In just two short years, the North Shore of Staten Island will become a global destination. The New York Wheel, which will be the tallest observation wheel in the world, is set to take its first spin by 2017. Shortly before that, the Empire Outlets, the first outlet mall within the five boroughs, will open its doors. Hotels, theatres, parks, housing, restaurants and nearly 1,000 new jobs for borough residents will be here, and soon.
However, when it comes to an adequate infrastructure to accommodate a 21st century transportation system, the North Shore is sadly stuck in the past, courtesy of a lack of vision from the Metropolitan Transit Authority.
Last month, the MTA board, with the exception of Staten Island resident and MTA board member Allen Cappelli, voted to adopt a five-year capital plan that fails to recognize the dire need to fund and construct a modern day transportation network along the North Shore waterfront.
This is not just an oversight, but rather an outcome we as Staten Islanders have come to expect from an agency that has long displayed a stunning lack of foresight. I am outraged by their omission, as all Staten Islanders should be.
The current $32 billion spending plan includes new cars and countdown clocks along the S.I.R.R. That’s all well and good, and needed, but it falls short in recognizing that all corners of our Island, the fastest growing borough in the city, must be connected.
Last year, MTA officials opted for a Bus Rapid Transit line (B.R.T.) along the waterfront in lieu of a light-rail option. Costing $326 million, it would run between the St. George Ferry Terminal and Mariners Harbor with the possibility of connecting to Bayonne and a West Shore line. Although it was not what I had in mind (I prefer the light-rail) it was, and is, a viable solution when faced with the severe lack of services my constituents currently have available to them.
What a difference a year makes, now the BRT is off the table, leaving in place the remnants of the once thriving right of way.
This is unacceptable and it is an example of regressive thinking on the MTA’s part, but they’re not the only ones to blame. Over the last four years, New York City committed just 2% in capital funding toward assisting our aging transportation system. Compare that to the 1980’s when the city contributed upwards of 10% of capital funds. Albany, of course, has come up short as well. Shocker.
The $15.2 billion dollar shortfall represented in the MTA’ s capital plan is particularly startling considering that in the past decade alone, the MTA has slashed services, increased transit fares city-wide, while simultaneously raising the Verrazano Bridge toll, the most expensive in the country, every three years.
On Monday, the City Council’s Transportation Committee will hold an oversight hearing where MTA representatives will be held accountable. I will take my concerns directly to them and make the case for the North Shore’s future. In addition, I will work with my colleagues over the coming weeks to urge our state and city leaders to address the shortfalls represented in the MTA’s capital plan.
For now, I am asking all Staten Islanders who want to see a modern-day transportation network – connecting all parts of our borough – to call on the MTA to fund our future. Take part in my social media campaign using the hashtag #MTAnotgoingourway and write letters to the editor, mayor, governor and MTA President Tom Prendergast. I also invite you to attend tomorrow’s oversight hearing on the MTA’s budget, which will be held in City Hall’s Council Chambers at 12:45pm.
We need to make noise in order to be heard and I am relying on all commuters to join me in this effort.