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Transportation Nation

Gov Cuomo Shows No Urgency In Appointing Next Chair Of NY MTA

Friday, February 22, 2013

The front runner in the search for the NY MTA's next chairperson.

(New York, NY - WNYC) Two months have passed since now-mayoral candidate Joe Lhota resigned as chairman and CEO of the NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority. So what do we know about his replacement, the man or woman who will face a raft of problems, once that person is chosen by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to lead the nation's largest transit agency?

"Nothing, nada, zip, zero," said Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers Campaign. "I haven't heard."

Other transportation advocates say the same. At one time, those advocates would have known by now what was happening. That time was September 2011, two months after Lhota's predecessor, Jay Walder, resigned from the NY MTA's top spot. A search committee made up of advocates and governmental veterans was, by the end of those two months, wrapping up interviews for Walder's replacement. The committee recommended Lhota, whom Cuomo named head of the NY MTA in October of 2011. Three months later, the state senate confirmed him in the post.

A mere year later, Lhota was gone--convinced by Republican power brokers to run for mayor, a decision made easier by the high profile he gained from directing the authority's largely sure-footed handling of storm Sandy.

But this time around, there is little urgency in the search for his replacement. The governor has not courted fanfare in announcing the formation of a search committee, as he did before. Instead, a Cuomo official blamed distractions from Sandy and an Albany budget fight for the fact that "there will be no announcement soon" about a new transit chief. Cuomo spokesman Matt Wing would only add that, "The administration continues to actively search for a new chairman."

Former mayoral candidate Freddy Ferrer, who joined the NY MTA board eight months ago, is serving in a caretaker role as interim chairman and CEO. Ferrer has said repeatedly that he has no interest in making his role permanent.

Acting executive director Tom Prendergast, who normally runs the subways and buses, now has the firmest grasp of anyone on day-to-day operations. Some transportation advocates are floating his name as their choice for the next chairman. Mitchell Moss, NYU professor of urban policy and planning, theorized that Prendergast's prowess at keeping the authority running, particularly Prendergast's skillful navigation of a recent snowstorm, is easing the pressure on Cuomo to promptly name a new NY MTA chairman. "Tom is a seasoned professional who is doing such a good job that there may not be the urgency to fill the position," Moss said.

But the NY MTA faces crucial post-Sandy choices about repairing and hardening the transit system, especially as the authority starts to spend nearly $5 billion in federal aid. Joe Lhota vigorously lobbied his fellow Republicans for Sandy aid; without a permanent chair, the NY MTA has lost at least some of that clout.

The void at the top is also felt in the stalled negotiations between the NY MTA and its largest union, TWU Local 100, which has been without a contract for 13 months. The two sides haven't spoken in nearly four months, an unusually long hiatus for a union negotiation.

An apparent moment to make progress  presented itself in mid-December, when the day-to-day emergency of Sandy had subsided and freshly re-elected union president John Samuelsen was freed from campaigning. Instead, Joe Lhota "dropped the bomb," in the words of union spokesman Jim Gannon, by announcing his resignation.

Lhota was then asked at his final board meeting whether his abrupt departure would stall the authority's talks with Samuelsen, with whom Lhota had gone out of his way to cultivate a productive relationship. Lhota downplayed the problem. "There have been talks and there will continue to be talks," he said. Since then, he's been wrong on the second point.

The talks matter because a balanced budget for the authority rests in part on getting the union to agree to either three years of flat pay or pay increases offset by rules concessions that bring increased productivity. Without those three "net-zeroes," the NY MTA's chronically fragile finances would become even more problematic, with cuts in service a possibility. Either way, that's a headache for the next chairperson to sort out, whenever that person arrives.

