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M.T.A. lags in spending to combat terrorism

(The following article by Sewell Chan was posted on the New York Times website on March 19.)

NEW YORK -- Two years after the Metropolitan Transportation Authority said it would spend $591 million to fortify its transit network against a possible terrorist attack, officials said yesterday that they had begun spending only about half of that sum.

About $200 million worth of security-related work will be started by the end of the year, representatives of the authority said at a City Council hearing yesterday.

In addition, the authority's board approved about $100 million last year for security-related design work.

The authority rarely discusses its security plans, and yesterday was the first time in months that officials discussed its spending on them.

"Immediately after the attacks of Sept. 11th, and for a year after that, there was a very, very intensive vulnerability assessment that was done that identified a series of projects in order of priority set by security experts," said Gregory S. Kullberg, the authority's director of capital program budgets.

The authority first announced its security program in March 2003, asked for proposals from security consultants in December 2003 and received six proposals less than a month later.

Last April, the authority's board awarded $100 million worth of security consulting work to four large engineering companies: the Jacobs Engineering Group, Parsons Brinckerhoff, the URS Corporation and a joint venture of Washington Group International and the HNTB Companies.

The consultants were hired to draw up plans to strengthen physical assets against explosives, more tightly control access to sensitive facilities and detect improper intrusion into transit properties.

Plans for surveillance devices, communications centers and "various state-of-the-art sensors" were also part of the award. So far, about $25 million to $30 million has been spent, said the authority's spokesman, Tom Kelly.

In addition, Mr. Kullberg said that $200 million worth of security-related construction would be under way by the end of the year, a sum that will include $143 million in grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for security projects.

Councilman John C. Liu, a Queens Democrat who is chairman of the Council's Transportation Committee, said it was "shocking to hear that so little progress has been made towards securing our transit system from terrorist attack." Mr. Kelly, however, said the authority was trying to act deliberately and cautiously.

Though contentious, yesterday's hearing underscored the mayor's and the Council's lack of any real influence over the subways, buses and commuter railroads that keep the city's residents and workers moving.

Last year, the city contributed $249.3 million to the $4.3 billion budget of New York City Transit, the authority's largest subsidiary, which runs the buses and subways. The city's share goes toward free rides for students, discounted fares for the elderly and van services for the disabled, in addition to general operations.

Notwithstanding his limited role in transit matters, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has joined the grumbling that erupted after three power failures disabled the Lexington Avenue subway lines on Wednesday.

"I don't know that you can go and accuse the M.T.A. of being lax," he said yesterday during his weekly radio program on WABC-AM. "What you certainly can say is that we have not made the kinds of investments that we should make in the M.T.A.'s infrastructure, so that the equipment that the M.T.A. people, employees, have to deal with is old, antiquated and wearing out."

At the hearing, the authority's officials hinted at the cuts that might be made if Albany did not provide the $17.2 billion the authority had requested for basic maintenance and upgrades.

New York City Transit's budget director, Harvey M. Poris, said the agency's priority would be to prevent the subway's deterioration. "The whole aim of the process is not to defer maintenance standards or lessen standards or find ourselves back where we were in the 70's," he said. "It's a very careful exercise that we go through when we select which items we'll reduce."

Gary M. Lanigan, the authority's director of budgets and financial management, said "there would be tradeoffs" if cuts had to be made. Deferring the purchase of new subway and rail cars, he said, "in turn would push up our maintenance costs a bit."

Monday, March 21, 2005

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