Home Second Avenue Subway Scapegoating the SAS delays

Scapegoating the SAS delays

by Benjamin Kabak

Four years ago in 2005, then-MTA Chair Peter Kalikow promised a Second Ave. Subway — or at least part of one — by 2012. Right away, that target date seemed optimistic, and as time wore on, it became clear that the new subway extension wouldn’t become a reality until 2015 at the earliest.

As the last four years have gone by, this Phase I completion date has stretched on and on. The tunnel-boring machines have yet to arrive, and the dates just kept receding further into the distant. Early 2015, late 2015, early 2016, late 2016.

When the news broke yesterday afternoon that the Second Ave. Subway could be delayed until 2017, the city gave it a collective shrug. Media members and transit advocates seemed to express their fair share of outrage, but even Gene Russianoff, the supposed go-to guy for all things transit, excused the MTA. “It will not come as shock to the American people that the Second Ave. subway is behind schedule,” Russianoff said. “It’s a big complicated project. I think part of this is bowing to the economic realities of what money is available and when.”

Except Russianoff’s statement doesn’t jibe with reality. As The Post reported, these constant delays are the result of an overly ambitious original schedule. Tom Namako reported that “installing reinforcement walls along the Second Avenue line was taking twice as long as expected, and a contractor on the East Side Access project was defaulted for not performing the work as promised.”

Of those who went on the record yesterday, only Bill Henderson of the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee to the MTA really had anything blunt to say. “Time is money,” he said to The Post “Just stretching the project out, you have construction supervision you pay for and construction inspection. There’s costs to all of that.”

What we don’t hear are mea culpas, explanations and apologies. We get our news delivered to us based upon reports that Daily News and Post reporters have gotten through sources. We don’t hear anyone at the MTA standing up and admitting that they were overly-ambitious half a decade ago. We don’t hear anyone at the MTA explaining how, in five years, other nations built entire subway lines when we can’t even build a 30-block subway extension. We don’t hear promises for reform or accountability, and it’s time we did.

Last month, in taking about the Fulton St. Hub, another long-delayed MTA construction boondoggle, Capital Construction President Michael Horodniceanu promised a 2014 delivery date for the project. Considering that the hub was supposed to be done two years ago from today, his promise — “What I present today, I stand by. I expect you to hold me accountable to it.” — hardly seems headline-worthy. And yet because someone from the MTA had the audacity to take responsibility, it was.

Today, we deserve another session with Horodniceanu. We need to hear Jay Walder promise a thorough investigation into the causes of this delay, and we need to hear him threaten to clean house if the MTA can’t complete projects on time — or at least more on time than five years too late. A new era of accountability has to begin before politicians and the straphanging New Yorkers begin to trust the MTA. The Second Ave. Subway, a metaphor for all things wrong with New York City, will continue to serve as a stark reminder of the obstacles facing transit in the city.

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Eric July 22, 2009 - 10:29 am

Ben, I know it’s too late to have redo the project from the start, but this newest delay makes me scratch my head and wonder why they didn’t start the SAS from where it would meet/connect with already established lines.

Wouldn’t they have been able to get some of the Lexington overcrowding off years earlier as they move further and further North?

Marsha July 22, 2009 - 10:54 am

I applaud your call for explanations and apologies. I too was wondering how other nations can built entire subway lines when we can’t even build a 30-block subway extension. The public should demand answers, not just respond with a ho-hum.

A. Fine July 22, 2009 - 11:13 am

From day one, this subway was 7 years away, and 4 years later, the subway is 7 years away. What is wrong with this picture?
Second Avenue merchants are screwed for years to come and the community suffers from retail that is saying bye-bye. This should have been a quick dig and cover operation. 3 quarters of our subway system was built in less than a decade, but it takes 12 years for 30 blocks of subways because everyone is milking this for all it’s worth. Utter bullshit.

A. Fine July 22, 2009 - 11:14 am

P.S. Keep up the great work Ben!