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Transportation Nation

Poll Captures Storm Surge Of Positive Feelings For NY MTA, Gas Rationing

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

NY MTA chairman Joe Lhota, flanked by NY Governor Andrew Cuomo and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, looking pleased while announcing the re-opening of a flooded tunnel last week.(photo by Jim O'Grady / WNYC)

(New York, NY - WNYC) Poll results show that Superstorm Sandy has remade two kinds of landscapes in New York: physical and psychological. Beachfront is gone, trees are uprooted and whole communities have been forcibly rearranged by a monster tide. No less dramatically, a majority of New Yorkers are expressing love not only for their elected officials but everyone's favorite bureaucratic whipping boy, the NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

You read that correctly.

The latest Quinnipiac University poll finds 75 percent of New Yorkers rated the authority's performance during and after Sandy at "excellent" or "good." That's better than the Red Cross's 66 percent approval rating, and the dismal 37 percent approval for the region's utility companies, which struggled at times to bring the power back.

NY MTA chairman Joe Lhota was highly visible in the days and weeks following the storm as his workers methodically pumped out no less than seven under-river tunnels and, one by one, got them back to carrying trains and vehicular traffic.

The NY MTA also showed a fair degree of nimbleness by running shuttle buses over cross-river bridges until the subways were dried out. (Taking a cue, the NY Department of Transportation today announced its plan to run a temporary ferry from the hard-hit South Shore of Staten Island to Manhattan.) And the authority captured the public imagination with an online map that showed the the subway recovering in real time.

The Quinnipiac poll, which surveyed more than 1,000 registered voters in New York, also reported that Mayor Bloomberg's odd-even gas rationing system won favor by 85 to 12 percent. Other winners: President Obama, New York Governor Cuomo and, with the best numbers, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. See the full results here.

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Transportation Nation

Crucial East River Tunnel In NYC Now Half-Open

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

NY Governor Cuomo, NY MTA Chief Joe Lhota and US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announce partial opening of Hugh Carey Tunnel in NYC. (photo by Jim O'Grady)

(New York, NY - WNYC) Cars can now use one of the two tubes of the Hugh Carey Tunnel, formerly the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, in New York.

Governor Andrew Cuomo, who held a press conference at the mouth of the tunnel with NY MTA chief Joe Lhota and US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, said crews have worked around the clock to repair Sandy damage.

"When you saw this tunnel just a week ago, it was filled with water floor to ceiling," he recalled. "It defied belief, what was in this tunnel. And now 15 days later, one of the tubes will open."

Cuomo said both tubes of the 1.7 mile tunnel--the longest vehicular under-river crossing in North America--were flooded with 43 million gallons of debris-laden seawater that damaged electrical, lighting, communications, surveillance and ventilation systems.

The eastern tube -- the one usually dedicated to vehicles traveling from Brooklyn to Lower Manhattan -- is now open to Brooklyn-bound cars and buses for the evening commute from 3 pm to 7.  Friday morning, it will be open for Manhattan-bound traffic during the morning rush between 6 and 10. No trucks are allowed for now.

The governor said the western tunnel suffered worse damage and will not be open for another "few weeks." With both tubes in operation, the tunnel normally carries 50,000 vehicles on an average weekday.

Cuomo is asking the federal government for $30 billion in disaster aid, including $3.5 billion to repair the metropolitan area's bridges, tunnels and subway and commuter rail lines. That request is pending. In the meantime, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is pitching in with $10 million from the highway trust fund.

At the press conference, LaHood explained: "I’m here because the president has said to us, 'Get to New York. Do what you can, when you can do it, as often as you can do it. Take your cues form the governor.'" He said the $10 million request was approved in two hours, before implying that President Obama will come bearing many more relief funds when he visits New York on Thursday.

When a reporter asked the governor whether the U.S. Department of Transportation could cover the whole price tag for the state's recovery from Sandy, Cuomo deadpanned to LaHood, "You don’t have $30 billion dollars, do you?" The answer was, no.

