OpEd: Infrastructure Bill to Give Transit a Historic, Transformative Boost

infrastructure bill
“Now it’s time to look to the future of mass transit,” says MTA Acting Chair and CEO Janno Lieber. (Marc A. Hermann/MTA)

By Janno Lieber, Acting MTA Chair and CEO

With the latest infrastructure bill now under debate in Washington, D.C., we have a once-in-a-generation chance to invest in the future of mass transit. This vital legislation, championed by President Joe Biden, will help to improve the lives of millions of people, not just in the metropolitan region but also across the country. 

The $1.2 trillion plan includes $550 billion for public transit, bridges, and highways, with more than $10 billion potentially headed for the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA). The money would give our historic 2020-2024 Capital Program a major boost on top of the $15 billion in capital funding congestion pricing is expected to generate. Until then, we need every penny we can get from the federal government to support our ambitious plans to revitalize the MTA. 

Money from the infrastructure bill is different than the hard-fought $14 billion in federal Covid-19 relief funds that Congress allocated to help the MTA keep the lights on and the trains running after the pandemic devastated our finances. Instead, the infrastructure funds would be used for just that: long-term improvements and modernization projects for the subway, bus, and commuter rail systems.

Delaying action on the bill could jeopardize long-planned upgrades that would create new jobs and advance climate goals, like zero-emissions buses, new signals on six subway lines, and accessibility projects at dozens of stations – not to mention transformative mega projects like Second Avenue Subway Phase 2 and Metro North Penn Station Access.  

These upgrades are only becoming more important as customers return to the system. Already, we’re back to regularly serving more than 3 million riders a day on just the subways, and more than 5 million including buses and the commuter railroads. The best incentive we can offer additional riders to come back and drive these numbers even higher is a seamless and modern travel experience, which requires real investment on the federal level. 

Led by U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, our partners in Washington have already done so much to keep mass transit alive during the pandemic. But now it’s time to look to the future of mass transit and its short-term and long-term importance to the region’s revival and survival. By passing the infrastructure bill, Congress could give the MTA’s indispensable system new momentum as we carry millions back to work, school, entertainment venues, and everything else that New York has to offer.

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