At South Ferry, a new station with old problems

By · Published in 2012

The new South Ferry station is sporting some serious signs of water damage. (Photos via The Tribeca Tribune)

A little over three years ago, the new South Ferry terminal had an inauspicious beginning. Due to some engineering errors, the gap between the train and the platform edge was unacceptably wide, and Transit had to delay the station’s grand opening for months over a matter of inches. This hold-up was a harbinger of things to come.

Over the past few years, we’ve heard of water damage impacting the station and poor water-proofing on behalf of the MTA’s contractors. This week, The Tribeca Tribune checked in on the station, and what it found at the $530 million, supposedly state-of-the-art facility was not promising.

Jessica Terrell had the details:

Opened to great fanfare in 2009, the South Ferry Station cost the MTA $530 million to build, and the agency continues to give special attention to its daily upkeep. On any given day, a half-dozen workers armed with spray bottles and brooms keep the platform and trains pristine. But careful cleaning by MTA crews cannot hide the fact that the subway’s newest station is already showing signs of damage.

Brown sludge drips from the ceiling, congealing in large swaths along otherwise sparkling white walls. In one of the hallways, strips of paint hang where the ceiling has bubbled. Many columns along the platform are missing chunks of tile, and wall tiles along an escalator are cracked or missing altogether.

What most commuters don’t know is that ever since the station opened, the MTA has been trying to fix the leaks that are causing most of South Ferry’s problems. “Addressing the leaks has been an ongoing effort,” MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz said in an email to the Trib.

Meanwhile, the MTA and its independent engineering consultant have butted heads over the cause. Jerry Gold, the consultant, said the leaks were a result of shoddy tunneling work discovered before the station opened. By injecting grout behind the walls, this so-called remedial measure simply moved water elsewhere.

The MTA, though, blamed the station’s depths. South Ferry sits near the southern tip of Manhattan and below the water table. “Despite efforts to waterproof the South Ferry structural box during construction by the contractor, we have experienced leaks,” Ortiz said. “To remedy this problem, funding has been secured from the contractor to address the leaks through grouting.”

With money from Schiavone Construction — the contrator who constructed South Ferry and is currently working on Fulton St. — the authority conducted repairs last year, but temporary measures have not been successful. “We’ve done grouting and we need to look at other methods for a more permanent solution,” Ortiz said.

With missing tiles and water damage prevalent, the photos attached to The Tribune’s story are well worth the click-through. The story, though, gives me pause. The MTA is currently building four new subway stations in Manhattan and an overly expensive transit center at Fulton St. Should we expect better construction for our millions and billions or are we doomed to a system forever plagued by the ugliness and decay of water damage?

Categories : MTA Construction

27 Responses to “At South Ferry, a new station with old problems”

  1. MaximusNYC says:

    I was just in Amsterdam, and I was impressed to see that the main metro station is directly adjacent to one of the city’s canals. In fact, one of the entrances to the station features a 1-meter-high wall, with the canal on one side, and the floor of the upper mezzanine at the same level on the other side of the wall. I saw no evidence of even a single leak. Meanwhile, the actual platforms are 2 levels further down! The Dutch know how to engineer below the water table — it’s essential for their country’s survival. Too bad we don’t take these things as seriously… and apparently keep hiring the same contractors despite their shoddy work.

  2. Kid Twist says:

    This is disappointing. I thought the Mafia took more pride in the quality of its work.

  3. Juan says:

    “and Transit had to delay the station’s grand opening for moths over a matter of inches” moths should be months. Just saying 😉

  4. Mike says:

    I wrote my representatives and the governor asking why Schiavone Construction does not face legal action for gross negligence and defrauding the taxpayers. I hope you all do the same.

    • Paul says:

      Good idea and am doing it now also. Time to stop the MTA from working with these shoddy contractors. The TA successfully handles millions of gallons of water a day including underground streams but you don’t expect leaks all over from a newly built station.

    • BrooklynBus says:

      And this isn’t the first time the MTA has had problems with Schiavone and they continue to hire them over and over again.

  5. lawhawk says:

    Any underground structure has to deal with water penetration, regardless of location. Heck, anyone who owns a home with a full basement knows this and has to figure out water related issues accordingly. The problem is more severe in areas with a high water table, such as at the Battery (built on fill and with the NY Harbor just yards away. Remedial measures aren’t the solution.

    It goes to the original design and structures as built. Did the engineers and MTA deem the design sufficient and that they’d live with a certain level of water penetration, even though it would cause additional long-term costs and affect the overall quality of the final product? It seems that the MTA settled on the latter explanation – that the work done was inferior to the design.

    Yet, we now have to live with a certain amount of water penetration, and the “fix” is nothing more than a band aid on a gushing wound.

