2015-06-10 / Front Page

Woodhaven Blvd. Bus

To The Editor:
Past announcements regarding going forward with construction of the Woodhaven Boulevard Select Bus Service (SBS) Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project was like the first step of the NYC Marathon.
This probably means that neither the MTA nor NYC support the proposed restoration of LIRR service along the LIRR Rockaway Beach branch, also known as the White Pot Junction Line at an estimated cost of $600 million. This line was abandoned in the 1950s. It started off as a spur from the LIRR mainline east of Woodside at Rego Park and ran to Ozone Park, connecting to the A line subway near Aqueduct Racetrack and on to the Rockaways Peninsula.
The NYC Department of Transportation estimated cost of $200 million for the Woodhaven BRT could easily grow. It is based upon planning initiatives with little design and engineering efforts to validate actual construction costs. They will be refined as the project progresses beyond planning and completion of the federal NEPA environmental review process into final design. This is followed by award of construction contracts and change orders.
The actual final cost could easily come in millions of dollars higher. Finding $200 million or more is a significant challenge. Senator Charles Schumer’s past announcement that he has requested Department of Transportation Secretary James Fox’s permission for this project to enter the federal government New Starts program is just the first step. Successful completion of the New Starts process which culminates in the federal government’s entering into a Full Funding Grant Agreement (FFGA) to guarantee any commitment up to $100 million averages several years.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority has successfully used the New Starts program to obtain billions from Uncle Sam to fund both the Long Island Rail Road East Side Access project and New York City Transit Second Avenue subway. The NYCDOT proposal to fund construction of the Woodhaven BRT will be directly competing against the MTA NYCT proposal to fund the second phase of Second Avenue subway. This will extend the Second Avenue subway from 96th Street to 125th Street on the eastside of Manhattan.
The MTA currently faces a $14 billion dollar shortfall in the proposed $32 billion 2015-2019 Five Year Capital Plan. The well respected independent Citizens Budget Commission released a well documented report on March 24, “MTA Budget Problems May Be Bigger Than Expected.” They reported even greater shortfalls of between $16.5 to $19 billion in the proposed MTA 2015-2019 Capital Plan.
This could result in the MTA attempting to qualify other projects for the federal New Starts program. Ditto for Amtrak, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, New York State, New Jersey Transit and Nassau County.
These are many projects from the Metropolitan New York Region that may be competing against each other. There are dozens of other potential New Starts projects being championed by many other 99 Senators and 435 Congressmembers. The requests far exceed any available New Starts funding. There will be fewer winners and many more losers. Is Mayor Bill de Blasio committed to proceed with the Woodhaven BRT project if federal assistance isn’t secured? He has pledged $295 million to support development and implementation of 13 new SBS/BRT systems. Are these dollars 100 percent city or is he counting on a combination of MTA, state and or federal resources? Are they included in the current or planned future municipal budget?
NYCDOT will need $200 million or more in secure funding to be in place before proceeding with advertising and award of construction contracts before the Woodhaven Boulevard BRT project can proceed. The scope of work and procurements will have to be coordinated with the MTA NYC Transit and MTA Bus. How many procurements will be required for construction of exclusive BRT bus lanes, new bus stops with shelters, off board fare collection system, customer information system, transit priority signal priority improvements, modifications to existing buses and potential purchase of new buses to support increased ridership? Who will manage these procurements – NYCDOT or MTA?
NYCT Bus and MTA Bus are the actual bus operators. The Woodhaven Boulevard BRT is far more complex and expensive than any of the previous NYCDOT sponsored BRT projects combined. Construction on the southern portion of Woodhaven Boulevard is easier with a wider roadway. Construction on the northern portion, especially between Elmhurst and Woodside may be more challenging with a narrower roadway. Does NYCDOT have the technical capacity (staff or consultants) to successfully implement this complex project along with all the other ongoing BRT projects around NYC?
Is there a detailed project budget, implementation schedule with multiple interim milestones for each activity and fully secure funding source available to date to justify the estimated $200 million budget? Based upon past history, don’t be surprised if the announced construction start date of 2017 is overly optimistic and not met. Transit riders may have to wait until 2020 or later before boarding the Woodhaven Boulevard BRT.
Larry Penner
Great Neck

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