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Transportation Nation

As Cuomo Wins Support for Bridge With No Dedicated Transit Lanes, Funding Request Barrels Forward

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

NY Governor Andrew Cuomo took to the podium at a marina in Piermont, NY, to talk about building a new Tappan Zee Bridge (in background). (photo by Jim O'Grady)

(New York, NY – WNYC) It's going to take at $5.4 billion to build a new Tappan Zee Bridge across the Hudson River north of New York City. Governor Andrew Cuomo gave the project a big push Monday by sending a letter to U.S. Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood, asking for a $2 billion loan. Cuomo inked the request in front of a small crowd at a marina in the riverside town of Piermont, NY, that he might flourish his pen with the old, and beleaguered, Tappan Zee Bridge in the background.

But the new funding plans include no guarantee that the new bridge will have any form of public transportation, aside from a bus lane.

"The Tappan Zee Bridge is a metaphor for dysfunction," Cuomo said before the signing. He claimed the first plans to replace the bridge were developed before the turn of the millennium, as the bridge neared 50 years old.  "Think of all the hours in traffic people have been sitting on the bridge because that hasn't gotten done, how many wasted dollars patching that bridge," he said. "Think of all the pollution."

It took Cuomo many months to get to the moment. Key members of the The New York Metropolitan Transportation Council, whose approval was needed before the loan could be requested, balked at a plan for the bridge that included no provision for a mass transit operation beyond a bus: options such as rail, light rail or a Bus Rapid Transit system linking to transportation hubs on either side of the Hudson. Cuomo won the votes of those officials by agreeing to form a task force to examine the issue and come up with recommendations.

There is also the question about where the state will get the rest of the money to pay for the massive construction project.  A Cuomo aide  recently raised the possibility of raising the bridge's $5 toll to $14 when the new bridge opens.  But after an outcry, the governor mounted a pro-bridge public relations plan, and then distanced himself from his own staffer's remarks.  Cuomo is known for running a tightly controlled administration, where subordinates generally don't speak out of turn.

In the Piermont speech, Cuomo merely promised to "keep tolls affordable."

And what if, the press asked Cuomo, the federal government doesn't come through with the loan? "I'm an optimist," he said. "They're going to say, 'yes.'" When asked if tolls would be raised even higher if the loan didn't come through, Cuomo repeated, "They're going to say, 'yes.'" Then repeated it a few more times.

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Transportation Nation

(UPDATED) Greyhound to Move into Chinatown Bus Market after Law Change

Friday, August 17, 2012

View through the window of a Chinatown bus. (photo by brotherM / Flickr)

(New York, NY - WNYC) UPDATE: A source in the NY State Senate says this bill is now a state law. Here's a few of the law's main points: 

Bus permit applications must include identification of the intercity bus company, buses to be used, and bus stop location(s) being requested; total number of buses and passengers expected to use each location; bus schedules; places where buses would park when not in use.

The city, prior to assigning an intercity bus stop, must consult with the local community board, including a 45 day notice and comment period.

Intercity bus permits would be for terms of up to three years; permits will cost up to $275 per vehicle annually; permits must be displayed on buses.

Intercity buses that load or unload passengers on city streets either without a permit or in violation of permit requirements or restrictions will face a fine of up to $1,000 for a first violation, up to $2,500 for repeat violations, and suspension or revocation of permit.

 

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is expected to sign a bill into law on Friday that would restrict where long distance bus companies can pick up and drop off passengers in New York City.

The bill becomes law if Governor Cuomo doesn't veto it by Friday at midnight, and would take effect after 90 days.

Greyhound and Peter Pan, two of the large carriers, are betting Cuomo will sign the bill: they're already vying for prime spots in Chinatown. Both have scheduled meetings next month with the transportation committee of Community Board 3 in Manhattan, which includes Chinatown.

The new law would require input from community boards before the NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority could grant bus parking permits to a company. The permits would cost $275 per bus and be good for up to three years. Companies that operate curbside without a permit would risk a fine of $1,000 for a first violation and $2,500 for repeat violations.