Marc Shepherd July 22, 2009 - 11:17 am

Ben, I know it’s too late to have redo the project from the start, but this newest delay makes me scratch my head and wonder why they didn’t start the SAS from where it would meet/connect with already established lines.

Perhaps I am not understanding the question. That’s precisely where they are starting it—namely, where it can connect to the Q. There is literally no other starting point that even comes close to making sense, because there’s nowhere else that it could connect to anything. The most clotted part of the Lex is between 96th Street and 42nd Street, which is precisely the area that Phase I of the SAS will serve.

Eric July 22, 2009 - 12:40 pm

Marc, I might be very wrong in my thoughts of where the SAS construction is taking place. I thought 2nd Ave in the 90s was being dug up. With the Q in the high 50s, I don’t see how that’s close.

Perhaps my mirrored vision problems got the best of me once again and that they are digging up the 60s?

Benjamin Kabak July 22, 2009 - 12:44 pm

They are currently digging on the Upper East Side in the 90s, but Phase I isn’t a subway line in isolation. It’s going to be from 57th St. and Broadway northeast under the park to 63rd and then up Second Ave. to 96th. They started digging on the UES because it’s easier to drop the heavy machinery in on the UES than it would be in Midtown. It would have been far more disruptive to current service on the N/Q/R/W as well to start digging at the southern connector.

In the end, it doesn’t really matter where the digging starts though. Before the line can open they have to connect down to the Q at 57th and wouldn’t have opened it before reaching 96th St. had they dug north from 57th St.

Eric July 22, 2009 - 2:01 pm

Thank you, Sir!

The Daily Dig - ‘Plants Are Infrastructure Too’ Edition » INFRASTRUCTURIST July 22, 2009 - 1:08 pm

[…] New Yorkers, who have been hearing about the Second Ave subway since the Kennedy administration, will now get to savor the suspense for a while longer, as the MTA is pushing back the completion date for phase one to late 2016 (or maybe 2017). But what’s a year or two among friends? (NYT and Second Ave Sagas) […]

peter knox July 22, 2009 - 4:49 pm

Using a little common sense, I warned NYC back in 2007 that this project was a fiasco. It was never going to be completed in less than ten years at best. Now the MTA has been forced by the troublesome thing called “reality” to tell more of the truth about its ludicrous timetable for this project. But, of course, they keep telling whopping lines, and, of course, Kabak and the visitors to his pointless site, who are more interested in how to squeeze every dime out of their Metrocards, are being duped again. Everyone laments the 2017 completion date, but what about the inexcusable falsehood contained in the “only a hundred million more” price tag. Back in 2001, the MTA priced the SAS at 3.9B. Now, eight years later, with the completion pushed back at leasts five or six years, they claim the price has only gone up six or seven hundred million. Think, people! That can simply not be true. Even if they hadn’t destroyed two buildings between 92nd and 93rd St, and made themselves vulnerable to lawsuits in the hundreds of millions, the price would still have to be around 5.5 to 6 billion. I could go on and on, but what is the point? Nobody seems to care that businesses are being destroyed, apartments are being destroyed, the lives of the many elderly in the area have been destroyed. No, all that matters is that Kabak can take a ride in 2020 from Brooklyn to the Upper East Side. Great. But it is shameful that nobody out there has a brain or a heart.

Nathanael July 28, 2009 - 5:23 am

First of all, the only damaged buildings were already structurally unsound; while the MTA really should have checked on such things and had the Department of Buildings condemn them and evict everyone *before* construction started, they aren’t going to be liable for one red cent.

Second, surface work is going to drop tremendously very soon. I guess there will be some more when they actually start building the entrances, fan buildings, and so forth, but for a while almost all the work will be invisible. Businesses may proceed to cheer.

The price? Thanks to the recession, there hasn’t been any inflation. Why should the price go up significantly?

Albany-enforced oversight, but is it what the MTA needs? :: Second Ave. Sagas | A New York City Subway Blog July 22, 2009 - 4:57 pm

[…] I mentioned earlier today, the MTA needs to be held accountable for its failures. That public undertaking needs to extend far beyond a rubber stamp for high contracts and a […]


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