Klein on the political train

The Bronx’s co-leader in the Albany Senate has threatened a legislative logjam if a plan stalls to bring four Metro-North Railroad commuter stations to the east Bronx.

“I have sign-off on the MTA Capital Plan,” said Senator Jeff Klein, whose breakaway Independent Democratic Conference now shares power with Senate Republicans. “I’m not passing a capital plan unless this is in.”

It’s Klein’s first major attempt at flexing some political muscle for the Bronx since tipping the Senate’s power scales by sharing Senate leadership with Republican Conference Leader Dean Skelos in the narrowly divided Senate, despite the regular Democratic Conference holding the elected majority.

Klein can now block any budget bills, including the 2014 MTA five-year Capital Budget Plan, separate from the state budget, if Albany votes down the Metro-North proposal, which would cost anywhere from a $350 million to $1 billion.

“I commit to make sure that state dollars are committed to see this project to fruition,” said Klein, joined by MTA union leaders and Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., a major proponent of the plan.

They joined together at news conference on Tuesday, May 14 to unveil a study by Klein’s policy team on the potential economic boom from bringing Metro-North stations to Morris Park, Co-op City, Parkchester and Hunts Point.

Built along existing Amtrak rail, trains would crisscross Connecticut and into Manhattan’s Penn Station.

If Albany approves the plan, it will net $1.15 billion in new business revenue, boost home property values by an average of 42% and create 5,400 jobs to a borough reeling from a double-digit jobless rate, the study estimates.

Diaz said he hopes Albany will earmark the same tax dollars that went towards Grand Central Terminal, Manhattan’s Second Avenue line and the No. 7 subway line, which ran into the billions.

“This [project] would be a fraction of the cost,” said Diaz Jr., a former member of the state Assembly transportation committee.

But even if Albany approves the plan, the MTA would still have to wrangle with the Long Island Railroad to hand over several track spaces at Penn Station for the new Metro-North trains.

Diaz doesn’t anticipate that to be an issue, since 2019 is the year Grand Central Terminal’s East Side Access project will be completed, which could shift some LIRR trains over into Grand Central.

“So if we don’t get it in the next five-year capital plan,” said Diaz, “this would delay the project another eight, nine, ten more years.”

Reach reporter David Cruz at 718-742-3383.

David Cruz can be reach via e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at (718) 742-3383

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