Home Capital Program 2015-2019 A five-year capital plan a little less ambitious

A five-year capital plan a little less ambitious

by Benjamin Kabak

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.

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36 comments

Seth Rosenblum April 4, 2012 - 3:23 pm

I for one think CBTC and an updated signal system is super-sexy. Why build massive multi-billion dollar system expansions if the number of trains they’re running is limited by a 100-year old system? Improve the infrastructure now so that you don’t have to double the costs on expansions.

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Larry Littlefield April 4, 2012 - 5:44 pm

Unfortunately, there are still terminal capacity constraints, yard storage constraints, etc.

Now that the Canarsie Line has CBTC, the lack of tail tracks at 8th Avenue is the capacity limitation. There may be one at the other end, too.

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al April 4, 2012 - 10:54 pm

They could add a retarder system that would activate if the train goes beyond a certain velocity profile towards the bumper block. They use them in hump yards to regulate speeds at rail car classification yards.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Retarder_(railroad)

That would eliminate the need for very slow entrance into the terminals.

As for train yard capacity, they could park 2-4 (depending on terminal layouts) trains per subway line at the terminals overnight. Platform edge doors along with tunnel track doors enclosing the ends of the trains might be a way to convert express stations into overnight layup spaces. Another option could be lockable doors and sheds on express/middle/layup tracks to store trains overnight. They would be the among the first to enter service in the ramp up for the morning rush.

They could also rebuild the elevated structure in certain locations. North and south of Atlantic Ave on the Canarsie Line can yield an additional space for 4-7 trains. North of Gun Hill Rd you could add a 4-6 train storage shed on the lower level. There’s also space in Howard Beach for 6-12 train shed along the ROW or covering the middle tracks of the Rockaway branch.

Lastly, they could deck over the open air yards to double capacity there. But that would be most expensive.

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pea-jay April 5, 2012 - 12:01 am

How much would it cost excavate a little stub track past the station walls at 8th Av? Couldn’t it be done bit by bit during overnight hours, one track at a time?

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Bolwerk April 5, 2012 - 12:57 am

As far as I know, this wouldn’t be hard.

But: isn’t it rather pointless without a similar project at Canarsie, which might be impossible?

(I guess the could always build another spur off the L to terminate elsewhere. Hell, Myrtle in Ridgewood could probably use it!)

Alex C April 5, 2012 - 1:20 am

Well the Canarsie ROW used to extend all the way to Canarsie Piers, so there’s precedent. The ROW has entirely been covered over by housing and a school, though. So any extension would have to go down the LIRR Bay Ridge branch…which actually looks like a decent idea.

al April 5, 2012 - 1:45 am

A cross bklyn line. But that could eliminate freight rail. A stub might work if it doesn’t go beyond the existing Linden Yard. Another option is to convert the Atlantic Ave structure to a short run L terminal.

Bolwerk April 5, 2012 - 12:21 pm

A I remember, the L terminal in Canarsie is roughly at grade with a street.

We still live with the legacy of the old service to the pier, oddly. There is a bus transfer in the terminal.

al April 5, 2012 - 1:52 am

2 words: Utility relocation. The station is shallow in unconsolidated soil, not bedrock. It would be extensive and much of the work needs to take place on the street too. On the off chance that there isn’t anything within 100′ beyond the wall, you’ll still need to ensure the stability of the surrounding buildings’ foundations. That means underpinning, soil improvement, and maybe slurry walls or ground freezing.

Al D April 5, 2012 - 2:37 pm

Maybe part of Lhota’s non sexy or haus frau expansion will include tail tracks at 8th Ave and a new exit at 9th Ave. Heck, if they did that, they can even rename the station: “8th Ave/Meatpacking”!

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Al D April 5, 2012 - 2:39 pm

Sorry for the double post, but maybe Apple can build/brand maintain that exit (9th Ave)

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Alon Levy April 7, 2012 - 5:01 pm

…and why would Apple want to do that? Google, maybe…

Coming to think of it, why would Apple (or Google) even be able to do that? Public works is not its core competency. ExxonMobil doesn’t make devices, JR East doesn’t drill for oil, and Apple doesn’t build subways.

