Our weekly “New Starts” roundup of new and newsworthy transportation projects worldwide.
Cuomo, De Blasio Announce MTA Reorganization Plan
If, a couple of decades hence, the Governor of New York State and the Mayor of New York City cut the ribbon on the rest of the Second Avenue Subway and announce with pride that they spent far less than $2 billion a mile to build it, they may have current Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio to thank.
The two heads of government jointly announced Feb. 26 a plan to completely restructure the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, raise the funds needed to modernize the New York region’s mass transit infrastructure and tamp down on spiraling construction costs.
Item one on the plan’s 10-point to-do list: a total reorganization of the MTA’s structure. Currently, the authority serves as a “holding company” for five operating agencies (New York City Transit, Long Island Railroad, Metro-North Commuter Railroad, MTA Bus [which operates longer-distance buses and local bus service on Long Island] and Staten Island Railway) and a construction manager (MTA Capital Construction). The reorganization plan seeks to centralize a number of functions that all six subsidiaries share, such as construction management, legal work, procurement, human resources and marketing. The Metro Report article states that the governor and mayor, who developed the plan together, intend for the new organizational structure to be in place by June.
The second big item: a dedicated funding stream for the authority’s operations and capital projects. The plan identifies three sources of revenue: an excise tax on cannabis, a sales tax on internet services in the city, and a congestion charge for private vehicles entering Manhattan south of 61st Street. (Discounts will apply at off-peak hours, and emergency vehicles would be exempt.) Funds would go into a “lockbox” dedicated to funding high-priority system improvements such as resignaling the New York City subway. These and some of the plan’s other provisions will require legislative approval, and Cuomo and de Blasio have pledged to work closely with the legislature to get the necessary bills passed.
The third major item is a goal: bringing down the astronomical cost of building rail projects. Strategies to be pursued include awarding future construction contracts on a design-build basis and establishing a construction review team independent of the agency. The review team would be chaired by engineering experts from Columbia and Cornell universities and would examine MTA construction proposals to ensure maximum efficiency. Both New York City Transit and the Long Island Rail Road have already had projects reviewed in this fashion.
Other items in the plan: capping fare hikes at two percent annually; a city-state partnership to fight fare evasion; an audit of the MTA’s finances; expedited implementation of the city’s Subway Action Plan; and changing MTA board members’ tenure so their terms end at the same time as those of the elected officials who appointed them.
At about the same time, the MTA awarded a contract that will realize one of the pieces of the plan. Railway Age reports that the agency picked Collins Aerospace to modernize its transit information management system, a project that will cost $68 million and last 53 months. The project will fully computerize the system the agency uses to track vehicle statuses and locations on the system’s lettered subway lines, enabling the information to be displayed on a 10-foot-high, 166-foot wide screen at the New York City Transit operations center. This project builds on the experience MTA and Collins acquired in modernizing the operations and signaling along the L subway line from Lower Manhattan to Canarsie.
India OKs Metros for Agra and Kanpur
The International Railway Journal reports that India’s Union Cabinet gave the go-ahead yesterday on February 28 for construction of the first metro lines in Agra and Kanpur, two cities located in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.
Both cities will get two metro lines in the first phase of their respective projects. A total of 32.4 km (20.1 miles) of route will be built in Kanpur. The north-south Line 1 (Red Line) will have 22 stations — 14 elevated, eight underground — on its 23.8-km (14.8-mile) route, while east-west Line 2 (Blue Line) will run for 8.6 km (5.3 miles) and have eight stations, evenly split between above and below ground.
The Agra metro’s two lines will total 29.4 km (18.3 miles) and serve several major tourist destinations, including the Taj Mahal, Agra Fort and tomb of Akbar the Great. The line serving the Taj Mahal will be 14 km (8.7 miles) long, with six elevated and seven underground stations; the other will be a 15.4-km (9.6-mile) all-elevated line.
Total cost for the Kanpur metro’s first phase is 110.8 billion rupees (US$1.56 billion). Agra’s initial phase will cost 83.8 billion rupees (US$1.18 billion).
Both initial phases should take five years to complete. The national and Uttar Pradesh state governments will split the total cost of the projects down the middle, with soft loans from international agencies covering some of the construction cost.
A “No” from Duke Most Likely Sinks Light Rail in the Triangle
A plan to build a light rail line running from the University of North Carolina to North Carolina Central University via downtown Durham suffered a likely fatal blow when Duke University refused to allow a portion of the line to cross its campus, Railway Track and Structures reports.
Duke’s refusal means that the project will miss a Federal deadline for funding, effectively killing the project.
Officials with GoTriangle, the agency building the $3.3 billion, 17.7-mile line, called the decision “a major setback for the Durham and Orange county communities and the entire Triangle region.”
The News & Observer of Raleigh noted in its report on the decision that Duke’s concerns centered on the line’s growing complexity and price tag. Some of the increased costs stemmed from changes to the line intended to address Duke’s concerns about access to its hospital and protection of a key power line serving it.
While GoTriangle officials say they will discuss options for the project’s future with Federal Railroad Administration officials, construction was contingent upon Duke donating land it owns along Erwin Road to the agency for the line’s right of way. Absent the land, the line cannot advance to the Federal funding grant application stage. The application is due on April 30. A Durham City Council member urged the use of eminent domain to take the land, but two Orange County commissioners quoted in the story cast doubt on the effectiveness of such a strategy, noting that GoTriangle would have to deal with Duke officials as the line progressed in any case.
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Next City contributor Sandy Smith is the home and real estate editor at Philadelphia magazine. Over the years, his work has appeared in Hidden City Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Inquirer and other local and regional publications. His interest in cities stretches back to his youth in Kansas City, and his career in journalism and media relations extends back that far as well.