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Pataki budget endangers cash-strapped MTA: Liu

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In the course of more than an hour of questioning from Liu and other Council members Friday, a transit official said it would be a "challenge" to maintain the subways in good repair with the amount of money Pataki wants to provide the MTA.Critics of the governor's proposed budget maintain it underfunds the financially beleaguered MTA by $2.5 billion.Within the past week service has been halted on the Nos. 4, 5 and 6 lines by a water leak short-circuiting signals; a fire in the tunnel on the No. 7 line; and another blaze in Brooklyn that shut down the Nos. 2, 3, 4 and 5 lines, as well as 13 Long Island Rail Road trains. Signal problems Wednesday morning slowed down service to a crawl on the No. 7 line last week.At the Bayside Long Island Rail Road station Wednesday morning, a 60-year-old Bayside resident said he commutes to Midtown on the train for work. He said he usually gets off at Flushing and takes the No. 7 subway train into Manhattan, which has been plagued by delays in recent weeks. "I got delayed by the fire," the Baysider said, referring to last week's blaze in the No. 7 tunnel. "I'm a New Yorker. I've been here a lot of years. You can't get too upset about this."Over the years, however, he said there has been a decline in transit service.Liu said he would convene an emergency public hearing next week over the latest subway service outages."Another fire in the subway system? How long can the MTA continue to pass the buck? Things are getting out of control and no one is taking responsibility," Liu said.A 50-year-old Flushing woman who takes the No. 7 train to work everyday in Manhattan said her commute was delayed 30-40 minutes last week because of the fire in the tunnel."It's very bad," she said. "It takes longer than usual and you know the price is going to go up and the service is very bad."Liu, chairman of the City Council Transportation Committee, presided over a public hearing at City Hall Friday, directing questions to Gary Lanigan, MTA director of Budgets and Financial Management; Gregory Kullberg, director of Capital Program Budgets and Grant Management, and Harvey Portis, New York City Transit Budget director.Liu recalled the disruption of the Nos. 4, 5 and 6 trains on the Lexington Avenue subway line involving an estimated 350,000 straphangers March 16, followed by a fire in the tunnel on the No.7 line a day later and said:"The MTA continues to say that basic maintenance has not been reduced despite the MTA's fiscal straits. But New Yorkers find that hard to believe when the MTA fails to detect and repair a gaping hole in the two-foot-thick concrete ceiling of a subway tunnel for the past 10 years," referring to the massive shutdown last week on the Lexington Avenue line.Service was also disrupted on Nos. 2, 3, 4 and 5 trains during Tuesday's morning rush hour, which transit officials said was caused by a fire at the Atlantic Avenue station in Brooklyn. In addition, the LIRR was forced to halt 13 trains between Jamaica and Manhattan. The V and W lines to Queens also experienced significant delays.John Farrell, 52, said he has been riding the No. 7 train from Flushing for 30 years and the service has deteriorated recently.In addition to being delayed by last week's fire, Farrell said the construction on the line has slowed down service as well. He said the MTA should do a better job of informing riders of service interruptions and delays."The announcements aren't clear, so it's hard to know what's going on," Farrell said. "It's taking advantage of people here ... not telling them what's going on."Liu, long a critic of MTA Chairman Peter Kalikow, said: "I am happy to see that Chairman Kalikow is no longer running interference for the governor. While Chairman Kalikow's capital plan is fully funded and does not run the risk of increasing the burden on subway and bus riders, the governor's plan will go a long way towards increasing the MTA's debt burden and will result in more fare hikes in the near future."He also criticized the MTA for what he said was a delay in using money provided for anti-terrorist measures in the mass transit system."It is shocking to hear that so little progress has been made towards securing our transit system from terrorist attack - that only $200 million of nearly $600 million allocated two years ago to secure our subways has actually been spent," Liu said.Queens Council members Joseph Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) and Helen Sears (D-Jackson Heights) also attended the hearing.Reach contributing writer Philip Newman by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 136.

Posted 7:02 pm, October 10, 2011
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