By Scott Rechler, New York Daily News
A century ago, visionary New Yorkers dared to do the seemingly impossible, building an underground rail network that would stretch over 800 miles. Their determination created one of the world’s largest subway systems, turning our city into an economic dynamo. New York would not be what it is today without the subway.
What New York is today, though, is not what it will be going forward. In fact, the Regional Plan Association estimates that, by 2040, the region will add 2 million jobs and 4 million people. To remain competitive, our transportation infrastructure must keep pace.
Alarmingly, the opposite has occurred. As we have thrived, our transportation network has struggled. Subway delays? Way up. Congestion? Manhattan streets now have the slowest travel speeds in recorded history. Buses? Their tortoiselike pace has led to steep ridership declines.
A big problem is the sheer scale. Take the MTA. It is massively complex, with more employees than the federal Department of Transportation and a budget larger than those of 18 states.
To its credit, it daily moves more riders than the population of L.A. Moreover, its efforts after crises, from 9/11 to Hurricane Sandy, have been heroic.
But the MTA groans under layers of bureaucracy, duplicative processes and costly and inefficient work rules, all of which have failed to keep up with changing times.
As a result, the MTA has a woeful record when it comes to capital projects. In undertaking routine maintenance, it regularly employs Band-Aid solutions, holding things together, but only temporarily.
Meanwhile, in undertaking expansions, the MTA often experiences massive delays and billions in overruns. Things are so bad that, this summer, as the subways were in free fall, Gov. Cuomo had to issue an executive order to allow the MTA to get around its own Byzantine rules.
New York City is the world’s capital because of its talent base. To maintain its status, we require a transportation network that meets that talent’s needs. With respect to the subways, this means redefining success from well-managed decline to a top-to-bottom reconstruction, including new tracks and signals; refurbished, wheelchair-accessible stations; and real plans for meaningful expansion.
This, of course, requires money. For this, we need comprehensive solutions such as the Move NY congestion pricing proposal, together with other dedicated revenues, including ride-sharing and taxi fees and peak-hour delivery truck tolls, which would raise more than a billion dollars a year while reducing congestion.
But it will be next to impossible to persuade a skeptical public to pay for this ambitious goal if we stick to business as usual.
Instead, while the MTA focuses on stabilizing the system and day-to-day operations, we should consider creating something entirely new to take on rebuilding: a Subway Development Corp.
This corporation would be a quasi-governmental entity, purpose-built to achieve its mission. While such an agency would report to elected officials, it would operate without the shackles now placed on government agencies.
Among its attributes:
An end-to-end remake of our subway system seems complicated. But we can do it, if we come to our senses now. As our forebears did before us, it is time again to make the impossible, possible.
Rechler, an MTA board member, is chairman of the Regional Plan Association and CEO of RXR Realty.
The RXR platform manages 69 commercial real estate properties and investments with an aggregate gross asset value of approximately $18.1 billion, comprising approximately 24.6 million square feet of commercial properties, inclusive of a multi-family residential portfolio of approximately 2,600 units under operation or development, and control of development rights for an additional approximately 3,600 multi-family and for sale units in the New York Metropolitan area. Gross asset value compiled by RXR Realty in accordance with company fair value measurement policy and is comprised of capital invested by RXR and its partners, as well as leverage.