MTA Board Member on Cuomo’s L-Train Bombshell: It’s Been a ‘Wild’ Ride

Gov. Cuomo's plan to not shut down the L train was "wild," a board member said. Photo: Lorraine Cink/Twitter
Gov. Cuomo's plan to not shut down the L train was "wild," a board member said. Photo: Lorraine Cink/Twitter
David Jones
MTA Board member David Jones. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman

The last thing you want when you’re running a railroad is a “wild” ride.

But that’s exactly what MTA board members got on Thursday when Gov. Cuomo torpedoed a complete 15-month shutdown of the L train tunnel for urgent repairs in favor of a less-intensive, less-comprehensive, untested approach — a move Cuomo made after a brief personal “inspection” of the tunnel and without consulting the board that he claims runs the city’s subway and bus system.

“We didn’t have any warning,” board member David Jones told Streetsblog on Friday. “Suddenly it comes down: there’s a publicity trip to the tunnel and suddenly we’re confronted with a whole new reality. It’s wild.”

“Wild” is not a word Jones said he wanted to ever become affixed to the $477-million L-train shutdown, which has been in the planning process for three years.

“No,” said Jones, an appointee of Mayor de Blasio. “You’re talking about huge amounts of money, more than whole nation’s spend. It’s not inconsequential.”

Jones said he and other board members were “agitated” to be blindsided by the governor, especially with a proposed fix that would not be a complete one.

“I’m not sure if this is a tried-and-true technology,” he said. “The question is: how long is the fix? Are we going to put millions or billions into a fix that will only last a couple of years and leave it to another governor or mayor to rebuild? … I’m concerned. We just have to ask serious questions. We are going to demand [answers]. … It’s not just the mayor’s appointees. Other members of the board are just as agitated. … We’re all sort of shocked.”

MTA Board member Veronica Vanterpool.
MTA Board member Veronica Vanterpool.

Jones’s fellow de Blasio appointee on the board, Veronica Vanterpool, told Streetsblog that she’s more than shocked.

“I’m angered every single day by the quasi-process” she said. “We have a process, but we don’t have meaningful board input and our process is often superseded and circumvented. I always try to balance my anger and frustration with the merits of something. So if they can convince me this is a better alternative, then I want to be supportive of it.”

Jones said he and his fellow board members were never presented with the partial-repair option that Cuomo announced on Thursday.

“We were given just two choices: a total shutdown or one tube while they repair the other,” he said. “We have to know: if this is legitimate, why weren’t we presented with it?”

With David Meyer

  • If these “shocked” and “angered” board members would resign in protest, then maybe their lamentations might mean something.

    (Please remove the unnecessary apostrophe from “nations” in the fifth paragraph.)

  • Dexter

    But then what fills the hole? Yes men? That could be a worse outcome for all we know. It’s also not like they get paid to be on the board. They do have day jobs. They are busy. They, well most of them, use transit. If you’ve never watched an MTA meeting l before, their channel streams it live on YouTube and also posts them up later in the day. I’m looking forward to universal anger in that room. The next meeting should be the week after next, actually.

  • I think that mass resignations from the board would drastically change the tone of the coverage, and would highlight the absurdity of this Cuomo grandstand play. It would be the only way to salvage the original plan.

  • Larry Littlefield

    The more I think about this, the more it moves to the level of values. And the worse it seems.

    Because of demographic shifts those riding the L train today are overwhelmingly tomorrow’s people — millennials, immigrants, the poor.

    They were presented with a choice between suffering 15 months of terrible difficulties for a better future, and postponing the pain over the longer term. And the majority were in favor of the former. That was very meaningful. These people may not even be here 10 or 20 years from now, when the consequences of a patch and pray solution would have come home to roost.

    In the whole Generation Greed era, in contrast, the majority has always been in favor of sacrificing the future, especially if it might be someone else’s future, or the common future. That has been the decision every time, on every issue, at every level of government, in the private sector, even in many families and even individual lives.

    This is an enormous shift.

    Governor Cuomo might be trying to pander to something that only exists among those who knows and has interacted with for the past 40 years. He has been hailed by legacy news organizations, but (probably to his shock) blasted by others. The torch cannot be passed to a new generation fast enough.

  • sbauman

    “We were given just two choices: a total shutdown or one tube while they repair the other,” he [David Jones] said. “We have to know: if this is legitimate, why weren’t we presented with it?”

    The information the MTA board receives has been filtered, edited and censored by the operating agencies to remove any suspicion of alternate solutions. The board members were asleep, if they did not realize this. They were negligent, if they realized this but raised no objections.

    What’s important is how to proceed in the future. NYCT is proposing capital plans (Fast Forward) whose cost is estimated to be 100 times the cost of the Canarsie Tunnel Rehab. These plans have not been vetted. The public deserves to have a far more aggressive attitude on the board regarding the engineering merits and cost effectiveness of these proposals vs. alternatives that have not been presented.

  • Larry Littlefield

    The purpose of the board was to approve debts, and keep quiet. Now that the MTA is mortgaged to the hilt, I’m not sure what it’s purpose is anymore.

