A complaint to the MTA about the absurd $4+ million renaming of the Triborough Bridge returned a shocking email admission from MTA officials. In their arrogance, the MTA (Manhattan Transit Authority) put in writing what all of us fear – our officials do not believe they need to stop their own reckless spending of our tax dollars in pursuit of their own personal and political pet projects.
The History of the Triborough Bridge
For those of you who are unaware, in early 2008 Governor Spitzer announced that the Triboro Bridge – so named for over 70 years – was going to be renamed the “Robert F. Kennedy Bridge” in honor of the New York Senator. RFK, who didn’t live in New York City during the time of his service, was assassinated almost 40 years ago. That being the case, why and how did this happen? The New York Sun reported that RFK Jr. claimed that Governor Cary promised to rename the bridge in RFK’s honor 34 years ago. Apparently pursuant to a request made by the Kennedy family, Governor Spitzer decided to make good on this alleged promise just a few weeks before his unfortunate, embarrassing resignation in March 2008. It seems that the New York Times glossed over how this renaming transpired, reporting the story as if the City of New York approached the Kennedy family in order to bestow upon them this honor. (“Family Supports Renaming of Triborough Bridge for R.F.K.” 1/8/08)
Justifying Almost $5 Million Dollars to Rename a Bridge
While it’s an unbearable nuisance to needlessly change the name of a bridge after 70 years of usage, let’s move onto the more important and interesting question – the justification of MTA and City of New York in spending at least $4-5 million (“The Triborough is Officially the RFK Bridge“, New York Times, 11/19/08) during a time when the State and City of New York are teetering on the brink of collapse and operating in a record deficit. Let me give you some background as to what motivated the letter to be sent, complaining about this needless expenditure. The MTA announced a plan to raise the cost of public transport up to 30% (yes, you read that number correctly), effective June 2009. After reporting a $1 billion operating surplus just 4 years earlier, the MTA somehow projected a $1.2 billion deficit for 2009. One can only wonder how this is even possible, considering the significant number of tourists and businesses that flourished during the early 21st century. These same officials who ran a billion dollar business into the ground faster than Brewster could dispense with his millions, seem to possess a contempt and disregard for the average New York taxpayer. It seems they believe that there simply is no end to excessive pet projects doled out at prices that we haven’t examined.
The Letter to the MTA and the MTA Response
A concerned citizen (under the nom de plume of “Robert Kennedy”) sent the following, passionate letter to the MTA interested in provoking a response that would be insightful as to how city officials could justify this needless expenditure during a time of dire fiscal emergency.
Renaming the Triboro Bridge for a cost of over $4 million – redoing websites, street signs, maps, etc. – is absurd. It’s even more disgraceful and corrupt when you’ve done this pursuant to the requests of the Kennedy Family. Considering that you’re raising fares 25% for MTA travel during the economic depression, this outlay of funding was abhorrent and reprehensible. You will be held accountable and citizens will take out their wrath upon the current MTA officials for this latest nauseating act of corruption.
The letter is rather poignant, but it unfortunately reflects the sad reality that faces New Yorkers. How did the MTA respond? By passing the buck – literally and figuratively – and tipping off the writer as to the MTA’s own carefree regard for taxpayer dollars. In an effort to portray the MTA as victims of an unfortunate situation beyond their control and not the agency responsible for the Triborough Bridge renaming, it revealed its own perspective on spending taxpayer dollars by both blaming and defending officials of the City of New York.
Response (MTA Official’s Name Removed) – 04/xx/2009 xx:xx PM
Dear Robert Kennedy:
This is in response to your comments concerning the MTA’s decision to increase fares and tolls, reduce many of our services, and reduce administrative costs in order to comply with the New York State legal requirement to have a balanced operating budget for 2009.
The renaming of the Triborough Bridge cost the MTA virtually no money, as the signage was the product of the City of New York and is truly an insignificant amount of money out of a operating budget of billions of dollars.
The March 25th MTA Board actions were the most difficult and painful policy decisions ever rendered in the 40- year history of the Authority. These horrific choices were made necessary because the MTA has an operating deficit in excess of $1 billion for 2009, and no legislative financial resources have been made available to stop this process at this time. Unless recurring and sufficient financial support is provided from our funding partners, further onerous and counterproductive service reductions and delays in completing essential capital improvements are a possible consequence in the coming years. This is shameful, disgraceful and it can be avoided with government assistance.
The MTA’s goal is to provide safe, reliable, seamless, and affordable transportation within the 5,000 square mile MTA service area. These fare and service actions run contrary to our mission, but the lack of support from the legislature, which created the MTA in the first place, has left us with no other options. This is an awful position for our customers, the recovery of the regional economy, and for our workforce. Regrettably, we are powerless to take any other measures aside from raising the cost to use our system, and/or reducing many services that have made our transportation network the standard by which all other transit systems are measured. No additional internal MTA administrative savings remain for us to achieve without sacrificing customer safety. None.
I have attached the link ( http://www.mta.info/mta/news/releases/?en=090325-HQ9) to our website that further describes the essence of the approved plan (please see our press release on the MTA website www.mta.info).
We remain cautiously optimistic that our frequent meetings with legislators and customer communication with them will allow us to cancel or postpone this plan. Thank you very much for your comments and hopefully, your understanding of this dire situation.
Dxxxxx X. Xxxxxxxxx (Name withheld)
Xxxxxxx Xxxxxxxxx (Division Withheld)
Conclusion – MTA Board Cavalier and Blameless
So let me get this straight – because the MTA wasn’t paying for the cost of the signage, the Board had no need to care whether taxpayer dollars were being spent on its behalf in a needless and wasteful manner? Since the City of New York has a large amount of money to spend, wasting millions of dollars is easily justifiable as a drop in the bucket of endless wealth? Rather than explain how the MTA Board could make a $1 billion operating surplus vanish in less than 4 years, the MTA Board blames the Legislature for the billion dollar deficit problem – because the State refuses to hand out to the Board even more funds to remedy this atrocity of Board’s own making. The horror…
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