New York City

The MTA will put all future capital projects on hold until congestion pricing lawsuits go away

The Port Authority’s Rick Cotton and Jamie Torres-Springer of the MTA talked about major infrastructure projects at City & State’s event.

James Torres-Springer of the MTA said it would be irresponsible to spend money on capital projects without knowing congestion pricing will move forward.

James Torres-Springer of the MTA said it would be irresponsible to spend money on capital projects without knowing congestion pricing will move forward. Phenix Kim

While congestion pricing was initially slated to begin in early summer, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s barrage of ongoing lawsuits may point to further delays. At the City & State’s Most Significant Infrastructure Projects Summit, transportation executives discussed upcoming infrastructure projects while highlighting obstacles that stand in the way of sustainable innovation.

At the event held at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, Rick Cotton, executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, unveiled details of upcoming airport and bus terminal renovations – most notably to JFK Airport and the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Midtown.

Cotton highlighted the praise surrounding makeovers to LaGuardia and Newark airports, envisioning similar successes for the upcoming $15 billion JFK proposal, which will include new roadway networks, expansions of Terminals 4 and 8 and new Terminals 1 and 6 – both of which are already underway. Cotton also stressed the authority’s dedication to prioritizing community engagement in the JFK Airport project.

“We have a very aggressive community outreach program in cooperation with a very active advisory council chaired by Congressman Gregory Meeks and Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, and we are completely committed to hitting very, very bold goals,” Cotton said.

As for the $10 billion renovation to the bus terminal, Cotton underlined the project’s estimated eight-year building timeline, which will lean into aspects of functionality, sustainability and community engagement. The new design is slated to better manage the terminal’s growing capacity, featuring more open space, in addition to dedicated investments in electric buses and sustainability.

“This new bus terminal will be the best in class with cutting-edge technology. It will be designed for all electric buses. It will target the commitment, the effort, to make it net-zero (emissions). We want the concessions in the bus terminal not only to serve the bus riders, but to serve the community around it,” Cotton said.

“Right now the bus terminal is a fortress, which fences out the community around it. Our effort is to build a structure which will really help revitalize that part of the city and will provide services and concessions to address the needs of the community around it best. … And this is one which we are doing totally 100% in cooperation with the local community.”

In terms of sustainability, Cotton emphasized that these new developments will follow the city’s 2050 net-zero emission goal, from electrification of vehicles to the use of renewable fuels – all aligned with the city’s roadmap to reduce greenhouse gases 80% by 2050.

Robert Hickman, chief administrative officer of Gateway Development Commission, detailed the progress of the Gateway Program’s Hudson rail tunnel project – one the country’s largest rail developments connecting the Northeast corridor.

“Just tomorrow, we’ll be awarding our first heavy construction contract in the Hudson River ground stabilization project, that involves building a cofferdam, just west of 34th (Street) in the river to do low cover work, for the eventual work of bringing tunnel boring machines from Western New Jersey all the way back into Manhattan,” Hickman said.

In addition to major transportation projects, increasing broadband access and connectivity were among key points discussed by panelists, namely state Sen. Kevin Parker, chair of the Committee on Energy and Telecommunications.

“Broadband, and access to high-speed broadband, is as important as water, gas, electricity. There are places in the city of New York, spots without coverage – and so I’ve been pushing to make sure that that equity piece, as always, is critical,” Parker said. “Because look at where there’s no coverage: Typically, they’re in poor communities that have Black and Latino communities and Asian communities. (This) is critical because so much of what we rely on, is built into high-speed broadband.”

This sentiment was echoed by panelists Minelly De Coo, deputy director of infrastructure for Gov. Kathy Hochul, and New York City Council Member Selvena Brooks-Powers, chair of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure – both of whom highlighted the need for increased connectivity across the city and in the state’s disenfranchised communities.

Yet, despite these major connecting efforts to digitally and physically link New Yorkers across the city and state, Jamie Torres-Springer, president of MTA Construction & Development, emphasized the implementation of congestion pricing to fund future projects. The MTA’s current $55 billion capital plan intends to focus on a “state of good repair” by revitalizing existing infrastructure, he said: “80% of our capital plan is work like track replacement, modernizing the signals across the system, improving each technology with each successive step. But challenges are threatening the future of this capital program, and those challenges are to congestion pricing.”

As the MTA deals with a barrage of lawsuits trying to stop or delay congestion pricing, most capital projects have been halted, including the resignaling of the A and C lines, as well as the B, D, F and N, and phase two of the Second Avenue subway.

“As of yesterday, we have put all new procurements on hold until we are through the litigation. This is as serious as it gets. It would be irresponsible for us, despite our confidence in our position in this litigation, or the federal government’s position in this litigation, for us to award contracts and award money based on the dollars that we expect until we’re clear of the litigation,” Torres-Springer said.

“We have over 20 more (Americans with Disabilities Act) stations that are funded by congestion pricing in this program – those are on hold until we have secure access to those funds. And unfortunately, we cannot proceed further with Second Avenue subway until we’re through congestion pricing,” Torres-Springer said.

According to Torres-Springer, “100% of the funding from congestion pricing” will be capitalized, making up 50% of the remaining funds in the MTA’s current capital program, of over $15 billion. Until litigation is resolved, most of the MTA’s future projects remain at a standstill, inconveniencing commuters and the city at large.

“Everyone in this room, you and your families may have personal thoughts about spending an extra 10 or 15 bucks to get into Manhattan. But on the side of where the money is going, I hope that I build a case to you that this is the most important thing that we can do to build the future of our mass transit system,” Torres-Springer said.