STATEMENT OF E. VIRGIL CONWAY, CHAIRMAN
METROPOLITAN TRANSPORTATION AUTHORITY
ISTEA Reauthorization
April 7, 1997

Chairman Warner, Senators Moynihan, Baucus, Lautenberg, distinguished members of the committee, and our dear friend, Senator Al D'Amato, chairman and member of many other committees, it is a pleasure to join you today to discuss the impacts of ISTEA reauthorization on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

When ISTEA was first adopted by the 102nd Congress, it marked an important moment in the development and maintenance of our Nation's public transportation facilities because ISTEA recognized that transportation is not simply about moving vehicles, it's about moving people.

No organization moves more people more efficiently than the MTA. The MTA is the largest public transportation provider, by far, in the western hemisphere. Every day 5.5 million people travel on the MTA facilities, and annually more than 1.7 billion customers use our rail or bus service.

Our significance is based not only on the number of people we move, but also on the economic importance of our region. That is why we are particularly concerned with the outcome of this year's ISTEA reauthorization process and how it will affect the Federal transit investment.

But I did not come here today looking for a handout. The MTA has a proud history of local effort. To begin with, virtually our entire transit network -- estimated value of $300 billion -- was built with private and State and local dollars long before Federal funding existed for these needs.

Today, while Federal funding is a critical component of some of our most important projects, it accounts for 28 percent of our overall capital program. It's the largest public works rebuilding effort in the Nation's history.

Perhaps this explains why we have taken such dramatic steps to improve the efficiency of our operation.

Our current operating financial plan calls for a reduction of more than $3 million in operating expenditures and increases revenues by $308 million. But even while we have dramatically improved the operations of the MTA, making ourselves more self-sufficient, there are still substantial capital needs that must be addressed to ensure the continuing growth and success of our region.

I might say at this point that we have been fortunate, indeed, to receive 50 percent of the funding amount we needed for the 63rd Street Connector to date through the efforts of Senator D'Amato and others, Senator Moynihan. They both spoke so eloquently. We promise to continue this connector and complete it. I made a personal promise to Senator D'Amato, which I plan to keep, that we'll have a shovel in the ground to continue that project by 1998, and that we will complete it early, if possible.

Senator Moynihan, we thank you for what you did in connection with that.

We applaud the effectiveness and direction of ISTEA legislation under the transit title, and we are also concerned that the flexible fund category be maintained.

The MTA, between 1992 and 1996, received $352 million under flexible funds for congestion mitigation, air quality, and surface transportation funding. Many projects that were very important could not have been completed and would have been under-funded.

Even the 63rd Street Connector, which got the lion's share of its funds from other ISTEA sources, received $45 million of the congestion mitigation funding. That has been named, of course, as one of the most cost-effective new starts by the FTA, and once it is open it is going to benefit over 400,000 taxpayers.

Flexible funds were also used in the Grand Central Terminal's sky ceiling restoration. We have roughly 500,000 commuters that pass through there each day.

Flexible funds have been used for many other sources that are very important to our transportation system.

Governor Pataki strongly supports the initiatives and the number of improvements that are likely to be made in the future that are excellent candidates for ISTEA flexible funding.

Before concluding, I'd like to speak briefly about the STEP 21 movement. STEP 21's underlying philosophy adheres to the principle that each State is entitled to its own revenues and is responsible for its own need.

According to Senator Moynihan's always-important report each year, "The Federal budget and States," in 1995 we sent $18 billion more to the Federal Government than the State received back. Over the last 15 years, our deficit would be nearly $200 billion. It's very unfair, the STEP 21 proposal, to a State like New York that doesn't generate a high level of gas taxes but shoulders more than its share of the overall national burden as far as transit goes.

ISTEA has proved to be a rational and highly-effective piece of legislation that recognizes heightened significance of public transportation today and in the future.

We strongly recommend the reauthorization of the legislation and the continuation of the flexible funding categories, and we look forward to working with the various committees to help modify the legislation in any way which we can improve it, but I hope that it is reinstituted and I certainly thank you for the wonderful opportunity to address this committee.