    What it should have been doing is looking at the big picture. And the big picture is there is a society-wide demand for far more that is available. And society has gotten used to paying nothing for the MTA capital plan, and how has all this interest and pension obligation to pay for.

  • Joe R.

    Here’s my proposal for the MTA and NYC to get out of its pension obligations:

    1) For current workers not yet receiving a pension, the defined benefit plan is replaced with a defined contribution plan where NYC puts a certain amount into an account in the worker’s name, to be invested as they choose. It also puts a lump sum into the account based on how many years of service the worker has and their salary.

    2) For those presenting receiving a pension, the MTA or NYC buys them out with a lump sum which depends upon their current pension. It’s then the retiree’s problem to invest that money to get what they were getting before.

    3) In both cases NYC and the MTA assume the same ridiculous rates of return which they did when they justified raising pensions retroactively “at no cost” and/or not funding them adequately. For example, if a worker is currently getting a pension of $2,000 per month, they will get a lump sum of about $120,000. This assumes they will be able to get the same $2,000 a month by finding an investment which reliably pays the same ridiculous 20% return the pensions funds assumed they would by getting forever. Most likely, this won’t happen, and the end result will be a severe drop in monthly income. Not the MTA’s or NYC’s problem. Maybe to prevent people from starving they could continue to at least guarantee the lesser of either $1,000 per month, or the original pension amount, regardless of what the person invest the money in. This probably wouldn’t be a huge expense.

    Yes, there will be a big hit in the short term, but major savings down the road as pension obligations are essentially wiped out.

  • Joe R.

    I’m of two minds here on what the new plan versus the old one means. Why didn’t the MTA come up with this idea? Or did their plan have to be vetted not just by engineers, but by labor unions, contractors, and others who wouldn’t approve it unless they got their share of the pie? That might explain why they wanted the new cables in a new bench wall. Much more labor intensive to both build and maintain. Are all MTA projects subject to this sort of vetting where good ideas which use little labor are routinely rejected? It would certainly explain why major capital projects here routinely cost 5 to 10 times what they do elsewhere, often for inferior results. If Cuomo is doing this to end such sordid practices, my hat’s off to him but I think he has ulterior motives also.

    The bottom line is something doesn’t sit right that nobody thought of Cuomo’s plan beforehand. It may or may not be patch work. If they do the essential structural repairs, which don’t necessarily mean rebuilding the entire bench wall, it should be as permanent a repair as the original plan. And with the cables more accessible, if the tunnel floods again, at least they’ll be easier to fix.

  • Joe R.

    This is exactly what is bothering me also. The MTA board had to have been aware of alternate solutions, unless those solutions had to be vetted by contractors and labor unions, which would both reject any solution where they didn’t benefit enormously. And if that’s the norm for MTA capital projects, then obviously a lot of people should face major criminal charges. Things should be done due to engineering necessity, not to create the most work possible.

  • Larry Littlefield

    The question is who can you trust. And the answer is don’t trust anybody over 62. Well, almost anybody.

    Things have gotten so bad, I’m wondering if that shockingly perfect jobs report yesterday, released while the federal workers were furloughed, was falsified. Falsifying job reports has certainly been on The Donald’s mind.

  • Joe R.

    I don’t necessarily disagree. That includes the possibility the job’s report is indeed falsified.

    That said, the unfortunate reality right now is that it’s likely necessary to prop up the stock market in order to avoid a complete economic collapse. If the market tanked, a lot of middle class people are going to be hurt big time. If the only effect of a market collapse was the rich having one less zero in their net worth I would say go ahead, let it tank. That’s not the case. I have about a quarter million in the market now. I don’t touch individual stocks. It’s mutual funds, and it’s fairly well diversified. Still, I lost somewhere north of 15% by the time the market bottomed out. I’m fine with this if I can end with with decent returns in the long haul. I’m not planning to touch the money until I’m well into my 60s, possibly even over 70. But if the market tanks badly, I may well still be in the red by then. My sister has a 401K. So do lots of others. For better or worse, we’re all in this together.

    Another thing to bring up here is right now we’re not getting much growth because we’re starting to bump up on resource limits. Those constraints will remain until it’s feasible to mine resources from asteroids and the like. I give people like Musk credit for making this feasible far sooner than it likely would be if we had to depend upon NASA. Bottom line, in the short to medium term, I’m skeptical of our future. Once we have robotics and space resources we might be seeing a new golden age, if we survive that long.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “If the market tanked, a lot of middle class people are going to be hurt big time.”

    By having the market inflated beyond what it is really worth, a long of younger people saving for retirement are being hurt big time, and top executives will get bonuses and stock options based on false value.

    Don’t believe me?

    “What’s the larger message here? Free-market price discovery would require a full accounting of market bubbles and the realities of structural problems, which remain unresolved. Central banks exist to prevent the consequences of excess to come to fruition and give license to politicians to avoid addressing structural problems. And by preventing these market forces from playing out at each sign of trouble, the can gets kicked further and further down the road. Each successive recovery keeps the illusion alive, but ‘accommodation’ requires ever-lower rates before the monsters return. In the meantime, debt keeps expanding, while each recovery produces less and less organically driven growth, and ever-higher wealth inequality. This is what this system produces.”