MTA moving forward with capital projects to improve transit equity

July 26, 2022
A proposed amendment to the capital program includes accessibility upgrades, signal modernization and resiliency initiatives along with implementation of track trespassing task force recommendations. 

An update to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s (MTA) 2020-24 Capital Program was released by officials that adjusts mass transportation needs for a post-COVID-19 world. 

In a presentation to the MTA Board’s Capital Program Committee, MTA Construction & Development President Jamie Torres-Springer put forward a proposed capital program amendment that allows the MTA to move projects along at a faster pace, offers support for megaproject expansions and rebalances priorities while accounting for the pandemic’s impact on external factors such as inflation, supply chain and labor market issues. 

“This capital program was already the most ambitious in the agency’s history, and COVID-19 has only highlighted its importance,” said MTA Chair and CEO Janno Lieber. “Since the onset of COVID-19, we ramped up the speed of construction, including accelerating $2.3 billion of work. We also adopted new strategies to complete projects faster and efficiently – utilizing design-build contracts, holding contractors accountable and providing them with smart financial incentives and leveraging private partnerships – which we will now use on a larger scale on projects that will help close the gap on transit equity across the region.” 

The proposed amendment builds on the accelerated pace at which the MTA has completed projects during the pandemic, when it took advantage of low ridership to complete accessibility and signal modernization projects. Among the projects included are acceleration of accessibility upgrades at eight LIRR stations; modernization of the signal system on the A, C and F Lines in Brooklyn and Manhattan; track trespassing initiatives including the platform screen doors pilot, cameras and other technologies; bike and pedestrian accessibility at bridge and tunnel crossings; and renewal of Metro-North Railroad’s viaduct along Park Avenue in East Harlem.  

“This proposed amendment will enhance equity and address emerging trends by prioritizing projects that serve riders in areas that rely on transit the most,” said Torres-Springer. “It invests in the resiliency of our transit system, increases micromobility options and accelerates safety projects to prevent track intrusions. It also advances critical megaprojects like the reconstruction of Penn Station and connecting the Bronx and Metro-North Railroad to it. All these projects add up to a safer, more resilient and more equitable transit system for the entire New York City region.”  

Implementation of the program resumed following a pause at the start of the pandemic. In 2021, the authority initiated more than $8 billion in projects, with another $8 billion set for 2022. The MTA has been able to contain costs in the early stages of the program, with the median contract for projects coming in eight percent lower than expected cost. In 2020 and 2021 the authority completed accessibility projects at the fastest pace in agency history, with 23 subway stations brought online in the two-year span. The authority also made progress on its signal modernization efforts with the installation of Communications Based Train Controlled (CBTC) signaling on the Queens Boulevard E, F, M, R Lines.  

Looking forward, elements of the proposed 2020-24 Capital Plan amendment include the following. 

Adapting to changing conditions and needs  

Prioritizing reliability and equity in signal modernization  

A rebalanced approach puts the focus on reliability and equity in the MTA’s signal modernization plan. The plan amendment will replace all remaining 80-year-old signal equipment and mechanical interlockings, delivering major reliability benefits. It also prioritizes lines serving essential workers in communities that rely on transit most.   

The MTA will now focus on the newly added 6 Av Line (B, D, F, M), an extended Fulton Line (A, C), Queens Boulevard East Line (E, F) and the Crosstown Line (G). Each line will be outfitted with modern CBTC signaling to replace the old signals. The A, C and F Lines rank among the least reliable subway lines in the system by wait time assessment. 

Shifts in ridership patterns and availability of new train cars have allowed a shift in the authority’s prioritization on signal modernization to focus on reliability and equity as peak capacity needs are lessened in the immediate term. The original program focused on peak capacity lines like the Lexington Avenue Line and Astoria Line, which will be deferred to a future capital program.  

New projects and acceleration  

Track trespassing initiatives  

Following the release of the Track Trespassing Task Force report, which detailed a host of actions the MTA and its partners are taking to address track trespassing and provided new data on the incidence and cause of track intrusion. 

In the proposed amendment the MTA will move forward on a series of recommendations including track intrusion detection technology such as camera system expansion, the platform screen door pilot and continued work with city and state partners.  

The platform screen door pilot program is moving forward with procurement beginning this year.  

Enhancing micromobility  

In May, the MTA announced a strategic action plan to enhance bicycle, pedestrian and micromobility access to MTA facilities and services. As part of this plan, the MTA will improve bicycle, pedestrian and micromobility access to subway stations, bus stops and on MTA bridges.  

Under the proposed amendment, the authority will start at the Henry Hudson Bridge, with a project to create a shared use path.  

Accessibility upgrade at LIRR stations  

Systemwide accessibility remains a top priority for LIRR remains committed to maintaining its significant level of investment to make stations accessible under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Under the proposed amendment, accessibility projects will be accelerated at: 

  • Amityville   
  • Laurelton   
  • Lindenhurst   
  • Massapequa Park   
  • Forest Hills   
  • Hollis   
  • Douglaston   
  • Cold Spring Harbor  

By the completion of the program, only five LIRR stations will not be fully accessible.  

Metro-North Park Avenue aqueduct  

Metro-North's Park Avenue Viaduct project is being accelerated to extend from the north side of E. 115th Street to the south side of E. 123rd Street in East Harlem and replace or repair major segments of the viaduct.  

The elevated steel structure carries four tracks along Park Avenue between E.110th Street and the Harlem River Lift Bridge that services the Hudson, Harlem and New Haven lines. On a typical weekday, approximately 750 trains and hundreds of thousands of customers travel on the viaduct. Nearly half of the viaduct was constructed in the 1890s.  

Expansion projects  

While more than 82 percent of the capital program is dedicated to the existing core infrastructure, the MTA is strategically pursuing expansion projects. These projects are the key to meeting new needs and addressing historic transportation inequities.  

Metro-North Penn Station Access   

Penn Station Access will connect Metro-North's New Haven Line with Amtrak’s existing Hell Gate Line to Penn Station and bring four new accessible stations to the East Bronx at Hunts Point, Morris Park, Co-op City and Parkchester/Van Nest.  

The proposed amendment adds funding for the New Rochelle Yard, which is critical to the project’s operations, and portions of its rolling stock need that have long lead-times and need to get procurement underway soonest. The eventual need for this funding was noted when an amendment was advanced in December 2021 and does not represent a cost increase.   

Penn reconstruction needs  

In November 2021, Gov. Kathy Hochul unveiled a new plan to transform Penn Station into a first-class, commuter-first transit hub and revitalize the surrounding area. The plan calls for replacing the current cramped Penn Station with a 250,000-square-foot, single-level facility. It will be easier to navigate and have more room for passenger circulation.  

Penn Station Reconstruction is advancing, offering a generational opportunity to transform the busiest train station. The proposed amendment includes funding to advance preliminary design of the new station.