As of now, bus companies can load and unload passengers at most legal parking spots in the city. Residents and officials in Chinatown, where many long distance bus companies do business, say that's causing crowding and pollution.

Greyhound operates discount carrier Bolt Bus. However, Greyhound spokesman Jen Biddinger said that if the company gets the new permits, they'd go not to Bolt Bus but "a totally new service operated by Greyhound." She declined to say how many spots the company is angling for. Greyhound currently offers curbside service at 34th & 8th at Penn Station.

Two accidents last year involving low cost bus lines killed 17 people. In May, the U.S. Department of Transportation shut down 26 "Chinatown" bus lines for safety violations.

State Senator Daniel Squadron alluded to those events when endorsing the current bill, "This first-ever permit system will bring oversight to the growing and important low-cost bus industry, helping to end the wild west atmosphere while allowing us to identify problems before they become tragedies," he said.

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Transportation Nation

A Latina Journalist, a Former Clinton Official, and a Big Political Donor Join Port Authority Board

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

The George Washington Bridge is one of six bridges and tunnels operated by the NY-NJ Port Authority. (Photo by Phil Davis NY / Flickr)

(New York, NY - WNYC)   NY Governor Cuomo lets no appointment go unmined for good political effect.  This round of appointments to the Port Authority Board is no exception: Cuomo has named a prominent Latina journalist, a  real estate developer (and big political fundraiser), and a former top Clinton administration official to the Port Authority board.

The three appointees are El Diario/La Prensa Publisher Rossana Rosado, former state department spokesman and Bloomberg View editor James Rubin and real estate mogul -- and big-time political donor -- Scott Rechler.

Rechler has been serving on the board for the past year as vice chairman; his term will expire July 2018. Rosado and Rubin will take their seats immediately. Rosado's term ends July 2014, Rubin's term ends July 2017.

Rechler is the CEO and Chairman of RXR Realty, which owns and operates office buildings in the New York area, including some fancy addresses in Manhattan, and is worth about $4.5 billion.  NYPIRG named him one of the biggest political donors in the state. He gave $55,000 to Cuomo's campaign, the group said. In 2008, he raised some $140,000 for the Obama campaign, according to the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics.

The NY-NJ Port Authority's facilities include America's busiest airport system, marine terminals and ports, the PATH rail transit system, six tunnels and bridges between New York and New Jersey, the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan, and the World Trade Center. Last year, the authority moved 104 million airport customers, 74 million PATH train riders and saw 121 million vehicles cross its bridges and tunnels. The port handled 5.2 million cargo container units.

The commissioners vote on how to allocate billions in public funds to major transportation projects.

In the past Cuomo has appointed former Bronx Borough President (and current lobbyist)  Fernando Ferrer to the MTA Board, and big developer/donor Howard Milstein to head the New York State Thruway.

 

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Transportation Nation

Transpo Advocates Livid Over Deeper Cut To NY MTA Revenue Stream

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

(New York, NY - WNYC) The new tax deal working its way through Albany would impose a larger cut than first thought to a tax that helps fund the NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

The authority--along with its ability to keep the region's subways, buses and trains moving--is now facing a $370 million cut, up from an initial estimate of $250 million. That's because public schools were added to the list of those newly exempt from the tax, along with private schools and thousands of small businesses.

The tax costs $340 per $100,000 of payroll.

The state has pledged to reimburse the NY MTA for the cuts, which appear set to last the length of the three-year tax deal.

According to a State Senate press release, the cut slashes the "MTA payroll tax for about 78 percent, or more than 704,000, of the business entities that currently pay it.  This includes eliminating the tax for 290,000 employers with payrollsof less than $1.25 million; 415,000 self-employed taxpayers; and all public and non-public schools."

Transit advocates, initially supportive of the arrangement because it appeared not to affect the MTA's bottom line, pointed out that the new reimbursement formula will deprive the authority in several ways: it will probably take longer for funds to reach it; millions in taxes the MTA could've taken in from an improved economy and expanded payrolls will now be lost; the state can still reduce the reimbursement at any time.

