At the rate the grade inflation in her report cards are heading, Representative Carolyn Maloney will be primed to give the Second Ave. Subway an A+ just in time for it to open in late 2016 — if it indeed opens in late 2016. After giving the project a B- in 2009 and a B in 2010 and 2011, Maloney has now given the project a B+, its highest grade in four report cards.
Now that the Upper East Side has begrudgingly accepted the pace of construction and the MTA has made more than a token effort to alleviate some of the project’s hardships, the benefits are coming into view, and Maloney is paying more heed to the pluses. “The project’s merit, its economic benefits, the MTA’s outreach efforts and the pace at which construction is being completed all get high marks,” she said. “When the MTA broke ground for the Second Avenue Subway in April 2007, there were a lot of skeptics, but with the progress of the last six years, the skeptics are starting to have to eat their words. In fact, we have now crossed the halfway point for Second Avenue Subway construction. I encourage the MTA to continue its progress and to keep engaging the public, as the project continues.”
Over the years, the report card has gotten lengthier and lengthier. It now tops eight pages in printed or PDF form, but it covers familiar ground. The project’s merit and economic benefits again warrant A+ grades while the MTA has improved communication with the public. Maloney is happy that tunneling has been completed and sees reason to be hopeful that construction problems have been mitigated. The B+ grade in that category, she says, “signifies good progress in getting the job done, with room for improvement in hope that there will be no more accidents.”
As she shifts her attention to the more problematic aspects of the project, though, I found myself thinking more about the items missing from the report card than anything else. In giving the project planning a B, she devotes a few paragraphs to the Yorkshire Towers dispute. The MTA, she says, “has declined to satisfy community complaints about mid-block entrances for the 86th Street station despite broad condemnation by local residents.”
While Maloney has to protect her constituents (and her re-election chances), the Yorkshire Towers complaints are entirely without merit and are designed to protect a mid-block driveway on East 86th St. Seeing a politician sympathetic to this cause — which even some residents of the building do not support — is hardly comforting.
As she runs through the rest of the grades — better marks for budgetary management and projected on-time performance; C-range grade for construction impact mitigation and forward progress on station entrances and ancillary buildings — she’s notably silent on the Second Ave. Subway’s future, and now is the ideal time to start speaking up for future funding and future phases. For all intents and purposes, the MTA is through planning Phase 1 of the Second Ave. Subway; it’s through bidding out the contracts; and it’s through fighting for money. All that’s left is the actual work and some rolling stock delivers in mid-2016.
Maloney spills a lot of ink praising the project’s economic benefits and the current job creation numbers. She looks ahead to the ridership and notes the potential promise of a full line. In her press release, Sheldon Silver says that he “looks forward to the day when it reaches my Lower East Side community,” and in her report card, Maloney promises that the next edition — whenever that may be — “will also consider what the MTA is(or is not) doing to prepare for Phase II.”
But as a relatively powerful representative in Congress, Maloney is in a position to do more than just grade the MTA on its plans for the future. She can work to secure the next federal grand that could push the MTA to start the planning process for Phase 2 right now. The project needs a new champion, and Maloney could be it.
Cutting up the Second Ave. Subway project into phases was both its saving grace and a death knell. It made Phase 1 very easy to fund and complete but created a situation where Phases 2-4 are more theoretical than real. If Maloney and other East Side politicians want to see a full Second Ave. Subway line, the time to act is now. Otherwise, once Phase 1 opens, it will likely be, as Tom Prendergast said a few days ago, decades until the other phases are realized. If the subway riders of New York issue a report card, then, assessing our politicians’ overall commitment to the Second Ave. Subway, I’m not sure anyone would warrant even the B+ Maloney awarded yesterday.