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New York Rolls Out $51 Billion Transit Improvement Plan

Our weekly “New Starts” roundup of new and newsworthy transportation developments worldwide.

New York Governor Announces Biggest, Costliest Transit Improvement Program Ever

How much will it cost to bring the New York region’s subway, bus and regional rail systems back up to snuff this time?

A cool $51 billion over the next five years.

The five-year improvement plan, which New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials announced Sept. 15, will cost $20 billion more than the previous catch-up package, The New York Times reports. And it will include a long laundry list of projects affecting every part of the MTA’s sprawling system. Among the most important ones:

  • Modernizing the signal systems on six subway lines, including the still-overcrowded Lexington Avenue line. This project will replace signals that date back 70 years. Cost: $7.1 billion.
  • Extending the Second Avenue Subway to 125th Street in East Harlem. Cost: $4.55 billion, half of which should come from the federal government. (The Times article notes that some remain critical of the high price tag for this extension, whose per-mile costs are double or more what they run in most large European cities.)
  • Replacing 2,200 of the system’s oldest buses and adding 200 more, in the process accelerating the transition to a zero-emission electric bus fleet, plus bus depot and customer experience improvements. Cost: $3.5 billion.
  • Expanding the capacity of the Long Island Rail Road’s main line, completing the East Side Access project, improvements to LIRR stations, switches, track and signals, and the purchase of additional railcars. Cost: $5.7 billion.
  • A package of improvements on Metro-North’s lines in New York State that include reconstruction of the Grand Central Terminal trainshed, Park Avenue rail tunnel and Park Avenue elevated viaduct. Cost: $4.7 billion.

This Metro Magazine article contains a complete breakdown of the projects and their price tags.

New York state should be able to cover half the cost of the package through a passel of revenue sources that include congestion charges for vehicles headed into Midtown and Lower Manhattan, which the state legislature approved earlier this year. MTA Chairman Patrick J. Foye told the Times that he expects New York City to pick up $3 billion of the total, and he will meet with Mayor Bill de Blasio to discuss how that might happen. De Blasio and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo have been engaged in a long-running feud over who should pay for running New York City’s subways. President Donald Trump tweeted his support for the Second Avenue Subway extension back in August.

Ottawa Gets Its Light Metro Line At Last

“Historic.” “Awesome.” “About time.”

Those are some of the words uttered in response to the opening of the Confederation Line LRT in Canada’s national capital, Ottawa, this past Saturday, Sept. 14.

CBC News’ report on the opening described it as “a pivotal point in Ottawa’s growth as a city” and “the start of a massive transformation in the way we get around the capital.”

It also noted that it was an opening six years in the making. The C$2.1 billion (US$1.58 billion) construction project — the most expensive public-works project in Ottawa’s history — had its opening date pushed back on five separate occasions as delays — including storm-related problems, communications failures and a giant sinkhole downtown — played hob with the construction schedule.

None of that mattered last Saturday as Ottawans celebrated their city’s arrival into the big leagues. “Is this Ottawa?” one resident tweeted to Mayor Jim Watson as he shot video of a train arriving at Lyon subway station downtown.

Mayor Watson himself was bursting with pride. He told CBC News, “Wow, I feel very proud to be a resident of Ottawa and very excited to be on the first inaugural ride. It’s been a dream for a long time for a lot of people, myself included, so [I’m] really ecstatic.”

The real test, however, came on Monday, Sept. 16, the first regular weekday of service on the line. Global News reported that OC Transpo General Manager John Manconi said that the morning commute “ran very well without incident or delays.” Only two minor issues were reported that day: a trespasser at the Tunney’s Pasture terminal before the morning commute and a stopped escalator at the Rideau station, Canada’s deepest subway station, that was fixed with a simple reset.

SFMTA Sets Another Opening Date for Central Subway

This time, San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency officials swear, it’s definite: The repeatedly-delayed Central Subway light metro will open in mid-2021.

That’s three years after the original projected opening date for the subway, according to an article in Railway Track & Structures. When work on the line began in 2010, officials anticipated opening it in 2018.

This latest announcement pushes the completion date a year and a half further down the road from the last announced date, which was December of this year. The project manager who informed the SFMTA that the subway tunnel would not be finished in time for a December opening was replaced before the agency set the new opening date.

The 1.7-mile downtown subway, which takes Muni’s T-Third Street light rail line into the heart of the city, has been plagued by problems with contractor Tutor Perini Corp. Complaints from businesses about the tunnel boring process led the city to offer them loans and other assistance. And there’s even a controversy over the naming of the Chinatown station after local activist Rose Pak, who lobbied Washington for funding that enabled the line to go forward. Her Chinatown opponents, who say she is too polarizing a figure, have vowed to put a ballot question before the voters that would reverse the MTA’s decision to name the station for Pak. That will assuredly happen before the station opens.

Know of a transportation project that should be featured in this column? Send a Tweet with links to @MarketStEl using the hashtag #newstarts.

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.

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Tags: new york citypublic transportationsan franciscoottawa