"This leaves the millions of New Yorkers who rely on public transit with little more than IOUs in the place of secure revenue," said a statement by the advocacy group Transportation Alternatives. "Public transit is this region’s lifeblood, creates construction and manufacturing jobs across the state, and  requires dedicated funding. Eliminating or reducing any source of revenue means that revenue must be replaced by another secure, dedicated source of funding."

When the plan was first released, the NY MTA praised it for ensuring that it would "continue to receive the level of funding needed to keep New York and its economy moving." No new comment was forthcoming from the authority a day later, as new details emerged. The so-called Payroll Mobility Tax contributes $1.4 billion a year to the NY MTA's operating budget.  When it was initially enacted, it was predicted that the tax would deliver $2.25 billion to the MTA -- legislators chose the tax (as well as a taxi surcharge and a tax on rental cars) in lieu of tolls on East River Bridges as part of a 2009 bailout package.  The package also included the most severe service cuts in generations and fare hikes essentially in perpetuity.

A declining economy led to sagging tax revenues.  The reimbursement plan envisioned by Governor Cuomo would only plug lost tax revenues from their lower-than-expected rates, not the higher rates that could come with a rebounding economy.

Governor Cuomo's office did not respond to a request for comment.

 

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Transportation Nation

Patrick Foye Named New Executive Director of NY-NJ Port Authority

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Patrick Foye (photo courtesy of the NY MTA)

(New York, NY) Chris Ward’s three-and-a-half year tenure as executive director of The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has come to an end. Patrick Foye, an aide to Governor Cuomo and a and former state economic development chief, is in.

Ward, 56, was appointed in 2008 by former New York Governor David A. Paterson. He will now be replaced by Patrick Foye, deputy secretary for economic development for New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Cuomo announced the appointment in a press release today: "The Port Authority must meet its potential as a major economic engine that plans for the region and attracts business on an international scale. We must also improve its operations and maximize the value out of every dollar spent so that it is financially responsible and respects the tax and toll payers."

Cuomo also said he would propose rolling the Moynihan Station Development Authority and the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation into the Port Authority. The move was immediately endorsed by U.S. Senator Charles Schumer, who has been an advocate of a redeveloped Moynihan Station.

Foye’s most recent job before that was deputy county executive for economic development for Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano. Foye left that job in January after Mangano decided, against Foye’s advice, to sue a state-appointed control board to prevent it from taking over the county’s finances. The county lost the lawsuit.

Foye, a lawyer who worked with Skadden Arps, is a former downstate chairman for New York’s Empire State Development Corporation. Since May 2010, he has sat on the board of the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Unlike the other transportation post Cuomo has to fill -- head of the New York MTA -- Foye's appointment does not require approval of the New York State Senate.

In an interview, MTA board member Mitch Pally said Foye has been active in his role as the appointee from Nassau County in Long Island. “He’s delved into operating details of the system, communication issues with commuters and fare structure,” Pally said.

In a statement, Foye said "I am honored to be recommended for Executive Director of the Port Authority. Under Governor Cuomo's leadership, we have begun to re-energize New York's economy and pave the way for job growth in the state. I thank Governor Cuomo for this opportunity and look forward to working closely with him and the Board of Directors at the Port Authority on maintaining and improving the New York metropolitan region's vital transportation, infrastructure and economic development assets".

By many accounts, Cuomo and Ward never forged a close working relationship. For example, Cuomo’s schedules show no meetings with the Port Authority executive director during the first eight months of 2011. By contrast Foye, as one of the governor’s deputy secretaries, attended three meetings and a staff reception with Cuomo in the past six months.

Ward’s time leading the authority was marked by controversy and achievement: controversy over recent toll and fare increases on Hudson River crossings; achievement, primarily, for cutting through political and legal disputes to ramp up construction at the stalled World Trade Center site.

