October/November 1999, p.14

Giant Five Year Transit Plan Spurs Debate Over New Subway & Rail Lines

In October, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) proposed a mammoth $17.5 billion five-year spending plan. The plan has spurred an exciting, high-profile debate over the future of the city's transit system. Indeed, the very public arguments over transit stand in healthy contrast to the secretive decision making for road and bridge spending which includes funding for bicycles, pedestrians and traffic calming.

The MTA plan's core controversy is a new Second Avenue subway line, which the MTA proposes building between 125th and 63rd Streets. Transit, environmental and business groups, including T.A., support a full-length Second Ave. subway terminating in the financial district. The need for the full-length subway is obvious since the MTA plans to build a $1.5 billion connection between the Long Island Railroad and Grand Central Station that will pour thousands of additional passengers onto the East Side's already jammed Lexington line.

Over the winter, the transit capital plan will enter the high-stakes political arena of the governor and state legislature and will likely be modified. Key questions remain about where the money is coming from and whether the plan will trigger a fare hike. Unfortunately, the trend since George Pataki became governor has been to reduce state support for transit and shift the burden to riders.

Whatever is ultimately decided, the elevation of the long moribund Second Avenue subway project to the front burner of the transit plan is a big victory for transit advocates. Propelling this stunning turnabout is the Empire State Transportation Alliance, a powerful new coalition of transit advocates, environmental, business and labor groups brought together by Bob Yaro of the Regional Plan Association and Elliot Sander of the Council on Transportation. Many advocates recommend that the mayor put the City's transit funds toward the Second Ave. line instead of a proposed subway connection to LaGuardia Airport. They note that the far higher ridership points to the benefit of spending funds on this line rather than on the airport connector.

Highlights of MTA Capital Plan

  • $1,500 million to connect LIRR to Grand Central
  • $700 million to start building Second Ave. Subway
  • $645 million to extend N/R line to LaGuardia Airport

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