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PCAC Testifies at City Council Hearing on Transportation Infrastructure and Resiliency: Laying the Foundation for Federal Infrastructure Funding

Good day, I am Lisa Daglian, Executive Director of the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee to the MTA, PCAC. Thank you for holding this hearing today during Earth Week. By bringing together the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and Committee on Resiliency and Waterfronts, you’re highlighting the clear linkage that exists between our systems and ecosystems, and the work we must collectively do to meet climate change goals – and prevent the ravages we have already seen are possible when the built environment doesn’t respect the forces of nature.

PCAC and our Councils represent riders on New York City’s subways and buses, Staten Island Railway, the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North Railroad. Anyone who uses any of those systems knows how great the needs for improvement are – even as we have come so far since the so-called “Summer of Hell” not that long ago. We’re also still rebuilding from Superstorm Sandy, at the same time we seek to address different dangers that came to us during Hurricanes Henri and Ida. Fortunately, we have partners in Washington who are attuned to the needs of urban life and our transit networks, and how interconnected and interdependent infrastructure is across all systems. That awareness formed the basis of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act – IIJA – and subsequent programmatic funding.  Now it’s essential that the city, state, MTA and all other eligible partners take advantage of the opportunities presented to build a stronger, more resilient and sustainable transportation network and region.

I’m not an expert on the IIJA or funding, but we’ve been exploring the new opportunities presented by it in the context of resiliency and sustainability. Here are two of our focal areas of interest and thoughts on funding the city can explore to address key areas of concern:

1) Increase citywide sewer capacity to help prevent subway flooding from extreme weather events by aggressively pursuing federal funds.

We were all mesmerized – and horrified – by the scene of the geyser at the 28th Street subway station that in fact was not the fault of the MTA, but of overwhelmed storm drains and sewer pipes. We saw too clearly the impact the city’s aging infrastructure has on the riding public and the MTA’s systems, including its old and overworked pumps. As city, state and MTA grant writers comb through the details of the IIJA, including the newly developed funding opportunities, it’s critical that they consider the system-as-a-whole and how each of its component parts contributes to making our mass transit network work, or not.

Similarly, flooded roads caused surface transit to grind to a halt, keeping buses from their routes, and riders from getting to their jobs or back home. The newly created PROTECT grant program is designed to make surface transportation “…assets more resilient to current and future weather events…” on federal-aid roadways, and now allows states to spend highway dollars on such resilience efforts. It provides funds to support proactively undertaking mitigation projects to protect crucial infrastructure from hazards and can be used for green infrastructure projects. It is definitely worth exploring how the city might best take advantage of those funds, and how best to gain a competitive advantage.

2) Implement and expand dedicated bus lanes/busways and transit signal priority (TSP) to help speed up MTA buses with more reliable and efficient service. Explore provision of e-bus charging infrastructure along MTA bus routes.

The city has committed to a significant investment in buses, with the Mayor pledging new busways and bus lanes above and beyond the prior Administration’s efforts. We look forward to seeing the creation of 150 miles of new bus lanes and busways in the next four years. That’s ambitious and we love it. However, implementing this amount of bus lanes will require a major increase in funding to the DOT, which was included in the Council’s formal response to Mayor Adams’ proposed budget. We also know that bus lanes and busways need enforcement, which many people don’t love, but which have proven to be highly effective in preventing recurring encroachment by drivers.

Transit Signal Priority is also key to speeding up buses and getting riders where they want to go, and there are several federal funding pots that could potentially be used to support TSP and other bus-related improvements, including the Surface Transportation Block Grant Program.

The IIJA also expands the Federal Transit Administration’s Low and No Emission Bus Program, which could offer a unique opportunity for the MTA and city to explore partnering on bus charging infrastructure, including possibly looking at in-route charging as technology progresses.

Many of the IIJA’s rules are still being written but it isn’t too soon to get together to look at the overarching shortcomings of the ecosystem that makes up our transportation network to see what must be done, when it can be done, how long it will take, and how much it will cost. The staggering expense of everything our region requires is too great for the city and state to bear alone; federal funding will be critical to meeting our transit needs and our climate and resiliency goals. The MTA has doubled down on its efforts to bring in grant writers, and we suggest the city look at that opportunity as well. If there’s money to be had, let’s have at it. Thank you.