Governor Andrew Cuomo’s call for performing yet another independent audit on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Long Island Rail Road East Side Access to Grand Central Terminal is putting lipstick on a pig. Since 2001, the total direct cost for MTA East Side Access to Grand Central Terminal has grown from $3.5 billion to $4.3 billion in 2003, $6.3 billion in 2006, $8.4 billion in 2012, $10.2 billion in 2014 and today $11.2 billion (plus $600 million more in financing costs). I predict $12 to $13 billion in direct costs when completed. This does not include $4 billion more for indirect costs known as “readiness projects” carried off line from the official project budget. This includes $2.6 billion Main Line Third Track, $450 million Jamaica Capacity, $387 million Ronkonkoma Double Track, $120 million Ronkonkoma Yard Expansion, $44 million Great Neck Pocket Track just to name a few support direct implementation of East Side Access. Based upon past history, the final cost will go up again over time by a $1 billion or more. The promised opening service date has slipped on numerous occasions from 2009 to December 2022. Don’t be surprised if this ends up in 2023 or later.
A detailed project risk assessment by the Federal Transit Administration independent engineer as part of the FTA-MTA 2016 amended East Side Access Full Funding Grant Agreement predicted a final cost of $12 billion.
The MTA has repeatedly increased the budget by billions and pushed back the first day of service by 13 years.
Cuomo’s promised “forensic audit” of the MTA LIRR ESA is a waste of time and money. How many internal MTA, MTA Office of Inspector General, State Comptroller, City Comptroller, NYC Office of Management and Budget, Federal Transit Administration Office of Inspector General and other audits have come and gone. What about numerous newspaper investigative reports on waste, fraud or abuse? Another audit will not result in any significant changes.
A cat has nine lives and this project long ago already used all of them. When it comes to completion of East Side Access, the 1960s LIRR motto “Line of the Dashing Dan” should be changed to “Line of the Slow-Moving Sloth.”
Larry Penner is a transportation historian and advocate who previously worked 31 years for the US Department of Transportation Federal Transit Administration Region 2. This included the development, review, approval and oversight for grants supporting billions in capital projects and programs on behalf of the MTA, NYC Transit, Long Island Rail Road, Metro North Rail Road, MTA Bus, New Jersey Transit, NYC Department of Transportation and more than 30 other transit operators in New York State.
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