After a summer plagued by hours-long delays and service outages, New Yorkers’ frustration with the city’s rapidly deteriorating subway system has reached a boiling point. But while the MTA is desperately trying to close massive budget shortfalls by hiking fares in lieu of any kind of meaningful assistance from the State of New York, commuters have noticed that a series of mysterious metal towers have started appearing at the entrances of tunnels and bridges around the city.
And some are expressing frustration with Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the MTA for refusing to release any details about the towers' purpose, despite planning to spend $100 million on them.
One New Yorker, Jose Lugo, told CBS that the quickly appeared after the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel toll booths came down.
Earlier this month, Reinvent Albany asked the Authorities Budget Office to investigate whether the 'MTA board was fully informed, before approving contracts' related to the construction of the towers. The group is trying to figure out if the MTA board knew what it was doing when it approved a series of contract amendments worth some $47 million worth of expenses for the towers that currently sit at the entrance to the Battery and Queens Midtown Tunnels.
Eventually, the MTA plans to construct 18 such towers, saying only that they will serve some vague anti-terrorism-related purpose.
“It’s a bit mind-boggling that the MTA is approving $100 million for what appears to us to be big, decorative pylons,” says John Kaehny, the leader of the watchdog group Reinvent Albany. “What we’re asking for is transparency from the MTA.”
“What we're asking for is transparency from the MTA.”
But the individuals in charge are staying tight-lipped about what the towers actually do.
Cedrick Fulton, the head of the MTA's bridges and tunnels, refused to comment to media organizations asking about the towers, and MTA chaiman and former mayoral candidate Joe Lhota said he wasn't at liberty to discuss details of the project, other than to confirm that they would serve some type of anti-terrorism-related purpose.
Shams Tarek, a spokesman for the MTA, told Politico that the towers 'host cameras, traffic monitoring and other equipment related to homeland security that would otherwise have been hosted by the former toll booth structures'.
If this is accurate, then $100 million seems like a hefty price tag for such a project.
Citizens aren’t the only ones asking questions about the towers. According to CBS, some MTA board members, including New York City Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, say they know too little about the towers – especially considering that the MTA has already spent $50 million on them.
“It’s a $100 million MTA project shrouded in secrecy, with 18 of them for tunnels and bridges. So, what are they exactly?” Trottenberg said.
Let’s hope – for the MTA’s sake – that these pylons do have some kind of sophisticated functionality, and that this isn’t another classic example of the wasteful spending habits that have contributed to the subway’s present-day troubles.