For transit expansionists, the MTA’s recent five-year capital plans have been a little bit of infrastructure excitement amidst a system that had remained fairly stagnant for a few decades. We’ve seen the 7 line head west, the Second Ave. Subway materialize after eight decades, a transit center grow and an LIRR tunnel emerge. It is an unprecedented era of expansion for most New Yorkers.
But what of the future? We know the 7 won’t end up in New Jersey in our lifetimes. Will future phases of the Second Ave. Subway survive? Joe Lhota isn’t making any promises. As City & State reports today, Lhota spoke of behind-the-scenes investment taking center stage for the 2015-2019 capital plan. They wrote:
The future is all about tweaking the existing system, Joseph Lhota, the MTA’s chairman, told the audience at a New York Building Congress breakfast yesterday. That means updated signals to shuttle more trains through, longer platforms and more entranceways to ease the flow of commuters in and out of stations. “We’re going to have to expand our system in a way that isn’t as sexy as these four mega-projects,” Lhota said. And while such mundane efforts may not grab the public’s attention, Lhota said the aim would be to cut wait times in half. “It’s about signals,” he explained after his speech. “If we’re going to have more throughput, we’re going to put more trains on the same track, and we’re going to have to have more modernized signals.”
Politicians love mega-projects because they are clear and visible signs of progress that piqué constituent interest. There are no photo ops for a modernized signal system as there are for the launch of a tunnel-boring machine. Still, these investments are equally as important, if not more do, than a mega-project. It’s also easier and more fiscally responsible of the MTA to eye a five-year plan that won’t saddle the agency with massive debt, and upgrades that increase capacity could deliver on that goal.
Yet, this blog is named after one of those mega-projects, and it’s my firm belief that future phases of the Second Ave. subway should remain on the radar. Phase 1 is a good start, but without phase 2, SAS is but a stub. To ease congestion and provide faster service, the full line must remain a target.
We are of course getting ahead of ourselves. The MTA only recently secured funding for the last few years of the current phase. But the era of mega-projects may be nearing an end, and that is not a day for celebration.