Home News Congestion-pricing halt means MTA repairs, others projects at risk of being nixed:...

Congestion-pricing halt means MTA repairs, others projects at risk of being nixed: Chair Janno Lieber

MTA Chairman Janno Lieber laid out an austere view of MTA finances Monday in his first public appearance since Gov. Hochul’s last-minute halt on congestion pricing last week.

“Since the governor’s video announcement last Wednesday and since the conclusion of the legislative session on Friday, there have been a lot of questions and concerns,” Lieber told reporters at MTA Headquarters in Lower Manhattan.

“We have to keep the system running,” he added.

The loss of $15 billion in expected capital funding — money that was supposed to be borrowed against $1 billion in annual revenue projected from the congestion toll — will hit the agency hard, according to MTA officials.

“We have to do an intensive review about the best way to re-prioritize and shrink the current 2020-2024 capital program,” Lieber said.

“This is not something we do lightly, but we simply cannot award contracts without dedicated funding in place,” he continued.

The MTA has tasked a team within its construction and development wing with figuring out what projects are possible.

To date, the authority has awarded some $27 billion of the current five-year $55 billion capital budget. With the loss of congestion funding, the agency now has $13 billion to cover the $28 billion in projects planned but not yet awarded.

With only enough funding on hand to pay for less than half of the outstanding budget, Lieber said, his agency would focus on keeping the system running.

“We have to prioritize the ‘state-of-good-repair’ work that assures the safety of our transit system — the basic stuff to make sure the system doesn’t fall apart,” he said.

“That’s the stuff like the concrete structures, the [steel] elevated structures … signals, track, power — all of the basics that people don’t see even when they’re standing on a platform,” said Lieber.

“We’re probably not going to be able to do all of the ‘state-of-good-repair’ work, so we have to prioritize.”


Janno Lieber at Penn Station on Sept. 6, 2022.

Luiz C. Ribeiro/for New York Daily News

Janno Lieber at Penn Station on Sept. 6, 2022.

Roughly three quarters of the current capital program falls under that category, and a similar portion has been expected to make up the next capital program, due this fall.

Lieber said he’s asked Tom Prendergast — who served as MTA chairman from 2013 to 2017 and is currently an exec at consulting firm AECOM — to assist the agency in determining what maintenance to prioritize, focusing on what’s most “safety-sensitive.”

The chair said he’s also tasked his agency with figuring out how to retain federal grant money, much of which comes with a “local match” requirement of MTA cash.

Key among those is phase 2 of the Second Ave. subway project, for which $3.4 billion in federal grant money is expected — if the MTA can cough up $4.3 billion to cover the rest of the $7.7 billion project.

If completed, the project will bring long-delayed subway service to East Harlem, which has been without rapid transit access for more than half a century.

“We’re going to do our best to prevent it being put at risk, though that is a challenge,” Lieber said.

Lieber, who’s headed the agency since former Gov. Andrew Cuomo appointed him in 2021, had little to say about the reasoning behind Hochul’s unexpected call to indefinitely halt the congestion tolling program last week.

“As much as I want to understand, our job at the MTA is not to be political analysts,” he said. “The governor plays on a state-wide and national field — and sometimes that means we don’t look at things exactly the same.”

The governor insisted Monday the MTA was not in dire straits and she’d come up with the money.

“To assume that the only funding source had to be congestion pricing shows a lack of imagination about understanding other opportunities to fund these projects,” Hochul said when asked about the MTA’s assessment at an unrelated press conference in the Bronx.

“I am committed to these projects.”

Lieber confirmed Monday what sources previously told the Daily News — that Hochul’s move to pause the program came as a surprise to the MTA big, who said he heard about it the night before.

But he scoffed at rumors that he might resign in protest.

“I spent 14 years at the World Trade Center project — I’m the patron saint of challenging projects and challenging causes,” Lieber said with a laugh.

“It’s not in my nature to walk or to quit,” he added, noting that he’d grown up with a much less reliable transit system in the 1970s.

“People did a lot of hard work in hard times [to fix that],” he said. “I couldn’t possibly justify walking away because of a single setback, even one of this magnitude.”

The MTA boss also left the door open to the possibility that congestion pricing isn’t quite dead yet, despite Hochul’s decision not to sign off on a federal approval.

“Everybody at the MTA board recognizes that we are still subject to the state law that says that congestion pricing needs to be implemented,” he said.

“It’s just that at this moment, the mechanism to get it done, the federal approval that is required, can’t be obtained.”


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