Bolwerk April 8, 2012 - 1:16 am

Funny you should say that. I was in a conference on business strategy recently and some of us got into a debate about Apple’s core competencies. Nobody could really pinpoint one, to my satisfaction anyway.

(I couldn’t either, but I leaned more toward Apple mastering marketing/imaging.)

Nathanael April 13, 2012 - 1:54 am

Marketing and design. Period. They’re kind of terrible at everything else, actually.

Kai B April 5, 2012 - 8:23 am

I don’t know what happened (CBTC?), but I’ve seen a dramatic improvement in speed rolling into 8th Ave over the last couple months. I barely seems slower than any other station anymore.

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civita April 4, 2012 - 3:50 pm

Benjamin, why did you spell “pique” with an accent?

http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/pique

The word is pronounced like ‘peek.’ If it were spelled with that accent, it would almost certainly be pronounced ‘peek-ay.’

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Benjamin Kabak April 4, 2012 - 3:51 pm

iPad autocorrect did that.

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Phantom April 4, 2012 - 9:30 pm

I hate this feature of IPad

Must see if it can be turned off

It creates more typos than it prevents

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David Brown April 4, 2012 - 4:31 pm

There is little doubt in my mind that Phase 2 will be completed. As for the other parts, the problem is it will take decades to complete. Unless Congress funds it, or their is horse trading (ex: more stuff for Long Island). As for LI, most people know that for LIRR East Side Access to work, the LIRR should meet up with the Second Ave Subway (Phase 3).

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SEAN April 4, 2012 - 5:41 pm

David, I realize you were only giving an example with Long Island, but you can only horse trade if population trends are favorable in the longterm. As for Putnum, Dutchess, Nassau & Suffolk Counties are concerned, those trends aren’t there. As some recent polls indicate there might be a mass migration from LI in the next half decade do to cost of living & todays 20 & 30-somethings don’t want to be stuck in car dependent boring suburbia.

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David Brown April 5, 2012 - 5:11 am

When it comes to horse trading EVERYTHING is about Long Island (Specifically NASSAU County), because that is where the Republican Majority Leader Dean Skelos is from, and without Long Island, the Republican Party would disappear from NY State. Senate Minority Leader John Sampson (D-Brooklyn) even talked about redistricting the Republican Party out of existence if the Democrats would have captured the State Senate (Only a close election victory of Jack Martens in North Hempstead prevented that). For that reason alone, upstate Republicans will scream bloody murder, but do whatever is necessary to keep those seats in LI (Including borrowing to fund East Side Access and the Second Ave Subway). By the way, if you saw Gov. Cuomo’s Infrastructure Plan, you will know a good chunk of it is going to be targeted upstate and NOT Long Island (Except the LOng island Expressway (LIE)related stuff such as the 110/LIE exit 49 in Melville & the Kosciuszko Bridge replacement (Which feeds right into the LIE)), that is what the Upstate and Hudson Valley Republicans got in exchange for passing the budget.

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Nathanael April 13, 2012 - 1:56 am

Upstate Republicans are severely endangered as well, but they have been doing an extreme gerrymander to keep their positions in the State Senate.

Andrew “the sellout” Cuomo actually signed it, but it’s *unconstitutional*, so hopefully the courts will overturn it.

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Nathanael April 13, 2012 - 1:55 am

I think we will need to fight for phase 2.

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AlexB April 4, 2012 - 7:04 pm

I completely understand that times are tough, money is tight, etc., etc. However, the other phases of the 2nd Ave subway have been on the drawing board for years and years but nothing has been done to advance them. If there were any sort of real interest from the government to build the next phases, there would be all sorts of thing under discussion about how to make it happen:
– Bonds or sales tax increases would be on the ballot.
– Bloomberg would be talking like LA’s mayor trying to leverage tax dollars to secure federal loans.
– A separate authority independent of the MTA could be created to expedite the process because the MTA obviously has better things to do.
– Cuomo could have included phase 2 in his list of projects to expedite.

