We’ll take the crumbs
Remapping Debate also reached out to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, whose district includes neighborhoods on the Lower East Side of Manhattan and who was a crucial source of support for the full Second Avenue subway during its planning and design phase during the late 1990s and early 2000s. Among other things, we wanted to know whether making a constant and loud claim for needed transit expansions would begin to expand the public sense of what choices government has available to it, but Silver did not respond to requests for an interview.
Silver, in a statement in 2004, boasted to constituents that he had “already personally secured $1.05 billion for [the Second Avenue subway] in the current MTA 5-year capital plan. It is important that we capitalize on this commitment, and not let this opportunity to improve our transportation system get away.” More recently, however, transit advocates criticized the Speaker for letting a state bill designed to protect existing dedicated transit funding for the MTA be watered down by the Governor.
Other legislative leaders, including the chairs of the senate and assembly transportation committees, Charles J. Fuschillo, Jr. and David F. Gantt, respectively, did not return requests for an interview or respond to written questions.
New York City has over time received significant federal funding for new mass transit projects, garnering over $1.3 billion for the first phase of the Second Avenue subway (from 63rd Street to 96th Street) and $2.6 billion for the East Side Access project that will bring Long Island Railroad trains to Grand Central Terminal in 2018. Nevertheless, the funds received represent only a small part of what Representative Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.) described to Remapping Debate as “billions of dollars of unmet needs” for transit infrastructure. The remaining phases of the Second Avenue subway (north to 125th Street, and south to Lower Manhattan), as we have reported, are unfunded and would cost some $12 billion.
Remapping Debate contacted both of New York’s senators and 10 out of 13 congressional representatives who represent parts of the city for this story. Most did not reply or chose not to comment, and those who did respond were not prepared to imagine an alternative to the piecemeal and inadequate approach to transit expansion already underway.
Maloney, in an email message, wrote that she sees the “cup half full rather than half empty” when it comes to federal transit funding and that a “partial build” of the Second Avenue subway “is significantly better than no build.”
The future’s not bright
The MTA officially remains committed to a full build-out of the Second Avenue subway. But all current signs about what politicians and even advocates believe is “realistic” should lead to great skepticism that the commitment will be realized.
Representative Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.), for example, wrote in an email response that due to “the extensive damage to our city’s infrastructure” as a result of Hurricane Sandy, “New Yorkers will be placed in the uncomfortable position of tolerating a host of infrastructure deficits.”
And even Gene Russianoff, the chief spokesperson for the Straphangers’ Campaign of the New York Public Interest Research Group and one of the best-known advocates for mass transit in New York City, isn’t pushing a full build-out of the Second Avenue subway now.
“I don’t apologize for trying to deal with the politics as I find them,” he told Remapping Debate, “and there is only so much you can change.”