You’re hellish commute didn’t happen overnight — it took 50 years for the subway to get this bad.
The MTA spent decades without a capital plan to systematically replace aging infrastructure — and when it did get one in 1981, the agency spent years doing triage to prop up a badly broken system with insufficient funds, experts say.
Now they are playing catch-up, there is no light at the end of the tunnel.
“As the usage of the system has increased, the MTA capital investment hasn’t kept pace with the needs,” said Richard Ravitch, who was MTA boss in the 1980s and helped bring the system back from the brink of death the first time.
The situation isn’t nearly as dire now as it was in 1981, but the subways now have more than twice the ridership, and commuters can now never quite be sure if they’re going to make it to work on time or home for dinner.
“We are still playing catch up to fix the sins of 1970s neglect and disinvestment,” said spokeswoman Beth DeFalco.
“Ridership is up 64 percent since the first Capital Plan was enacted but we do not have 64 percent more infrastructure. We are constantly working to provide regular service for our customers amidst growing ridership and capacity constraints.”
The agency’s capital plan has always been lacking. When the MTA passed its first capital budget in 1981, the subway system was a chaotic hazard. Trains regularly caught fire, derailed, and collided. That first capital plan was basically triage meant to keep the system from descending further into turmoil.
“In 1981, the system was covered in graffiti, grime and crime. It was worth $27 billion – less than the amount we will invest in capital improvements in the next 5 years,” said DeFalco.
That first 1982 through 1986 plan was just $7.2 billion, or $19.4 in today’s dollars. That’s less than 60 percent of the money the agency is spending now on replacements and new projects.
But the agency still didn’t have a plan for regularly…