In particular, Ward sped up the building of the 9/11 memorial to insure its completion in time for the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks. He also helped convince publisher Condé Nast to sign on as a major tenant at 1 World Trade Center, formerly known as The Freedom Tower.

Ward said renaming the anchor skyscraper was crucial to lightening the site’s symbolic weight to focus on more mundane concerns, like construction deadlines. “We were free before 9/11, we were free after 9/11,” he told the New York Times. “New Yorkers don’t need a tower named ‘freedom.’ New Yorkers need to know that we built it, that there’s a place to go and work.”

Ward was less successful in navigating the sharp shoals of toll and fare increases.

He initially proposed to raise toll rates on cash-paying drivers to as much as $15 during peak times, up from $8. He also wanted to hike the PATH commuter train fare by a dollar. What he got—after weeks of criticism from the governors of New York and New Jersey and excoriation from some of the public—was far less. On tolls, he got a $1.50 increase on most drivers beginning last month, and then 75 cents each year for the next four years. On PATH, he got an increase of 25 cents a year for four years.

Ward contended the hikes were necessary to fund the authority’s $33 billion 10-year capital plan, $11 billion rebuilding of the World Trade Center and $6 billion price tag for increased security since the September 11 attacks. Losing that fight left him feeling, in his own words, “burned."

The lower toll hikes means Foye will most likely have to consider cutting some projects from the authority’s capital plan. And that, in the words of the outgoing executive director, will mean: “You’re going to be stuck in traffic on the George Washington Bridge. You’re going to be stuck on buses trying to get into the Port Authority Bus Terminal. You’re going to be stuck at LaGuardia and JFK because [they] don’t have enough runway capacity.”

In the 1990's, Foye, working closely with former U.S.  Senator Alfonse D'Amato, helped put together the takeover of the Long Island Lighting Company, or LILCO, by the Long Island Power Authority.  LILCO had acquired a huge debt constructing the Shoreham nuclear power plant, which was never opened do to safety concerns.

At the time, the deal involved the biggest issuance of municipal bonds in history.

Cuomo also announced the nominations of two new board members to the Port Authority:  James Rubin, a Clinton Assistant Secretary of State, who worked until recently as the executive editor of Bloomberg View, and Rosanna Rosado, the publisher and CEO of El Diario La Prensa.

 

Chris Ward’s three and a half year tenure as executive director of The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has come to an end. He announced his resignation today, saying “TK.”

Ward, 56, was appointed in 2008 by former New York Gov. David A. Paterson. He will now be replaced by Pat Foye, deputy secretary for Economic Development for Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Foye’s most recent job before that was deputy county executive for economic development for Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano. Foye left that job in January after Mangano decided, against Foye’s advice, to sue a state-appointed control board to prevent it from taking over the county’s finances. The county lost the lawsuit.

Foye, a lawyer, is a former downstate chairman for New York’s Empire State Development Corporation. Since May 2010, he has sat on the board of the NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

In an interview, MTA board member Mitch Pally said Foye has been active in his role as the appointee from Nassau County in Long Island. “He’s delved into operating details of the system, communication issues with commuters and fare structure,” Pally said.

In a statement, Foye said, “TK.”

By many accounts, Cuomo and Ward never forged a close working relationship. For example, Cuomo’s schedules show no meetings with the chairman of the NY-NJ Port  Authority during the first eight months of 2011. By contrast Foye, as one of the Governor’s deputy secretaries, attended three meetings and a staff reception with Cuomo in the past six months.

Ward’s time leading the authority was marked by controversy and achievement: controversy over recent toll and fare increases on Hudson River crossings; achievement, primarily, for cutting through political and legal disputes to ramp up construction at the stalled World Trade Center site.

In particular, Ward sped up the building of the 9/11 memorial to insure its completion in time for the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks. He also helped convince publisher Condé Nast to sign on as a major tenant at 1 World Trade Center, formerly known as The Freedom Tower.

