Lhota: East Side Access now expected in 2019

By · Published in 2012

While speaking with the Long Island Association earlier this morning, MTA Chairman Joseph Lhota let slip the news on East Side Access that has been a few months’ coming. “We were originally looking at 2018, but the most recent analyses puts the opening at 2019,” Lhota said. “I don’t want to see it go past 2019.” has more:

The problem with East Side Access isn’t digging below Grand Central Station, where “cavernous tunnels” have been carved out, but on the Queens side of the project. Tunneling underneath the Queens rail yard near Jamaica, where trains from Amtrak and Acela are stored in addition to MTA’s own vehicles, has become an issue.

Contaminated soil languishes and must be disposed of properly, and unlike closer to the water, the ground is soft rather than rocky. Lhota said workers have also run into springs and brooks that nobody knew existed below the surface. The MTA has brought in experts from Europe to help with developing a plan going forward.

To call this a nightmare scenario for the MTA would not be hyperbole. Initial estimates, clearly optimistic, placed the completion date during 2012, and the timeline slipped first to 2014 and then to 2016 and then to some undetermined date in the future. Now, it seems, we will have to wait seven more years for this project, with substantial tunneling completed, to see revenue service.

There is, as yet, no word what this timeline will mean for the costs. I’ll have more info as I receive it. At least for now those bemoaning Metro-North service into Penn Station will have a good decade to refine their arguments.

* * *
(Update 5:30 p.m.): Later in the day, the MTA put out the following statement as the authority acted to temper down fears of a never-ending project:

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is reevaluating the risks in the construction schedule for the East Side Access project, and plans to present its findings to the Capital Program Oversight Committee later this month. One preliminary analysis of risk factors has indicated the completion date may move to 2019, as East Side Access construction intensifies in the busiest passenger rail yard and the largest passenger rail interchange in the nation.

The analysis is not complete, and the MTA is identifying ways to mitigate those risk factors to allow the project to be completed as early as possible. The MTA continues to work with its partners at the Federal Transit Administration to update the East Side Access funding agreement to reflect the new schedule.

Amtrak and the MTA are working closely together on East Side Access and improvements to the East River tunnels and the Harold Interlocking to accommodate the roughly 500,000 passengers who rely on 1,200 train movements through the region each day. Senior executives at Amtrak, the MTA and NJ Transit regularly meet to coordinate construction activities and do everything possible to keep work moving forward.

We’ll have a more definite timeline later this month when the MTA Board gathers to discuss this delay-plagued project.

51 Responses to “Lhota: East Side Access now expected in 2019”

  1. Eric F says:

    You forgot to reiterate that ARC would have come in on time and on budget.

    • Alon Levy says:

      ARC Alt Cavern probably wouldn’t have. ARC Alt G probably would have.

      I forget which blog it was where I gave a link to the YouTube video of Celebration after Christie announced the possible cancellation. I only turned sour after Christie ignored all the cheaper alternatives.

      • Bolwerk says:

        I don’t think Christie’s fans understand that political positions can actually be more nuanced than just “yes” or “no.”

      • Nathanael says:

        Oh, ARC Alt G probably would have been delayed — by NIMBY building owners suing. But it would have come in on budget and the *construction* would probably have come in on time. (The Alt G path is on one of the best mapped underground areas in the city, so no “mislocated utility” or “unexpected ground conditions” problems.)

  2. pea-jay says:

    Well at least the SAS will be partially operational to take off some of that pressure on the Lex when all those LI’ers flood into GCT.

    • Eric F says:

      You obviously didn’t hear the second half of his speech (kidding).

      • al says:

        ” Tunneling underneath the Queens rail yard near Jamaica, where trains from Amtrak and Acela are stored in addition to MTA’s own vehicles, has become an issue.”

        Sunnyside Yard is not near Jamaica. Its far closer to the East River.

        “Lhota said workers have also run into springs and brooks that nobody knew existed below the surface. The MTA has brought in experts from Europe to help with developing a plan going forward.”

        Why the hell they didn’t run horizontal bores and measure pore water pressure and get soil cores? It you use a Ditch Witch. It costs a few million but you can detect underground soil conditions and save time, and thus save money. It can be a little tricky, but its far better than vertical bores. Those can only see what is directly below the drill pad.

        • Nyland8 says:

          The results of the horizontal bores wouldn’t have changed the path of the tunnels. They’d still have to address the water issues.

          • al says:

            They would had known of the soil conditions and designed solutions for it years ago. Time is irreplaceable. Once its gone, you can’t get it back.

            • Jerrold says:

              And, it’s strange that the softer the soil, the more difficult it is for the MTA to tunnel through it.

