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.