Diversion, Obfuscation in Controversy Over NYC MTA’s New High Tech Surveillance Towers


… Reinvent Albany, a good government group, requested this month that the state Authorities Budget Office probe whether the MTA board knew it was voting on contracts for the towers described in documents as “architectural enhancements” that bear the state seal.

But MTA board members and officials say it’s for security measures.

“Nowhere are these referred to as security measures or anything other than architectural enhancements,” Reinvent Albany spokesman John Kaehny said. “If they want to change their story, or refer to them as something else at this point, fine.”

The complaint also accuses the MTA of splitting up the costs under multiple contracts, without enough information about total budget. A rep for the the Authorities Budget Office, which received Reinvent Albany’s complaint, said the agency is reviewing the request. …


… “How much did those towers cost?” Trottenberg asked. “I’m still confused about it, maybe I shouldn’t be, but I feel like I am, having re-pored through all the materials. I still didn’t feel like I could totally piece it together. And I will say at the time that we voted on those items, I certainly did not understand them to be these standalone enormous towers with what appears to be a price tag in the tens of millions.”

As the committee meeting was getting underway, MTA Chairman Joe Lhota made a personal appearance in the press room to tout a new online dashboard that will give straphangers more, and better, information about the performance of particular subway lines.

The straphangers, he said, “deserve to get as much information” as possible.

As he spoke, Reinvent Albany Campaign Director Liz Marcello was testifying to the board about the Gateway towers.

“[T]his board has a fiduciary duty to the MTA and people of New York to fully examine and understand the matters before it, and to be fully informed before approving contracts and spending,” she said. “Being fully informed means that the MTA board should know the total cost of projects.”


… “The concern is that $100 million in public funds were spread out and buried in six different MTA contracts without ever being approved by the MTA board,” Kaehny said.

Lhota said the board was shown the facts in a Power Point presentation. He was asked this week if facial recognition software was part of the towers.

“I’m not at liberty to discuss that and I’m not going to put my security clearance in jeopardy or talk about what security items are in there,” Lhota said.

Government watchdogs say towers at some bridges may be even taller than 25 feet, with even more security enhancements inside that have yet to be disclosed.