Reinvent Albany thanks Comptroller DiNapoli’s office for its top-line estimate of how much the MTA must spend on repairs and equipment replacement in the forthcoming 2025-2029 capital plan. The Comptroller’s detailed assessment comes as the MTA is still in the midst of its 2020-2024 capital plan, which has been slowed by COVID-19 and delays to congestion pricing.
The Comptroller’s new $43 billion estimate is an especially important public benchmark because, disappointingly, the MTA’s October 2023 20-year needs assessment did not include basic cost estimates for repair needs. (See more on that from Reinvent Albany and the Citizens Budget Commission.) Oddly, the MTA’s needs assessment got it backwards by only providing costs for expansion projects – not for the repairs and refurbishments needed to keep trains and buses running.
We thank the Comptroller for helping elected leaders and the riding public understand the big basic investments needed to keep the system running. We hope the Comptroller’s first take prods the MTA to put their own price tag on the cost of the state of good repair projects in the 20-year needs assessment before the MTA unveils its 2025-2029 capital plan.
Crucially, the Comptroller’s report emphasized that $43 billion is needed in the next capital plan for repair work alone. This does not include spending on expansion projects like the Second Avenue Subway or new priorities like ADA accessibility or resiliency. The $43 billion estimate includes crucial spending on:
- Signal modernization – The Comptroller’s report notes that 25 percent of major incidents delaying trains in 2022 and 2023 were due to signal problems. The report also found that 7 percent of subway signals have been modernized, 24 percent are under construction or will have contracts awarded this year, and 69 percent of signals still use the older conventional fixed block system.
- Subway cars – The MTA’s needs assessment says that 3,900 new subway cars are needed over the next 20 years, which the Comptroller estimates will cost $15 billion.
- Buses – The MTA projects that 9,258 buses will need to be purchased over the next 20 years, including 7,775 zero-emission buses.
Before considering the next capital plan, the current plan still must be fully funded. Our recent budget testimony to the State Legislature highlighted how completion of the 2020-24 capital plan depends on congestion pricing. Congestion pricing represents the largest single source of funding for the current capital plan at $15 billion or 27% of total funds. Nearly four years into the 2020-24 capital program, funding is coming in at the slowest pace of the last three capital programs. As shown in the chart below, only 28% has been received ($15.7 billion of the total $55 billion needed, largely from federal funds). The MTA has recently stated that delays to congestion pricing have stopped important work on signal upgrades and purchasing new subway cars to replace its aging fleet.