              Back when the British and French were building the “Chunnel”, I remember reading that what they had to tunnel through under the English Channel was chalk marl. That substance was described as “a tunnel-builder’s dream”, that has the soft consistency of a bar of soap.

              It seems that here, soft ground is a tunnel-builders nightmare, or at least we’re being told that it is.

              • Jonathan says:

                I’ve also heard that hard rock is the main cause of high tunneling costs in New York. I think it’s pretty much whichever is convenient.

                • Nick Ober says:

                  I also think it depends upon the type of TBM used. MTA most likely is using one designed for hard rock and is thus in a pickle. On the new IND Second Avenue Line they’ve had to freeze the ground along some stretches because of the soft ground.

                  It does seem though that they should have been able to figure this out 10 years ago when this project was being planned but of course that would be too easy…

                  • NP says:

                    No, the TBMs used in Queens yard were specifically designed for soft ground and were brand new when they arrived from Europe (Italy?). In fact these machines will have the opposite problem — they will not be able to bore through hard rock if such were encountered except for not too large boulders.

                • Nathanael says:

                  Hard rock is slow, but easy to tunnel through.

                  Soft dry rock (chalk) is fast and easy to tunnel through.

                  WET rock, soil, and clay, are a pain in the neck to tunnel through. This is why there are so few tunnels in London south of the Thames, and most of them are very modern.

                  In the East Side Access case, they knew they were dealing with wet conditions and ordered the appropriate TBMs. I assume all the soil has turned out to be full of toxins from the railroad yards and previous industrial (oil storage) uses, but they anticipated that too.

                  Discovering new underground springs is another level of trouble, however, and it sounds like that’s what’s delayed the project. You have to dig out special culverts for those things, period.

                  • Nathanael says:

                    Judging from the public statements, it sounds like the contaminated soil remediation plan wasn’t complete, as well. That’s an unforced error.

                    The underground springs require a project redesign and will raise the price; no avoiding that.

        • petey says:

          “Sunnyside Yard is not near Jamaica.”

          right, i wondered if there was some invisible yard near jamaica where all this was happening

  3. Ramiro says:

    When did they start this project? It feels like it will take over 12 years to build, which is insane.

      • Eric F says:

        They got their permits in 2001. Did they really wait 5 years to start building? They must have started the permit process in the early 90s. Note: this is why most politicians want nothing to do with this stuff. Unless you have a family dynasty going or are a senator for life, nobody with your name is going to be around when the thing is done.

        • Nathanael says:

          “Did they really wait 5 years to start building?”

          Yep. Collect funding commitments, go through the very slow NYS bidding process, etc.

  4. Paul says:

    With or without Jimmy Roemer doing the payroll on this project how much overbudget will this be over the $1 billion dollars reported in Sunday’s Daily News.

    • Jerrold says:

      WHO IS Jimmy Roemer?

      • Paul says:

        The convicted crook running the East Side Access payroll for the MTA contractor. He was convicted and spent some prison time for stealing 410 million from the big overbudget rehab of the rental MTA building at 2 Broadway fiasco. Big news in Sunday’s Daily News and also in today’s DN. Suprised SAS didn’t feature that story.

        • Paul says:

          That’s supposed to be stealing $10 million.

          • Spendmore Wastemore says:

            What the heck’s wrong with that guy.
            Steals only $10 million?
            Funny how such people always get disproportionately short sentences. Go do $10M worth of gas station holdups and see what century your sentence runs to.
            1 year per $100K is a good start.

        • Timing. I haven’t had a chance to write it up yet. It’s on tap.

  5. Matt says:

    “Tunneling underneath the Queens rail yard near Jamaica”

    That would explain the delay: they’re digging 10 miles east of where they were supposed to. 🙂

  6. The MTA has brought in experts from Europe to help with developing a plan going forward.

    Why didn’t they do this from the beginning? If Horodniceanu knows that the Spanish are the cheapest/fastest/best tunnelers, why didn’t he have them consulting on the project from the start, before it became the world’s most expensive subway tunneling project?

    • Steve S. says:

      Because the powers-that-be don’t care about any technical innovation beyond our borders?

    • Redbird says:

      Don’t forget that the lead contractor on the tunnels project and Manhattan structures is Dragados, a leading Spanish tunneling firm. The JV partner, Judlau is partially controlled by OHL, another Spanish firm.

  7. Jerrold says:

    Maybe next week they will give us a realistic completion date for the Second Avenue Subway.

  8. Mike G says:

    “Lhota said workers have also run into springs and brooks that NOBODY KNEW EXISTED below the surface”

    Did no one look at a map??? Dutch Kills Creek is just over 2000′ feet away. SURPRISE!!!!!!!!


