Mayor Bill de Blasio's new New York City Department of Transportation (NYC DOT) Commissioner, Brooklyn Navy Yard Chairman Hank Gutman has less than 10 months to complete some unfinished work left behind by former Commissioner Polly Trottenberg. On January 19, 2021, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) published Federal Notice of Available Funding for Federal Fiscal Year 2021.
The accompanying tables by funding programs make for very interesting reading. Former NYC DOT Commissioner Trottenberg, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, U.S. Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, members of the NY Congressional delegation, Mayor Bill de Blasio and other elected officials constantly complain that Washington shortchanges the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Yet none of them has ever said a word about the following.
Why has NYC DOT under the past leadership of Commissioner Polly Trottenberg been unsuccessful in applying for the following four old Federal Transit Administration discretionary funded project allocations that are worth a total of $29,483,183 dollars? They include:
- FY 2018 -- Table 14 Prior Year Unobligated Section 5307 Passenger Ferry Grant Program NYD2018-PFGP-012- NYCDOT ferry/vessel gangways replacement/upgrade ferry boat/environmental compliance upgrade – $6,302,200
- FY 2020NYD2020-PFGP-011 NYCDOT Staten Island Ferry St. George Terminal Roof Replacement – $4,180,982; Table 15 Prior Year Unobligated 5739(b) Buses and Bus Facilities Competitive Allocations;
- 2019 -- NYD2019-BUS C-065 NYCDOT Safe Routes to Transit project to make infrastructure, pedestrian safety and accessibility improvements for transit riders along 86th Street in Brooklyn – $9,000,000 and
- FY 2020 -- NY2020-Bus C-163 NYCDOT South Bronx BZ 6 Select Bus Service – $10,000,000.
NYC DOT should have previously submitted grant applications for these funds. Why has NYC DOT been unsuccessful in having these funds obligated under approved grants? Has NYC DOT entered formal grants in FTA’s Transit Award Management System (TrAMS) used to award and manage federal grants. If so, have they failed to answer all of FTA’s concerns and issues as part of any ongoing grant review? These funds will eventually lapse and be lost.
NYC DOT is in intense competition against transit agencies from other cities and states around the nation. It hurts NYC, the MTA and Metro NY area, when NYC DOT leaves these discretionary dollars on the table year after year. Our Congressional delegation loses credibility when lobbying for more transit dollars. There is no incentive for Washington to approve additional discretionary transit dollars. As each year goes by, the project cost also tends to increase. The dollar value of the earmark does not. In the end, taxpayers, commuters and NYC DOT Staten Island Ferry employees are the losers. With a multi-billion dollar shortfall in the NYC municipal budget, every dollar counts.
When will NYC DOT Commissioner Hank Gutman make this a priority and secure these four FTA earmarks?
Larry Penner is a transportation advocate, historian and writer who previously worked for the Federal Transit Administration Region 2 NY Office. This included the development, review, approval and oversight between 1984 - 2014 for over $1 billion in grants to NYC DOT. Most of these funds paid for capital and operating assistance to the seven franchised private bus operators along with the Staten Island Ferry including the purchase of several previous replacement boats.