The MTA must sweat the details big and small

Editorial Board

Newsday

Aug 1, 2019

It’s easy to dismiss the latest audit of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority as more of the same. But as the nation’s largest public transit system works to reorganize itself into a more streamlined bureaucracy, the authority must pay attention to issues that crop up again and again.

And while the audit released this week by state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli didn’t mention the Long Island Rail Road, the issues it raised about contractor accountability and oversight, and its concern about cost overruns and delays, apply to the LIRR, too.

The audit highlights much of what we’ve known for years, but with specifics. It sampled six projects at the New York City Transit Authority and found that problems, delays and errors led to cost overruns of $43.2 million, off a total budget of $672.2 million.

There were examples of contractors not in compliance and contractors who lacked the necessary staff on site to complete work on time. Contractor reports showed some workers were paid even though they weren’t at a project site. And in one instance, a design team failed to raise a platform edge to accommodate wheelchairs, resulting in a $617,000 overrun. These are yet more examples when the MTA wasn’t paying enough attention to the work at hand.

The MTA said the audit “cherry picks” among the thousands of projects. But as the MTA tries to transform its operations, it must improve oversight and hold contractors accountable. Certainly, the design-build process to streamline construction projects will help. And moving more projects to its Capital Construction division could provide better management.

The MTA often focuses on the big changes it hopes to make. But what this audit shows is that it’s the small stuff, platform edges and all, that can derail the agency, too.