MTA to invest $3 billion; add $5 billion in debt

At the MTA’s May board meeting, one action item shocked the audience. The authority’s leadership did a surprise presentation about three billion dollars worth of changes to its 2010-2014 and 2015-2019 capital plans. The changes were not announced before the meeting, and as such the public, members of the media, and advocacy groups were not able to participate in a discussion regarding the modifications.

The changes include additional funding for projects like phase 2 of the Second Avenue Subway, buying new subway cars and buses, installing more countdown clocks, open-road tolling, and the like. Some funds were also reallocated between projects, to make more money available for more critical initiatives.

When discussing the changes, MTA Chief Financial Officer Patrick E. Foran said that the agency was increasing its debt burden from approximately $38 billion to almost $43 billion through roughly $1.5 billion in bonds, but that they were committed to not raising customer fares or tolls. Foran added that at its peak, 19% of the agency’s operating budget would be marked for debt service, an increase of the current 17%.

Many board members expressed discontent over the modifications. Multiple said the debt was “concerning”, and one even said that the unpaid billions were a “timebomb”. Two of the three members appointed by New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, Veronica Vanterpool and David Jones, voted against the changes. The third, NYC DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, abstained from voting on the measure, since she felt there was not proper time to become familiar with the new plan.

Ultimately, the changes to the capital plans were passed, even with some dissenting members voting in favor.

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