Stringer Sends Secretary Pete a Laundry List of Local Infrastructure Needs

Scott Stringer, centering infrastructure.
Scott Stringer, centering infrastructure.

He’s not mayor yet, but Scott Stringer still has a to-do list for the federal government to help upgrade the city’s infrastructure.

U.S. DOT Secretary Pete Buttigieg
U.S. DOT Secretary Pete Buttigieg

The comptroller and mayoral candidate sent a letter to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg on Thursday in which he laid out what he thought were the best ways the federal government could improve transportation in the city, including providing operating assistance for the MTA, putting together a large task force to determine the best way to tear down the city’s highways, making it easier for city’s to get that sweet federal money to help make public transportation more accessible and, oh yeah, killing Gov. Cuomo’s “wrong-way” LaGuardia AirTrain.

As anyone awake over the last year might know, the MTA went through a long financial crisis during 2020 owing to subway ridership dropping to almost nothing and then steadily holding at about 30 percent of its usual ridership. The transit agency did manage to get a pair of federal rescue packages for its devastated operating budget, but the agency’s survival depended on the second one passed after President Biden took office. Stringer suggested that Buttigieg continue to make with the federal operating support for the agency so it can provide service for off-peak riders who relied on the system during the pandemic.

“Our subway, bus, and commuter rail lines desperately need better mid-day, early morning, evening, and weekend service – especially since many of those who work outside of traditional 9-to-5 office hours do not have the luxury of working from home,” Stringer wrote. “As part of this program, annual operating grants to transit agencies should require an explicit reform to service standards so that there is a credible commitment to use these dollars exclusively for service improvements.”

The comptroller, who’s previously called for reduced price intracity travel on the LIRR and Metro-North suggested that federal money “dedicated to integrating and modernizing commuter rail” would also be a good way to improve transportation outcomes in cities like New York and across the country.

The comptroller also took the time to highlight his idea to rejigger a piece of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway as a truck-only road as an example of the kind of thinking that the federal government should look to fund in the city as it thinks about embarking on a mission to tear down highways. Stringer suggested that every inch of the 250 highway miles in the city was worth looking at in terms of capping, remaking or totally removing, and that a comprehensive planning process among the city, state and federal government could aid in the transition away from highways.

“In addition to a new federal funding stream to right these wrongs, I also encourage members of your staff to convene a joint taskforce with the New York State and New York City Departments of Transportation to develop a comprehensive plan for the five boroughs … [a] joint effort to dramatically scale back New York City highways and make necessary investments in public transit would have huge, positive ripple effects across the country,” he wrote.

Stringer gave an “Attaboy” to the U.S. DOT’s new Strategic Plan on Accessible Transportation, a federal plan to improve transportation options for Americans with disabilities, writing that the feds should get its plans out as soon as possible in order to help create “a simple, streamlined grant program for subway station ADA retrofits.”

And finally, on the subject of federal rule changes, Stringer asked Buttigieg to get the Federal Aviation Administration to take a second, death-causing look at the LaGuardia AirTrain. Specifically, Stringer said that the federal government should take another look at funding an N train extension to the airport now that the FAA has changed old rules that forbade the use of airline ticket surcharge money to be used for transportation ideas that wasn’t solely an airport improvement. Buttigieg would have to move fast on that one, since recent reporting suggested that the FAA is moments away from approving preliminary construction of the AirTrain.

Stringer is the latest candidate to rope the federal government into the city’s recovery. Former Bloomberg and Obama housing official Shaun Donovan has suggested that he can get the transit money for the MTA that he’s called for because he knows how to pull the levers of power in Washington. Andrew Yang, Maya Wiley and Ray McGuire have all gone with “I know Vice President Harris” as their answer for how they could get the federal government to fire the money cannon at the city.

Here’s the full text of Stringer’s letter to Buttigieg: