East Side Access Project, Countdown Clocks and MetroCard Replacement System May Be Shelved Due to Albany's Inaction: Official

Lawmakers in Albany still haven't responded to the MTA's request for $29 billion, and that means a number of subway projects may be shelved or scrapped altogether, according to the chief of the transit agency.

The news comes as MTA Chairman Tom Prendergast was confirmed for a new six-year term by the state senate Wednesday. He said that "urgency is increasing" to get funding for the agency, which oversees the nation's largest transportation system.

Of the $29 billion, $20 billion is considered essential to keep the system running. The other $9 billion, includes $4 billion for enhancements like countdown clocks and $5 billion for future expansions like the Second Avenue subway and East Side Access.

Without the funding, Prendergast said East Side Access — the $10 billion project to expand the LIRR into Grand Central Station — is in jeopardy. The mega-project is slated to open in 2022, but inaction from state lawmakers could push that date back even later.

Things look even worse for future phases of the Second Avenue subway. Prendergast said contractors will need money that the MTA simply won't have.

"Right now we're not at that point but we're fast approaching it," he said.

Riders may also notice no countdown clocks on the lettered subway lines -- something long promised for frustrated commuters. The clocks may be considered an "enhancement" in the MTA's budget request, and thus not essential.

"They need to get it together and put it on all the lines," Rita Aborn of Bedford-Stuyvesant, said. "It's not a luxury."

A tap-and-go payment system to replace the 20-year-old MetroCard may also get moved to the back-burner, Prendergast said.

Commuter advocate Gene Russianoff blames Gov. Cuomo for not spurring the legislature to fund the MTA. He said it's "not legacy, but lethargy," from Albany.

Experts say the city's aging trains and buses, which already lag far behind other global metropolises, will deteriorate considerably if the transit authority is unable to digitize a century-old subway signaling system, replace miles of subway tracks and cars, and fix tunnel lighting, among many other critical repairs.

The general consensus among transportation experts is that the price tag isn't high enough to cover the massive amount of work that needs to be done.

For subway riders, perhaps the most important improvement included in the capital plan is the installation of communications-based train control systems on several subway lines, which will effectively digitize the trains. That means they'll be able to run much closer together and more efficiently, rather than stopping and waiting for other trains to pass ahead of them.

Cuomo announced in April that the MTA will receive a nearly $1 billion federal loan for safety improvements meant to avoid a repeat of a 2013 derailment that killed four people.

The $967 million in funding will be used to complete the installation of Positive-Train Control systems, which automatically slow the train if the operator — or some other malfunction — places it in jeopardy. The National Transportation Safety board has concluded the devices would have prevented the December 2013 crash of a Metro-North train, which was traveling 85 mph on a dangerous curve as it approached a station in the Bronx.

"The MTA received more than $1 billion from this year's budget to help with its capital needs, including funding to provide unprecedented public transportation access to Bronx residents," Cuomo spokeswoman Beth DeFalco said in an emailed statement. "Work on the MTA capital plan is continuing with all stakeholders."

But as MTA board member Polly Trottenberg, the city's transportation commissioner, pointed out during the committee meeting, a loan is not a grant: Eventually, it has to be paid back.

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