When the route we now know and love as the G train was completed in 1937, it was supposed to be just one part of an expansive plan to change the face of subway travel into, out of and between Brooklyn and Queens. Twenty-four years in the making, the Crosstown line, part of the Municipal Subway system, connected population centers in the city’s two most populous boroughs, and it was just a small part of the IND Second System.
As city planners constructed subway routes through Brooklyn and Queens, they provisioned other stations into their plans. Even though the funding wasn’t in place to build, say, the entire Utica Ave. subway, the Board of Transportation made sure that new stations that would eventually serve as transfer points were built as such. Thus, the IND Fulton St. stop at Utica Ave. (A/C) has a station shell that angles with Utica Ave., and the Broadway station along the G train has a six-track shell parallel to Williamsburg’s South 4 and Meserole Streets.
The IND Second System, as I explored in depth last week, never materialized, and for the better part of 73 years, the South 4th St. station has sat unused and largely forgotten. Known only to railfans and New York City historians, the station and the subway expansion plans fell to the wayside, and all that remained was a station shell, empty, abandoned and barely acknowledged by the MTA. It took, of all things, a highly illegal and dangerous street art stunt to return the South 4th St. station to the city’s consciousness.
Today, New York is engaged in its largest subway expansion effort since the IND system became a reality. Modest by the standards of the 1930s, Phase 1 of the Second Ave. Subway and the 7 Line Extension promise to improve access to underserved areas of Manhattan, but the provisioning isn’t nearly as robust as it once was. The Second Ave. Subway was once envisioned, unnecessarily so in the 1920s, as a six-track subway, but recent iterations have seen that total go from four to three to two. In this instance, while the Second Ave. Subway will be constructed to allow connections to the Bronx and Brooklyn, the MTA isn’t provisioning for anything along the route.
The 7 line meanwhile through a similar problem. Although tail tracks would potentially allow a southern extension or a potential connection eastward, the sticking point for this capital project has been the station at 41st St. and 10th Ave. Originally, the extension was to consist of two stops, but rising costs have slowly cut back those plans. At one point, the city proposed building a shell station — much like the South 4th St. ghost — at 41st and 10th so either it or the MTA could fund proper construction when the economy improved. The MTA rejected this plan when the city refused to foot the bill for it, and now, the last hope for this stop rests on the shoulders of a few federal official trying to find the money for it.
It is a gross oversight to skip even the provisioning for this station, and while the $800 million price tag is a legitimate concern, the city and MTA must figure out a way to include the ability to build it later. There is, though, one solution: The ARC Tunnel money is out there for the taking.
We know New York City officials are jockeying to secure their share of the $3.3 billion New Jersey’s Gov. Chris Christie gave up when he canceled the tunnel, and the 7 line would be the perfect destination for it. This is a capital project that needs an infusion of dollars, and the omitted station wouldn’t soak up all of the federal funds. It wouldn’t improve interstate mobility, but it would right a wrong in New York City.
In a recent short piece on the proper role of borrowing in infrastructure spending, Cap’n Transit briefly highlighted how poor spending can lead to 73-year-old station shells that go unused, but despite the labeling, the South 4th Street station doesn’t quite fit that bill. It was part of a larger plan that couldn’t get implemented because the money wasn’t there. Had the city tried to realize the IND plans after building the Broadway stop without that shell, it would have cost more and been more difficult to construct from an engineering standpoint.
Today, we’re on the verge of making a different mistake. We aren’t borrowing or finding the money to build something — a station at 41st St. and 10th Ave. — that will indeed increase revenue. The ARC money is out there, and it’s not too late to rectify this problem. But as the construction continues along the West Side, time’s a-wastin’. It will be worse to have no station at all than it is to have a 73-year-old shell just sitting there.