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NEW YORK CITY-Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) executive director and CEO Elliot G. Sander told a New York Building Congress membership meeting that it truly was crunch time for the MTA. Sander spoke to the group at its annual luncheon on the 36th floor ballroom at the Mandarin Oriental this past Thursday. While speaking, he reiterated that the MTA faces a $1-billion-plus budget gap.

Sander told the packed house that if the state legislature doesn’t act on what’s being called the Ravitch plan–recommendations by a commission headed by former MTA chair Richard Ravitch–that draconian measures would ensue. There will be fare increases of 25% to 30% along with massive service cuts. With that, he implored the room to lobby legislative support in Albany.

The Ravitch commission settled on a solution that includes a one third of 1% payroll tax on New York City employees, as well as those workers in other counties served by the MTA. The plan also recommends tolls on the East River and Harlem bridges. Minus the tolls, the plan appears to be gaining increasing support among state Senate Democrats.

Still, the MTA faces massive holes in its capital plan. Sander acknowledged to the construction industry crowd, that fare hikes and service cuts are what garner the most public attention and public outcry, which naturally leads to greater political actions.

“Our capital programs part of the packages are the most easy to walk away from politically,” says Sander although he added, ridership on the system had increased by 50% over the past ten years. “There’s no way our ridership would have increased that much without our capital improvement programs,” he says.

At that point in his speech, Sander picked up a signaling device–recently replaced during part of the capital improvement work the agency has been doing. “I thought perhaps this was from the 1930′s,” he said of the odd looking light. It turns out the signaling device was from 1912 evoking a few quiet laughs in the room.

Sander said if the MTA doesn’t get $22 billion for its capital core program, it’s not the MTA’s future that’s at risk, it’s the entire city and region.Addressing some of the issues the city faces, such as a $5 billion estimate to complete the first segment of the 2nd Avenue Subway combined with the $2 billion to $3 billion that may no longer be available which the legislature associated with congestion pricing last year, spells trouble for the city.

As Gregory A. Kelly, national director, transportation at Parsons Brinckerhoff told “Real Estate New York” for a feature on Infrastructure, “subway improvements over the last 20 years have been remarkable,” he says adding that “what took 20 years to accomplish could quickly unwind if we don’t continue to invest and repair.”

Later, when asked by GlobeSt.com for his reaction to the whittling down of transportation money in the Federal Economic stimulus plan, Sander praised the New York politicians, especially Congressman Jerrold Nadler.

Regarding the plan for New York City, “they are obviously dealing with a broader envelope as the President is dealing with terms in trying to develop a stimulus package for the recovery of the entire nation,” Sander told GlobeSt.com. “We are one piece of that.”

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