Why It Is Illegal To Increase Federal Funding For The $11.2 Billion NY MTA LIRR East Side Access

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer
(Photo courtesy of Senator Chuck Schumer’s office/CC BY 2.0)

Senator Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s proposal to provide the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) with more funding to pay for the $11.2 billion Long Island Rail Road Eastside Access to Grand Central Terminal project is part of his new proposed $2 trillion national infrastructure program. This makes no sense.


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). This does not include $4 billion more for indirect costs known as “readiness projects” carried off line from the official project budget. These are the $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 that support direct implementation for East Side Access. Based upon past history, the final cost could 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. The MTA has repeatedly increased the budget by billions and pushed back the first day of service by 13 years.

The original Full Funding Grant Agreement between the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and MTA was approved in December 2006. The $2.63 billion of FTA grant funding toward a $6.3 billion project cost remains unchanged (virtually all of which has already been spent) with the MTA as local sponsor having to cover the $5 billion and growing cost overruns. Ten years later in August 2016, the FTA-amended agreement was signed off by both FTA and the MTA. After years of negotiations, the MTA and FTA finally came to an agreement which would reflect the current cost and schedule. Both the cost went up and first revenue day of service slipped once more. A detailed project risk assessment by the Federal Transit Administration independent engineer as part of the FTA-MTA 2016 amended Full Funding Grant Agreement predicted a final direct cost of $12 billion.

Schumer’s proposal to provide more federal dollars for covering additional costs would be illegal. It would violate the Federal Transit Administration’s Full Funding Grant Agreement. The MTA has already programmed $800 million under the $51 billion 2020-24 Five Year Capital Plan to cover the balance of remaining costs. Most of the projects $11.2 billion in direct costs have already been spent. The same is true for $4 billion in indirect costs for other supporting projects.

Larry Penner—transportation advocate, historian and writer who previously worked for the Federal Transit Administration Region 2 New York Office. This included the development, review, approval and oversight for billions in capital projects and programs for the MTA, NYC Transit, Long Island Rail Road, Metro North Rail Road, MTA Bus along with 30 other transit agencies in NY & NJ.

Larry Penner
Larry Penner is a transportation historian, advocate and writer who previously worked 31 years for the Federal Transit Administration Region 2 NY Office. This included the development, review, approval and oversight for grants supporting billions in capital projects and programs on behalf of the MTA, LIRR, Metro North, NYC Transit, NYC DOT, New Jersey Transit, NICE bus and 30 other NY and NJ transit operators. The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the publisher or Anton Media Group.

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