Zeldin hits congestion toll as money robbery as he cites MTA “waste”.

Republican gubernatorial hopeful Lee Zeldin on Monday blasted the MTA’s proposed congestion charging program as a cash robbery from officials.

“Congestion pricing is a process of putting hands in the wallets of people who can least afford it,” the Long Island congressman said. “What’s going to happen is once that’s done, they’re just going to start asking for more money.”

The MTA estimates that drivers will cost between $9 and $23 during peak hours, depending on whether exceptions are granted.

Officials say the toll would bring in about $1 billion a year, which they plan to leverage into $15 billion in debt to fund construction projects: $12 billion would go into subways, buses and $3 billion would go to the MetroNorth and Long Island Rail Road.

That accounts for about a quarter of the MTA’s entire $55 billion program to overhaul, refurbish and expand the region’s subways, commuter trains and buses — a price tag that underscores criticism of the agency’s ability to cover costs to control, has reignited.

MTA watchdogs have been particularly focused on the $6.9 billion to build the roughly one-mile extension of the Second Avenue Subway from 96th Street to 125th Street.

There is little denying, however, that the tube system’s centuries-old switch-controlled traffic signals are in dire need of replacement, which was a key tenant of the Fast Forward program brought in by then-City Rail chief Andy Byford.

Rep. Lee Zeldin referred to the MTA's congestion charging schedule as a "process of sticking their hands in the wallets of people who can least afford it."
Rep. Lee Zeldin called the MTA’s congestion charging plan a “process that puts hands in the wallets of those who can least afford it.”
Robert Mueller

It called for the replacement of switch-controlled traffic light signals, which dated from the 1920s and frequently failed, with a new computerized system that would allow trains to run faster, more frequently and much more reliably.

The L train and the 7er train both use the new signaling technology and can run up to every two minutes during rush hour and have a punctuality rate of more than 90 percent. But the improvements came at a hefty price tag, estimated at $40 billion, and it would take a decade to install the signals along mainlines and signal boxes in Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan.

The MTA expects to spend $13.2 billion on new signals and new subways compatible with them between 2020 and 2024 alone.

When asked how he would fund MTA work instead, Zeldin cited a comment he wrote a decade ago that aimed to make the transit agency more efficient.

The MTA plan charges drivers an estimated $9 to $23 during peak hours.
The MTA plan charges drivers an estimated $9 to $23 during peak hours.
Stephen Yang for the New York Post

“In there,” he said, “there are a whole bunch of different elements that would ultimately make the MTA more efficient. If you go back and read through it, it’s amazing how many of those issues still haven’t been addressed.”

The column featured 10 recommendations, although the bulk of the savings and new revenue came from recommendations to cut overtime spending and sell properties such as the agency’s former Madison Avenue headquarters.

However, the agency is currently facing a staff shortage, largely due to the coronavirus pandemic, which has forced it to bring back retired staff and increase overtime spending to keep trains running.

And its former headquarters is now set to be redeveloped in a deal that should bring the MTA $1 billion already earmarked for major projects like signals.

Lines now earmarked for signal overhauls include the frequently delayed 6th Avenue subway between Broadway-Lafayette and Rockefeller Center, where signals are between 83 and 90 years old.

Three notoriously unreliable trains in Brooklyn are also overhauled: the A and C along the Fulton Street subway from High Street to Euclid Avenue; and the G gets new signals from Court Square to Hoyt-Schemerhorn.

“Without that $15 billion that would be made from the money raised by congestion charges, there is a huge hole in the MTA’s capital plan and our region’s vital transit system will suffer,” said Lisa Daglian, executive director of the Permanent Citizens Advisory Board of the MTA. “Without further investment, hell summer will look like a day in the park.”

Zeldin was pressured over his plan just before he joined a delegation of lawmakers — including GOP Rep. Nicole Malliotakis and Democratic councillors Bob Holden and Kalman Yeger — who again urged Gov. Hochul to postpone the proposed congestion fee or in its entirety to delete.

“This is nothing more than a war on cars,” Malliotakis said. Zeldin hits congestion toll as money robbery as he cites MTA “waste”.


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