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NEW YORK CITY-Citing a weakened economy and a $1.2-billion deficit that could reach $3 billion by 2012, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority on Thursday announced a 2009 budget that includes service cuts and fare hikes along with agency cost reductions. The MTA’s board will vote on the budget at its Dec. 17 meeting, and it awaits the recommendations of the Ravitch Commission, due Dec. 5, on how the authority can meet its operating and capital expenses.

“The proposed budget presents the MTA board with extremely tough choices that we must grapple with over the next month,” says H. Dale Hemmerdinger, MTA chairman and president of Atco Properties, in a statement. “We have an obligation to pass a balanced budget, but we all hope that service cuts and extreme fare increases can be avoided. We will be closely watching the Ravitch Commission and will support its efforts in any way we can, both on the operating budget and also on the critical capital program, which cannot be forgotten.”

Among other measures, the 2009 MTA budget proposes service reductions on its New York City Transit, Metro-North and Long Island Rail Road lines. In the subway system, the W and Z subway lines would be eliminated, other lines would be shortened and trains would operate less frequently during off-peak hours. Bus service on low-ridership lines would be reduced or eliminated. Weekend and off-peak service would be reduced on the LIRR, and Metro-North riders would see service cuts on both sides of the Hudson River. Long Island Bus service would also be reduced, and there would be lane closures on bridges and tunnels. The authority projects a cost savings of $260 million in ’09 and more than $375 million annually between 2010 and 2012.

The proposed budget would implement fare and toll increases that would produce a 23% increase in revenue, or $670 million in ’09. According to a release, the revised fare structure has not been determined, but will be developed and discussed in the coming months. Additionally, each MTA agency has proposed 4.7% cost reductions, which would eliminate about 2,700 jobs agency-wide.

At Thursday’s board meeting, according to published report, Hemmerdinger and Eliot G. Sander, MTA’s executive director, urged the Bloomberg administration and state lawmakers to provide more aid or new revenue to the authority. “While we attempted to identify the least harmful cuts possible, they will be painful and no one at the MTA is eager to implement them,” says Sander in a prepared statement. “Even in a period of austerity, continued investment in the MTA’s critical operating and capital needs must be a top priority for elected officials in Albany, New York City and Washington.”

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