively inefficient."  Download the report (pdf): Benchmarking Efficiency for the MTA's Efficiency Standards

Stanford University has founded a program for the cross-cultural study of the automobile. (New York Times)

The New York Yankees and the MTA agreed to return the B, D and 4 subway lines to the "Great New York Subway Race," the animated mid-game scoreboard segment. (NY Daily News)

Make mine a double: new double-decker buses roll out in Seattle. (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)

Top Transportation Nation stories we're following: After Transportation Nation report,Governor Cuomo says he'll overhaul  the state system of handing out free parking placard as perks to state employees. A NY State Senator introduced a license plate bill that he'd benefit from.  The applications are in for Florida's rejected high-speed rail money.Congress floats new motorcoach safety bills. And labor leaders and transit advocates talk about equity with DOT officials.

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