EAST HARLEM — City and state lawmakers traded barbs with the MTA Tuesday over the agency's $1 billion cut to the Second Avenue Subway line.
A coalition of lawmakers that includes members the state Assembly and Senate, City Council members, the city’s Comptroller, and the Manhattan Borough President called for the MTA to put the money back in their 5-year capital plan, claiming the cut was a slight on the low income area of upper Manhattan during a press conference Tuesday.
“This screams of transit inequality and economic injustice,” said Assemblyman Robert Rodriguez. “There is no reason phase one should stop on 96th Street and in the shadow of public housing we can’t make the second phase go up.”
The MTA shot back at the politicians, denying the project had been short changed.
“The accusations that you were hearing are simply not true,” said Adam Lisberg. “We are full speed ahead. We wouldn’t be spending half a billion dollars on this project if we didn’t want to build it.”
$533 million was set aside for the capital plan to pay for various studies, station design, land acquisition, and infrastructure work to clear sewage lines from the tunnel sites, according to page 222 of the Capital Plan.
The cuts were made because the MTA will not be able to drill the underground tunnels until at least 2019 so it didn’t make any sense to keep the money in the budget if it wasn’t going to be used, Lisberg said.
The MTA also left a window open to speed up the construction of the Second Avenue line.
"We have committed that if we can speed up the schedule to begin tunneling the East Harlem phase sooner, we will pursue a Capital Program amendment to do so," CEO Thomas Prendergast said in a statement. "Governor Cuomo has made clear that he would like us to accelerate work on the Second Avenue Subway, and we are actively looking for ways to deliver the project faster."
Asked about the project at an unrelated press conference in Brooklyn, Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city, with its $2.5 Billion commitment to the MTA’s five year capital plan had "invested heavily in the MTA" in a "way the city hasn't done before.”
De Blasio took a mixed position, agreeing with the MTA that funding was cut because the project was going to take longer than the capital plan, and pushing the MTA to move on the second phase.
"The first phase, let's face it, has taken a very long time and we have to be honest about the fact that it s a complicated endeavor,” the mayor said. "But I do think it came as a surprise to many people that there was a change in the funding. I think that has to be reconsidered to make sure everything is being done, despite the challenges and complexities, to move phase two as quickly as it can be done."
Going forward, lawmakers in Albany said they would pressure the MTA to restore the funding during their review of the Capital Plan, which they will vote for in January.
“The MTA has an awful lot to get through before they actually see the approval of their MTA capital plan in a budget vote,” said State Senator Liz Krueger. “We are going to get the answers and the right answer is to continue Second Avenue subway north as previously committed to in this coming five-year capital plan.”