Mobilizing the Region

Issue 227 July 2, 1999

NY Planning Review: Going Through the Motions?

In the first week of August, the FHWA and the Federal Transit Administration will begin their 3-year review of the NY Metropolitan Transportation Council (NYMTC), the federally-designated "metropolitan planning organization" that is supposed to coordinate transportation plans and investment for downstate NY.

The 1996 NYMTC performance review found the body lacking in a variety of areas, mostly in inter-agency cooperation and decision making. The Campaign and other groups urged the feds to decertify NYMTC and order its restructuring. Although some federal staff supported this position, the feds issued a conditional certification with directions that NYMTC correct several technical deficiencies. The feds failed to address the fundamental issues that their reviews had raised.

Despite a number of promising NYMTC staff initiatives, these structural issues remain. There are no significant instances of cross-agency cooperation in the downstate region, and the NYMTC forum is irrelevant to the mounting debates over which major infrastructure investments the downstate NY region should pursue, and various choices can be paid for.

To some extent, NYMTC's dysfunction reflects the larger cross-currents that frequently paralyze politics and decision making in New York. On the other hand, Governor Pataki controls the big constituent agencies and most of the money that flows through NYMTC. He could use the forum to knock heads together and get important projects moving to a far greater extent than he has done so far.

The federal agencies should make clear at the outset this year whether they intend to act upon their findings, or whether they are simply launching another windy, time-consuming bureaucratic procedure.

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