If there were enough energy, all phases could be under construction at the same time and we could have the full line within 10 years from now. Unfortunately, no one in charge will see any reward whatsoever by making this happen – hence the reason it took 80 years for the first 3 stops. If this is ever to get built in our lifetime, it would a lot of pressure from many specific interest groups as well as the general population.

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Jerrold April 4, 2012 - 8:12 pm

Especially the LAST one on your list (“Cuomo could have……”).

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Alex C April 4, 2012 - 11:05 pm

Cuomo could have…but it’s just a subway. Everybody knows subways don’t matter. Just drive if you need to go somewhere. – Prince Cuomo

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Nathanael April 13, 2012 - 1:57 am

Prince “Frack upstate” Cuomo.

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John-2 April 5, 2012 - 2:00 am

Lhota’s comments about “longer platforms and more entranceways” are interesting, if he’s talking about expanding trains on the Eastern Division to 10-car lengths. The volume on the L has gotten to the point where 10-car trains are viable, if linked with new station entrances at the eastern end of platforms at First Avenue and in Williamsburg, while extending the platforms to 600-feet on the B’way-Brooklyn and Myrtle Ave. lines would also help restore some of the capacity lost on the Queens Blvd. local and 53rd St. when the M replaced the V two years ago.

You’d still have some logistical work that wouldn’t be easy – relocating the switch at Metropolitan Avenue, redoing some of the el trackage near island stations to handle 600-foot platforms, and doing that same thing to the eastbound platform at Essex Street (as well as the other Nassau Loop stops, if the J/Z also were extended to 600 feet trains). And the MTA would have to invest in a bunch more R-143/R-160 ‘B’ units to turn those four-car sets into five-car ones. But if Lhota is serious about adding capacity by adding to car and station lengths, that seems to be the most logical place to start (Lex riders might disagree, but 11- or 12-car 4, 5 and 6 trains would create even more logistical problems than adding on to Eastern Division stops).

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Alex C April 5, 2012 - 2:13 am

Agreed on the BMT Eastern division platform extensions. Only issue is, how will the MTA train lengths? Will they do proper upgrades on the 4-car sets (propulsion and other equipment to match C-car) before adding the 5th C-cars? Or will they half-ass it like they did on the 7 and leave the original cars as is (with CBTC equipment installed, of course) and add in the extra car with a different propulsion system? The R142A’s on the 6 already have awful heavy bucking during acceleration and deceleration and loud brake squeal. Seeing as how ten years in service has them handling like 48-year-old R32s with matching equipment throughout the train set, I imagine having an 11th car with a different propulsion system will only increase the fun.

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al April 5, 2012 - 2:41 pm

The former BMT Eastern Divisions ran eight 67′ car sets, making 536′ trains. The platforms are at least that long. That is long enough for all the doors on a nine 60′ car (540′ trains) to fit. So how about going with 9 car sets on the Eastern Division. A small increase in ridership on the C train will also warrant going with 9 or 10 car sets.

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Al D April 5, 2012 - 2:51 pm

At this point, 12 car L trains would barely be enough. And they are STILL building in Williamsburg/Greenpoint/Bushwick. So the worst crowding is yet to come…

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Alon Levy April 7, 2012 - 5:11 pm

It’s all a question of how often the trains can run.

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Bolwerk April 8, 2012 - 1:31 am

One thing we know about most of the system: more often. That’s true even on the L, most of the day.

That means, this thing about longer platforms/trains is a distraction. There’s a cheaper capacity expansion: more trains, with all trains OPTO. I understand the politics of not doing it in a single fell swoop, but Lhota isn’t even moving in that direction.

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Bolwerk April 8, 2012 - 1:26 am

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.

You know, comments like this send the signal that Lhota’s job is to just sit on the lid so the water doesn’t boil over, not to improve the system.

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