How To Hit Up The Feds For The Big Bucks

From Bloomberg News:  The New York MTA has put a number on the cost of repairing its system post-Sandy, and it is $4.75 billion.  Initially they are going to borrow the money, but not to worry, because the Feds will pick up most of the tab:

FEMA should reimburse at least 75 percent of the agency’s losses, though the funds may take years to arrive, Chief Financial Officer Robert Foran said. He pegged the infrastructure damage at $4.75 billion .

I'm having a little trouble getting my head around a couple of things.  First, that $4.75 billion number.  The system is 90+% back up and running today, less than a month after the flooding. Could they really have spent that much money that fast?  If they paid everybody who worked on it $10,000 for the month, they would have had to have 475,000 people working on it to run up $4.75 billion.  I haven't seen those kinds of numbers of people working on it; have you?  This would be more people than live in the entire borough of Staten Island.  If anybody sees them, can you let me know where they are?

What might a real number look like?  How about 5000 people to work the first month on many parts of the system, and then 1000 people for another 3 months on the few remaining parts that need more substantial work (South Ferry station, causeway across Jamaica Bay), all at $10,000 per person month.  That comes to $80 million.  Add some for equipment like new cabling, and you are at around $100 million.  OK, that's $100 million versus $4.75 billion.  There's a difference of 47 times.  Not 47 percent, 47 times -- 4700 percent.  Something here is wildly, wildly off.  Meanwhile, the Bloomberg guy reports it totally straight, like, these guys are from the MTA, they're the experts, of course they know what they're talking about.

Well, maybe it makes sense if we take it in pieces.  There is all of one station in Manhattan still out of commission, the South Ferry station at the very southern tip of the island, which is right near the shore and got totally filled with water.  By the way, this is a brand new station, built as a boondoggle with fancy finishes using 9/11 funds after the World Trade Center bombing,  It just opened three years ago.  Anyway, how much to fix just that?

One subway station, South Ferry in Manhattan’s southern tip, was totally submerged and may alone cost $600 million to rebuild.

Wait a minute!  They may think we have short memories, but the Manhattan Contrarian never forgets.  What was the total cost of building this new South Ferry station from scratch within the past decade?  According to Wikipedia, it was originally budgeted at $400 million, and came in at $530 million.  Many people, myself included, thought that $500+ million for just one subway station was a completely ridiculous amount of money, but it did involve digging out a whole new chamber and hey it was Federal 9/11 money so it was free and let's build a Rolls Royce.

But could it possibly cost more just to repair the South Ferry station than it cost to build it from scratch just a few short years ago?  I don't believe it for a minute, but if it's true, shouldn't they scrap it entirely and build yet another new one next door?   Oh wait another minute, there already is another station right next door -- the old South Ferry station!  You don't think they filled it with old tires, do you?  In fact, the old station not only is still there, but it seems to have survived much better than the new one, because the tracks running through it work just fine.  How do I know?  Because here in a press release on what they are doing while they repair the new station, the MTA says that in the meantime the trains are using the "Old South Ferry Loop" to turn around.  The "Old South Ferry Loop" is secret code meaning the old station.

Oh, and then there's the other thing that I'm having trouble getting my head around:  The fact that it is totally taken as a given that the Feds will pony up 75% of whatever inflated number the MTA can make up.   Do the Feds now just pay 75% of whatever number you throw out as a matter of birthright?  Is there anybody out there whose job is to ask, how did this number get to be 47 times anything remotely reasonable?  I know I may be more skeptical than the average human being, but there is no possible way that the $4.75 billion is just the cost of repair of what was damaged.  They have to be using this as an opportunity to sneak in every upgrade they have hoped for for decades and get the Feds to pay for it. 

Don't we have any sense of responsibility at all to the taxpayers in the rest of the country?