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Gov. Cuomo Declares State of Emergency for 'Decaying' MTA

By  Maya Rajamani and Patrick Hedlund | June 29, 2017 9:56am | Updated on June 29, 2017 10:37am

 Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks at a press conference in May 2016.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks at a press conference in May 2016.
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Flickr/governorandrewcuomo

HELL'S KITCHEN — Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency for the problem-plagued MTA following a series of high-profile failures within the transit system.

"We know the system is decaying, and we know the system is decaying rapidly," Cuomo said at a press conference Thursday morning at Hammerstein Ballroom on West 34th Street, adding that he will sign an executive order declaring the state of emergency to allow his office to "expedite many of the normal government processes.”

He also announced plans to commit an additional $1 billion in the transit authority's capital plan "so the MTA has the resources they need to get that done."

Cuomo oversees the MTA through appointments to its board, but has infuriated elected officials and riders alike by denying full responsibility in several public statements, as well as focusing his attentions on easing the pain for suburban commuters who rely on the Long Island Rail Road and MTA bridges rather than urban commuters who use the crumbling subways.

Cuomo blamed the current problems on "decades of under-investment, deferred maintenance and deferred modernization" of the system compounded by increasing ridership.

"New Yorkers are not by their nature patient people, and they shouldn’t be, especially when it comes to this," he said.

Cuomo said he will ask recently appointed MTA Chairman Joe Lhota, who returned to the post this week after serving from 2011 to 2012, to come up with a "reorganization plan" for the agency within 30 days. Lhota will also review the MTA's capital plan regarding its cars and physical equipment to be completed in 60 days.

The governor noted that subway cars are designed to be on the tracks for 40 years, but that more than 700 cars in the system are past the expiration date — with some of the oldest subway cars in use for 52 years.

“One of the processes we’re going to expedite is the MTA procurement process," Cuomo explained. "I’ll ask the Comptroller and the Attorney General for a special team to expedite the process, but it will no longer be a tortured exercise to do business with the MTA. We want to do business, we need to do business, and we will do business.”

He also addressed the "finger-pointing game between Con Edison and the MTA" when breakdowns occur, saying that when the utility company is responsible for a power outage affecting trains, it's going to be "fined heavily" for delays.

The governor seemed hurt by the wave of criticism and "nasty things" directed his way by Twitter users.

But he acknowledged that things have to change with public transportation.

"Standard practices have failed us," Cuomo said. "We need a new approach, a new culture, new methods to quickly and dramatically make progress.”

State Sen. Michael Gianaris, who earlier this week petitioned the governor to not leave for summer break until the MTA crisis was fixed, said he was encouraged by the Thursday remarks.

But he added that Cuomo's words needs to be acted upon.

"The MTA crisis was years in the making due to neglect and underfunding by government leaders," Gianaris said in a statement. "Significant questions remain regarding the source of this new capital funding and the continuing budget hole of several billions dollars beyond the amount announced today. Too often, ambitious talk has not been followed by actions necessary to provide real relief for commuters."

The MTA also announced it's launching the Genius Transit Challenge, a straphanger competition aimed at improving signals, modernizing subway cars and upgrading communication systems.