Ward said renaming the anchor skyscraper was crucial to lightening the site’s symbolic weight to focus on more mundane concerns, like construction deadlines. “We were free before 9/11, we were free after 9/11,” he told The New York Times. “New Yorkers don’t need a tower named ‘freedom.’ New Yorkers need to know that we built it, that there’s a place to go and work.”

Ward was less successful in navigating the sharp shoals of toll and fare increases.

He initially proposed to raise toll rates on cash-paying drivers to as much as $15 during peak times, up from $8. He also wanted to hike the PATH commuter train fare by a dollar. What he got—after weeks of criticism from the governors of New York and New Jersey and excoriation from some of the public—was far less. On tolls, he got a $1.50 increase on most drivers beginning last month, and then 75 cents each year for the next four years. On PATH, he got an increase of 25 cents a year for four years.

Ward contended the hikes were necessary to fund the authority’s $33 billion 10-year capital plan, $11 billion rebuilding of the World Trade Center and $6 billion price tag for increased security since the September 11 attacks. Losing that fight left him feeling, in his own words, “burned."

The lower toll hikes means Foye will most likely have to consider cutting some projects from the authority’s capital plan. And that, in the words of the outgoing chairman, will mean: “You’re going to be stuck in traffic on the George Washington Bridge. You’re going to be stuck on buses trying to get into the Port Authority Bus Terminal. You’re going to be stuck at LaGuardia and JFK because [they] don’t have enough runway capacity.”

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Transportation Nation

Cuomo Seems To Be Zeroing In On "Surprising" Choice For Next NY MTA Chair

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Joe Lhota.

(New York, NY) - The committee appointed by New York Governor Cuomo to find the next CEO and chairman of the NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority has completed its work. The governor is now mulling a short list with six names on it, culled from eleven candidates interviewed for the job. Sources familiar with the process say the name at the top of the list is Joseph Lhota, executive vice president of Madison Square Garden and former right hand man to Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

Lhota served in the Giuliani administration for six years, first as budget director and then as deputy mayor of operations. He also worked as an adviser to Giuliani's presidential campaign in 2007-2008.

Other known finalists are NYC Transit President Thomas Prendergast, who oversees 50,000 subway and bus employees; Nuria Fernandez, senior v.p. at an infrastructure management company and former deputy administrator with the Federal Transit Administration; Karen Rae, deputy administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration and a former commissioner of the New York State Transportation Department; and Daniel Grabauskas, the Mitt Romney-appointed general manager of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority who resigned under pressure from Governor Deval Patrick in 2009.

Lhota is considered the leading candidate by those familiar with the search process. Reaction among transit watchers, none of whom would speak on the record to avoid alienating the possible next chief of the NY MTA, was part puzzlement and part wait-and-see.

"I was a little surprised that Joe Lhota rose to the top of that pool," said an official from a previous mayoral administration. "He understands inter-governmental relations and he understands the politics but he’s more of a political operative than a manager."

Both Cuomo and outgoing MTA chairman Jay Walder have said in the past few weeks that the next chair did not need to have a transit background. “I think it is helpful to have a knowledge of mass transit," Walder said at the NY MTA's September board meeting. "I don’t know that it’s an absolutely essential quality.”

Lhota fits that profile. His resume shows no transportation posts. But he did manage large governmental agencies in the Giuliani administration and ran the city when the mayor was out of town. Since then, he has navigated the executive suites of the Cablevision Systems Corporation and Madison Square Garden. And Lhota has served as a board member at the City University of New York for the past ten years.  Lhota was one of two board members who did not support withholding an honorary degree from playwright Tony Kushner last May.  The vote to table the degree past last spring's commencement was much-criticized and later reversed.

Jonathan Bowles, director of the Center for an Urban Future, a policy think tank, said he didn't know Lhota well enough to comment specifically.  But he said that from a leadership perspective, "It’s important someone be selected who can really make a strong case for transit and can convince legislators that this is so critical to the city’s future and that we’re on the precipice of something bad happening."

