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New York Post

 

Lhota Work Remains

December 11, 2012

By Nicole Gelinas

The fact that MTA chief Joe Lhota may try for mayor is good for New York, because voters need a better choice than the current candidate crop. But New Yorkers also need a solid MTA head to help us slog through the rest of Sandy.

Lhota’s leadership in the hours and days after Sandy inundated the transit system started the mayoral talk — and he hasn’t quashed it. One problem: Unlike elected officials, appointees like Lhota can’t keep their jobs while running for office.

So if he runs, he’ll have to quit soon, leaving the MTA rudderless when it needs someone who knows Albany and City Hall well.

The MTA’s Sandy problems are far from over. Agency officials have told bondholders and board members that Sandy caused $4.75 billion in damage, plus $268 million in lost revenue and overtime costs.

Big-ticket items on the repair side include:

* $770 million to restore subway-system signals.

* $750 million to replace most of what was inside the Queens Midtown and Brooklyn-Battery tunnels, from ceilings to lights.

* $650 million to rebuild the A-train bridge and tracks from mainland Queens to the Rockaways.

* And $600 million to rebuild the "destroyed" South Ferry terminal and the Whitehall station downtown.

The feds and insurance should cover most of that damage. The White House said Friday it wants $6.2 billion from Congress for transit repairs (with some going to New Jersey and Connecticut).

But the MTA will be left with $1 billion in extra costs. It will borrow that short-term for now, and borrow long-term (for 30 years) in 2016.

To pay the interest on this extra debt, the MTA must find more savings in its day-to-day budget — $62 million each year for the long-term debt, if interest rates don’t go up.

That may not sound like much in a $13.2 billion budget. But the MTA has spent a year bickering with its biggest union, the Transport Workers, to get workers to pay for any raises with more efficient work rules and higher worker payments for health insurance.

If the MTA succeeds, it will save $307 million annually. The new Sandy debt would eat up a fifth of those hard-fought savings.

And there’s no guarantee the MTA will succeed. Last week, TWU head John Samuelson won re-election in a landslide. He told supporters that union voters had "wholeheartedly support[ed] our determination to resist . . . concessions."

Transit workers, like management, did well after Sandy, but it doesn’t change the disagreements: The union wants cost-of-living raises for "free," and management rightly doesn’t want to give that to them, for starters.

Just as bad, there’s no certainty that the MTA’s Sandy costs will stay at $1 billion.

The number the MTA threw out is a guess — cobbled together under pressure from Gov. Cuomo, who wanted to get his request to Congress fast. It’s impossible to know, for example, how much more quickly tracks and signal equipment that marinated in salt water will fail.

The MTA ran through 80 percent of its on-hand stocks in immediate post-storm repairs. How quickly will it run through new replacement inventory?

Another wild card: the cost overruns that often come with "free" federal money.

Remember, the "new" South Ferry station was just built three years ago (a post-9/11 project) for $527 million ($568 million today).

Obviously, that didn’t include flood protection — but it did involve work like removing 60,000 cubic yards of rock, plus preserving archeological fragments. Neither should have to be done twice. So the rebuilding could cost much less.

Or much more. Consider: A decade ago, the South Ferry job was estimated at $400 million. The MTA built it because the feds were providing the 9/11-repairs cash. But when costs ballooned, New Yorkers paid.

And now the feds may give New York, New Jersey and Connecticut $5.5 billion for flood prevention, beyond the $6.2 billion for repairs. If the MTA doesn’t budget its share of projects right, riders could be stuck again paying hundreds of millions extra.

It’s not a great time to change horses — especially since if Lhota does leave, his replacement would be the fourth MTA chief in little more than three years.

But don’t let the name at the top distract you: In the end, it’s Gov. Cuomo who’s responsible for the MTA — and the governor who should get his fair share of praise for the MTA’s current Sandy feats . . . and the blame for later Sandy-repair disasters.

Original Source: http://www.nypost.com/p/news/opinion/opedcolumnists/lhota_work_remains_rQIQqViLtzB0T8RoxtMz5I

 

 
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