Plans for two high-speed busways that would shorten the commutes of Staten Islanders living in transit-starved areas have been put on pause indefinitely by the MTA amid the agency’s crushing budget crisis.
The busways –– meant to help riders who face one of the country’s longest commute times –– are two of many projects that were supposed to be funded through the MTA’s $51 billion 2020-2024 capital program. But back in June, the transit agency put major capital projects on hold as it seeks a so-far elusive $12 billion bailout from the federal government.
On Thursday, a politically diverse coalition of activists, transit unions and politicians rallied at the South Shore’s Eltingville Transit Center to push the White House and Congress to rescue the MTA.
“If your family relies on public transit, this is your fight. But if you don’t like sitting in traffic, this is your fight because we need more buses,” Councilmember Joe Borelli (R-Staten Island) said at the rally. “Too many Americans rely on the MTA each day and this is one of the only institutions in the United States of America that is really too big to fail.”
The MTA was slated to release a draft environmental impact statement this month for what’s called the North Shore Bus Rapid Transit project. The new route would travel along old railroad lines, elevated viaducts and dedicated bus lanes to pick up commuters in West and North Shore neighborhoods.
About 73% of transit commuters on the North Shore use buses that serve an area with the lowest car ownership rate on Staten Island, according to American Community Survey data.
Waiting for Years
Assemblymember Charles Fall (D-Staten Island) told THE CITY Friday he understood that the project needs federal funding but was frustrated that the MTA couldn’t say how long the delay would last.
“The city actually gives us a timeline on how long [a project] is going to be delayed. That’s what we’re looking for with the MTA,” said Fall. “Don’t just tell us it’s going to be delayed and not tell us how long it will be delayed. We’ve been waiting to see this project up and going for years.”
Luz Roque has been taking the S46 bus route on South Avenue for the past five years to get to the West Shore Plaza and the Staten Island Ferry, where the Bus Rapid Transit line would terminate. But she said the current routes available make it difficult for her to plan trips.
“I have a lot of stress in my life and this bus is one of the worst ones,” said Roque, 62, of Port Richmond. “It really is. It’s not fast enough and it doesn’t show up on time.”
The second project put on hold is the West Shore Alternative Analysis, which evaluated transportation options to serve the borough’s West and South shores.
The MTA was supposed to choose between two high-speed busway projects by April. One option would link Staten Island’s South Shore to Newark Airport and the other would connect the South Shore to Bayonne, N.J.
‘Our Commuting Nightmare’
An MTA spokesperson noted that all capital projects have been thrown into limbo as the agency seeks a federal bailout.
“This is a yet another stark example highlighting why it’s critical that the federal government provide $12 billion in emergency aid to keep the MTA running through the end of 2021,” said Shams Tarek, a spokesperson for the MTA, in a statement.
The transit agency has threatened to cut 40% of train and bus service if a federal funding infusion does not arrive. As THE CITY recently reported, the MTA’s all-or-nothing gambit has garnered criticism — including from a board member who says officials need to get a Plan B in place, given the Trump administration’s growing antipathy toward New York.
Rep. Max Rose (D-Staten Island/Brooklyn) told THE CITY in a statement that Republicans in Washington need to act quickly.
“The longer New York goes without federal aid we so desperately need, the further back we’re going to slip into our commuting nightmare,” said Rose, a freshman rep running for re-election.
“It’s why I’ve been fighting tooth and nail to get leaders in both parties to act, but the fact of the matter is Mitch McConnell and Republicans in Congress want New York to go bankrupt and couldn’t care less if Islanders are stranded without transit,” he added. “It’s disgusting partisan politics that will put people’s livelihoods on the line.”