    Water issues will only get worse from here on out at South Ferry until a permanent solution is found (and would likely consist of ripping out the surface treatments and installing a waterproof barrier and water runoff system since they can’t stop the water from coming in).

  6. Nathanael says:

    One thing: I wouldn’t worry too much about the MTA’s other stations under construction. South Ferry is built entirely in fill, and the other stations under construction aren’t, which means they are much easier when it comes to water infiltration problems.

  7. R. Graham says:

    Regardless it’s much more difficult to water proof with the cut and cover method. You need a very experienced contractor to handle such a job with a complicated landscape and water level like the Battery.

    Tunnel boring comes with an easier task in terms of water proofing. Even though it’s not a station the tunneling under the Harold Interlocking leading into the tunnel under the East River will be much more sound water wise.

  8. Eric F says:

    “Due to some engineering errors, the gap between the train and the platform edge was unacceptably wide, and Transit had to delay the station’s grand opening for months over a matter of inches.”

    What a weird way of characterizing that! You just ran a piece noting that PTC will cost $1 billion that could have gone into capital improvements. The “matter of inches” is a matter of another federal regulation, under the ADA. A completed station had to be ziplock sealed while ADA compliance work was done. The gap was not unacceptably wide compared with the way the prior station operated.

    • Bolwerk says:

      Regulation or not, they knew about it and should have prepared.

      • Nathanael says:

        The entire contract was bid long after the ADA was law. Schiavone knew exactly what they had to do, they just didn’t do it.

        Obviously MTACC oversight was lacking too. This is a case where Schiavone should not have been paid as they did not perform according to contract.

  9. John-2 says:

    Unlike other stations, where going in to do major repairs requires a huge disruption in service, the MTA actually has a work-around here, if the problem does require going in under the tiling, walls and ceiling to do major waterproofing. They can just shut the new South Ferry station down temporarily for major (contractor-funded) repairs and go back to using the original SF station while that work is done.

    You would be back to the five-car-only problem, the moving platforms, the screeching wheels and the narrow stairs for a while, and it would be a very graphic admission by the agency it screwed up on the original work. But the option is there to fully get the repairs right instead of just doing hit-and-run patch-ups that only cosmetically solve the problem at one spot before a new leak pops up.

  10. Nick Ober says:

    Not to defend the MTA on this, BrooklynBus, but this is symptomatic of the problem that plagues public works projects in New York: there are a limited number of players that will make a bid and the MTA has to put up with contractors they might not hire again in an ideal world.

    Having said that, this totally doesn’t excuse though the gross lack of oversight by the MTA that characterized this project from start to finish. Waterproofing the box should have been priority one.

  11. Velvethead says:

    One simple question. Did Schiavone do the work as the MTA spec’d it?
    Many a time I have a seen a spec to which I say “This isn’t gonna work”
    But you bid the job as it’s spec’d. The powers to be don’t what to hear “I told you so.”

    • Nathanael says:

      In the case of the platform edge, we KNOW Schiavone did not do the work to spec.

      I don’t know about the water infiltration, but the one failure makes me suspicious that there were other failures to build to spec.

  12. Velvethead says:

    Response is to keep injection grouting the piss out of the place.
    De Neef will love this job.

  13. Think twice says:

    Behold the SAS stations shortly after they open. Mafia labor baby.

  14. UESider says:

    ok, so most stations are beneath the water table (or plenty of sources of water) – certainly somone didn’t point this out after the work was done

    it’s hard to believe that either they were surprised to learn in 2009 that, behold, at South Ferry, there’s water above! or, that they couldn’t just design the station to either keep the water out (or, at least flowing down Behind the wall), or design accordingly and NOT USE WHITE BRICK WALLS!

    why don’t the just design the walls as water cascades a la Trump tower and let the problem blend into the design??

    sounds like union labor setting their repair crews up with perpetual corrective contracts – there’s got to be a fortune to be made retiling, repainting and repairing nothing but water damaged subway stations

    nyc should be embarrassed!

    • Bolwerk says:

      sounds like union labor setting their repair crews up with perpetual corrective contracts – there’s got to be a fortune to be made retiling, repainting and repairing nothing but water damaged subway stations

      Maybe. In any case, contracts should be set so that contractors are penalized when things like this happen. The problem would fix itself.

    • Nathanael says:

      Personally I like the idea of building “water features” into the station, but I don’t think that would quite work at South Ferry.

      It should have been properly “bathtubbed”. It clearly wasn’t.


  1. […] blame on the fact that the station is below the water table, the first commenter, MaximusNYC, in this Second Avenue Sagas article states: I was just in Amsterdam, and I was impressed to see that the main metro station is […]

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