Bowles added that the stakes are enormous: "If there’s one thing Governor Cuomo could do now to boost the city’s economy, it’s shore up the transit system."

The precipice on which the NY MTA teeters consists of several difficulties: a 2012-2015 capital construction plan with a $10 billion dollar shortfall; a looming contract negotiation with Transport Workers Union Local 100 that, by all signs, will be acrimonious; a threat from a group of state legislators to cut the dedicated revenue stream that is the regional payroll mobility tax, which last year contributed $1.3 billion to authority coffers. That's about an eighth of the authority's operating budget.

Sources differed on Lhota's ability to rise to those challenges. The NY MTA needs someone "who can handle the union relationships, the crisis of money, and Lhota will get it faster than most people," said one. Another thought the Republican Lhota could help the Democrat Cuomo beat back a Republican-lead push in the state legislature to eliminate the payroll mobility tax.

But a third believed Lhota was the front-runner precisely because he won't speak up too loudly for the needs of mass transit: "He’s gong to be the person who makes the cuts without making any demands on the state budget. He may even then turn around and say to the city, 'It’s all your fault.' He’s going to protect Andrew Cuomo from the hard choices."

Earlier today, the governor said at a press conference: “We’re going to have an announcement on the MTA shortly." He added that the public would know his nomination for the chairmanship within “days.” Cuomo has told members of the search committee that he wants to name that person before Jay Walder decamps from the $350,000 a year post on October 21 to run a private rail and real estate company in Hong Kong.

 

 

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Transportation Nation

NY Thruway Authority Nominee Is Big Cuomo Campaign Donor

Thursday, June 02, 2011

(New York, NY - WNYC) Governor Andrew Cuomo is tapping real estate and banking mogul Howard Milstein to be chairman of the New York State Thruway Authority, an unpaid position. The Governor says Milstein, who has no previous experience in running a transportation agency, was tapped for his business acumen.

Milstein has been a generous contributor to the governor's re-election campaign.

In the past, governors have frequently appointed campaign contributors and fundraisers to run state authorities or serve on authority boards.

While running for Governor last year, Cuomo had promised to end "business as usual" in Albany and reform the state capital's notoriously porous ethical practices. Indeed, Cuomo is believed to be hammering out a deal right now to close some of the loopholes.

Milstein made 42 contributions in the last five years to candidates from both parties, according to state records. The largest were two $25,000 contributions to Andrew Cuomo's 2014 campaign.

The governor routinely announces his political appointments with a press release. But he nominated Milstein earlier this month with no public notice. The Buffalo News first reported the nomination.

If confirmed by the New York State Senate, Milstein will preside over the authority's nearly billion dollar annual budget, which is used to operate thruways, bridges and canals.

Milstein is president and CEO of Emigrant Savings Bank. Forbes magazine estimated his family wealth in 2010 at $3.8 billion.

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Transportation Nation

NY Governor Andrew Cuomo Applying for High Speed Rail $$

Monday, April 04, 2011

And now, this in:

Albany, NY (April 4, 2011)

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced he is seeking approximately $517 million in federal funding for eight projects that advance New York's high-speed rail plans.

"Days after my election as Governor, I began pushing for more federal money for high-speed rail because New York has projects across the state that are ready to go," Governor Cuomo said. "New York is embracing high-speed rail as a faster way to move people and products and drive our economy in the 21st century, and these federal resources would help us achieve these goals."

The projects cover an array of vital infrastructure upgrades across New York that will continue to lay the groundwork for wide-scale high-speed service in New York. The federal government has made $2.4 billion in high-speed rail funding available after it was returned by the State of Florida.

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The projects include:

Northeast Corridor Congestion Relief: Harold Interlocking: The largest application is for $294.7 million for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's (MTA) Harold Interlocking plan.

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