  9. NP says:

    The Yard Lead tunnel and the A tunnel were completed earlier this year. I believe that the D tunnel is underway with the B/C one either started or to be started soon (it was supposed to have been started 2 weeks ago). What is the exact problem that they are having? Are the tunnels leaking? Given that this is soft ground was that not expected even without an underground creek? Or are they having problems stabilizing what is on top of the tunnels, which is Amtrack’s and NJ Transit’s yard?

    As for the contaminated soil, why can’t they just move it off-site and treat it there rather than here? Why is this causing delays?

    • Nathanael says:

      Good question about the contaminated soils.

      With regard to the creek, it sounds to me like they hit an underground spring which was previously quietly moving sideways underground. Now they’ll have to build a culvert for it.

  10. David Brown says:

    I do not believe for a second that they were unaware of stuff like springs & brooks, and how long it would take to actually complete it (Of course, they did forget to build a northbound 6 train transfer at Bleeker/Broadway-Lafayette, and spent over $100m to remedy it, so you never know). All the MTA knows how to do is borrow and spend hard earned taxpayer money (Particularly if it involves sticking it to Long Islanders, and (or) those who work there (Guess why Mangano got rid of them?)). What they did was push this white elephant project, that really could have been done cheaper (Fixing up the Hunterspoint Avenue Station, and making it a four train track, would have offered an easy trip to Grand Central (They are already upgrading Vernon-Jackson, Hunterspoint Ave (7) and the Steinway Tunnel so why not do it?) But that makes too much sense). When the TWU came up with the term “Money Taken Away” for the MTA, they actually underestimated how right they are.

    • al says:

      1) The IRT was built by August Belmont in the first 3 decades of the 1900’s, not the MTA, which wasn’t around until the 1960’s. They City (IND) was the builder and it was during the Depression when Broadway-Lafayette opened.

      2) The Flushing Line is already operating close to max capacity peak direction during AM rush between Grand Central and LIC. It CAN NOT carry another 24,000-36,000 passengers between 8AM and 9AM that ESA will. If they run 40tph on the 7 with CBTC, it is a bump in 14,500 passenger per hr. However, that necessitates building another yard for 12-15 new train sets. It also requires reconstruction at 111th st or Willets Pt for conversions to high capacity (20tph) terminal because Main St can’t handle 30 tph much less 40. The E is at crush loads Manhattan bound during AM peak. The M (was V) is supposed to be the relief valve for the E.

      • May says:

        Long story short: We need more subway lines. But given the seeming inability to complete the SAS, I guess nothing else will never happen. Pity.

    • lenny says:

      Actually its but I do agree with your sentiments.

  11. Mkeit says:

    I think Lhota is wrong. The delay IS in Manhattan. The contractor on the Manhattan tunnels and caverns-Dragados-is 2 years behind schedule.This delayed the cavern finish contract. In addition, part of Dragados contract was taken away and added to the next one-CM012R.
    All MTA reports have said that the Queens Tunnel contract was on time or ahead of schedule. Any delays in queens were caused by Amtrak not allowing access and replacement od catenary and signal towers.

    • NP says:

      You are right, this is the first time we hear about the Queens work being a cause for delays. Also for Manhattan they were re-sequencing the work in order to allow more access points for the future contracts …

  12. John-2 says:

    The MTA already had a water problem while building the 41st Avenue tunnel connection to the IND Queens Blvd. line, and that was known over a decade ago. The distance between there and the Sunnyside portals is only about 2,000 feet, so it’s hard to believe the planners wouldn’t factor in that if there’s a water problem in the first spot, the second tunnel running under the initial subway connection might run into similar problems.

    (Maintaining the structural integrity of the Amtrak yard seems to be the biggest potential problem. Lose the yard and rail car storage for Trans-Hudson trains becomes a major problem, but if the MTA and Amtrak could find some alternative storage location for at least a short period while shoring up the yard supports could take place, they should be able to avoid as huge a delay as Lhota is currently projecting.)

    • Dibis says:

      “They” certainly can not project a consistent message. In February of this year “Thompson [Senior Program Manager for the project’s construction management team] said settlement has been negligible. The Yard Lead machine excavated under the tracks with minimal impact to the railroad operations above, he said.”
      There’s more in the Tunneltalk article

      One of my take-aways from all the reported information is “the whole thing is a crock of you-know-what”. Which reinforces the public perception of MTA/NYC incompetence, corruption, BS, etc.

      Seattle has started it’s VERY-large bore tunneling project near their waterfront to replace an old viaduct. Completion scheduled for 2015: will it happen, based upon the MTA experience?


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  2. […] Joe Lhota previewed what had long been rumored concerning the East Side Access Project. The MTA did not anticipate finishing the project until mid-2019. For an agency long accused of mismanaging large-scale construction projects, this news was not […]

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