It is no surprise to transportation historians that the proposed new Metropolitan Transportation Authority 2015-2019 Five Year $32 billion Capital Plan is short $15.2 billion.
The problem is finding the money to make things happen. Federal support for transportation has remained consistent and growing. It has actually increased under virtually every Five Year Transportation Authorization Act over the past decades.
When a crisis occurs, be it 9/11 in 2001 or Hurricane Sandy in 2012, Uncle Sam stepped up to the plate. Additional billions in federal assistance above and beyond yearly formula allocations were provided.
In 2009, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act provided billions more for public transportation projects which benefited New York City and New York State along with the MTA.
But both the city and state consistently decreased hard cash contributions to the MTA by billions under each previous MTA Five Year Capital Plan. Billions more are still needed from both the city and state to make up for past cuts over previous decades.
Everyone insisted that the MTA continue financing more and more of the capital budget by borrowing. As a result, 17 percent of the annual MTA budget goes for covering the costs of debt service payments. By the end of this decade, it would not surprise anyone if this continues to grow closer to 20 percent.
This means less money is available for operations to provide more frequent service to riders. It also means there is less money just to maintain the state of good repair and safety. At the end of the day, the cupboard may be bare for any system expansion.