On a chilly day in April of 2010 with skies grey and intermittent rain drops falling into a giant hole in the ground 70 feet below street level, MTA CEO and Chairman Jay Walder gathered with local politicians to launch Adi, the giant tunnel-boring machine that would be responsible for creating the Second Ave. Subway tubes. Yesterday morning shortly before 11:30, Adi completed her second run, and as a broke through into the preexisting station cavern at 63rd St. slightly east of Third Avenue, the MTA could celebrate a major milestone in a project that has taken 80 years and may still last at least another five.
“At street level it can be hard to notice progress sometimes, but down here you can see the Second Avenue Subway becoming a reality right before your eyes,” Walder said. “The completion of tunneling is an enormous milestone and further proof that the Second Avenue Subway is for real this time.”
Those two themes — street-level impact and progress that is “for real this time” — have dominated the coverage of the Second Ave. Subway work. In fact, on Wednesday night a few hours before the TBM finished its run, Second Ave. business owners again called upon someone, anyone to provide them with aid during the disruptive construction. “This is our 9/11,” one of them said less than tactfully during a meeting of Community Board 8.
The progress for real though is what officials came to celebrate yesterday. The Second Ave. Subway has come to stand for the city’s inability to see big projects through, and the jury is in fact still out on this one. Originally planned for construction during the 1930s, SAS ran into the Great Depression, a World War, the rise of the automobile and an economic slump in the 1970s. Along the way, politicians such as Sheldon Silver tried to kill the project by demanding the MTA fund it in full from one end of Manhattan to the next before starting construction, and even now, the FTA believes the MTA won’t meet its planned December 2016 revenue date.
Still, politicians were effusive in their praise. “This is a remarkable — and very welcome — milestone,” City Council Member Dan Garodnick said. “From above, it’s difficult to appreciate everything that is happening to move this project forward. But while it hasn’t always been smooth sailing, things are moving, and we can’t wait to see the first train come down the line. For straphangers on the overcrowded Lexington line and businesses in the construction zone, this is a moment to celebrate. It’s a moment that brings us closer to transit relief and to the additional infrastructure that will aid our City for many decades to come.”
Adi, the TBM, begin this journey through the east tunnel in March. The 485-ton, 450-long machine used a 22-foot diameter cutterhead to mine 7789 linear feet of rock at an average depth of 70 feet. Now that the tunnels are dug out, workers will line it with concrete as part of the permanent tunnel structure. While yesterday was a major milestone for Phase 1, though, the MTA has a long way to go. Stations must be built, ventilation shafts dug, money apportioned and future phases to consider.
Ultimately, though, SAS is keeping construction workers on the job, and as the MTA looks ahead to some debt-filled years, I have to hope that the parts of the SAS we’ll see in my lifetime don’t just involve a northern extension of the Q train. One day, the T should arrive.
“This milestone is a tribute to the skilled contractors and trades people who work tirelessly every day to solve the complex engineering challenges and build the Second Avenue Subway in the most dense construction environment in the country,” Denise Richardson, managing director of the General Contractors Association of New York, said. “With this milestone, New York comes one step closer to completing a vision of the Second Avenue Subway first planned in the 1920’s. Let’s make sure we continue to have the vision and fortitude to continue to build the transportation network that is so critical to New York’s economy and basic mobility.”
For more on this milestone, check out Ben Heckscher’s post at The Launch Box. He snapped some great photographs of the event, and there’s a video as well that I’ve embedded after the jump.