With the Mayor’s proposed subway to Secaucus garnering headlines, the 7 line extension is back in the news again. This $2.1-billion capital plan, whose construction is funded entirely by the city but whose rolling stock is not, has progressed largely under the radar as it heads toward its late 2013 completion. Sure, the city and MTA never came to terms on a station at 10th Ave. and 41st St., but at least it’s moving forward trouble-free.
That, at least, is the narrative Eliot Brown at Capital New York puts forward in a piece that explores how the 7 train is winning. Unlike the Fulton St. transit hub debacle and long-aborning Second Ave. Subway, the 7 line extension is ostensibly on time and on budget. This potential “bargain-basement gateway to Secaucus,” as Brown calls it, has emerged as the city’s model in subway construction. He writes:
Whatever happens to the long-shot bid for the new Hudson River connector, the No. 7 extension is still within its $2.1 billion original budget and its physical progress is going swimmingly, in the context an industry where cost overruns routinely go into the billions. It also stands in stark contrast with another historic transportation project, and he only other subway extension to be undertaken by the city in the past half-century: the Second Avenue Subway.
The Second Avenue project has not gone as planned. Since ground broke in April 2007, its completion date has been pushed off repeatedly (an average of a year each year), back from 2013 to 2016 (and counting), with the budget growing from $3.8 billion to at least $4.4 billion…
The No. 7’s easy ride can be attributed to a variety of factors, one of which certainly is luck—the tunneling simply went faster than expected—and another of which is the benefit of doing a project in what is effectively the Wild West. The area is filled with low-rise warehouses and garages, not residential skyscrapers filled with vocal residents and merchants who deplore the proliferation of rats and other noxious side effects of construction. There is less of a jumble of infrastructure underground to contend with, and, with only one station, there are fewer surprises than on the three-stop Second Ave line.
But is this fawning over subway construction true? Because the 7 line is going to open what Brown terms the Wild West of Manhattan, it has escaped the same level of scrutiny to which news organizations and politicians have subjected the Second Ave. Subway. Little outrage has emerged over plans to cancel the station at 10th Ave. and 41st St. — a station that would have brought badly-needed subway service to the rapidly growing and currently underserved Hells Kitchen area. That alone is why the 7 line extension, originally budgeted for $1.9 billion, doesn’t cost $3 billion, and not fiscal control by the Bloomberg Administration, as Capital New York alleges.
In a report issued in late 2009, the Citizens Budget Commission laid bare the truth about MTA capital projects. The 7 line extension, noted the report, was first due to open in summer 2012 to coincide with the Olympics. Delays in the design phase have since pushed the revenue-service opening date back to June 2013, and the entire project won’t be completed until November 2014.
Perhaps I’m just arguing a technicality. Perhaps Brown is right to highlight the 7 line extension because it’s more of a model for future subway expansion than the delay-rife Phase 1 of the Second Ave. Subway. Perhaps progress is indeed “going swimmingly.” But I see a project in which the costs were controlled by scaling back the scope by half, and the timeline, while not suffering recent delays, is still a year or two off its original pace. Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the theater?