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Report: MTA needs to cut $17 billion to replace congestion toll money

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(The Center Square) — New York City’s transit system needs to slash $17 billion from its capital plan after Gov. Kathy Hochul put the brakes on a congestion pricing program that would have diverted billions to infrastructure needs, according to a report by the state’s top bean counter.

The report by state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli said unless the Metropolitan Transportation Authority can fill the estimated $15 billion funding gap that would have come from the additional tolling revenue, the agency will need to shelve at least $17 billion in capital projects aimed at upgrading the century-old transit system and attract new riders.

That includes cuts DiNapoli said will be needed to avoid the MTA losing $2 billion of federal money that’s tied to work on extending New York City’s Second Avenue subway to Harlem, a project that has been put on hold following Hochul’s decision.

“The MTA will be forced to put off badly needed investment in expansion and improvements to the system,” DiNapoli said in a statement. “Those choices will directly affect riders.”

The congestion pricing plan, which called for charging motorists a new $15 toll to enter Manhattan, was projected to raise $1 billion annually for the transit agency, which had planned to leverage the funds to borrow $15 billion to upgrade subway signals and stations to make them more accessible, among other projects.

Hochul abruptly paused the tolling initiative earlier this month, citing concerns about the impact of higher tolls on small businesses and working families.

DiNapoli said the “significant” funding shortfall from Hochul’s decision “compels” the transit agency to “provide an honest and transparent accounting of what it can afford and which capital projects it will prioritize and why” as it discusses plans to plug the revenue gaps.

“The MTA’s decisions should ensure the basic maintenance of the system — safety, reliability and frequency — until it identifies realistic and sustainable replacement revenue,” he said.

DiNapoli’s report comes ahead of a Wednesday meeting of the MTA’s Board of Directors, who are expected to discuss which capital projects may be deferred to fill the $15 billion deficit and preserve billions in federal funds.

MTA officials have warned the agency will need to focus on state-of-good-repair projects to maintain safe and reliable service without congestion pricing money.

The Citizens Budget Commission, a nonpartisan fiscal watchdog, is pressuring Hochul to “unpause” congestion pricing “instead of scrambling to identify substitute revenue and risk a short-sighted decision that does not serve the long run.”

“Make no mistake, the MTA’s ability to proceed for some time without congestion pricing revenue does not mean the pause is painless,” Andrew Rein, the commission’s president, said in a statement. “It accelerates the opening of an operating budget hole and risks wisely sourced financing that produces multiple benefits.”

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