When word came down a few weeks ago that East Side Access was again over budget and late, I guessed the delay would be minimal, pushing the project’s completion date back into 2020. Today, Ted Mann blew the cover off that theory as he reports in The Wall Street Journal that East Side Access may not be completed until 2021 and could cost as much as $10 billion. It is the latest setback for a deeply flawed project beset with problems.
Officials from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority will present a new timeline for the project, known as East Side Access, to members of the MTA board on Monday, and now believe trains might not run into the station until 2021 or beyond. Others within the authority said the project cost might not reach $10 billion, and noted that the higher estimates build in the risks of future delays. The timeline for completion also could be shortened, one official said. The MTA’s most recent cost estimate was $8.2 billion.
Amid the disappointment with the latest delays, the project executive overseeing East Side Access is departing, according to a person familiar with the matter. Alan Paskoff, a senior vice president at the MTA’s Capital Construction division, will leave the agency in April, according to this person. Mr. Paskoff couldn’t be reached for comment…
The project has been plagued by delays and cost overruns. In 2006, when a federal grant agreement was completed, the MTA said it could run LIRR trains into the station by December 2013. The date slipped to 2016 by 2010, when Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff wrote to a U.S. senator that progress had been “grim.”
The new completion estimate has its roots in November 2012, when officials at the MTA’s Capital Construction division rejected the bids for a major contract to build the “Manhattan Structures”—construction in the station caverns and related facilities and systems. The bids had come in some $365 million over the MTA’s budget for that phase of work. Rather than accept the bids, MTA officials said, the authority rejected them and broke the Manhattan Structures contract into smaller segments, some of which are still being advertised for bids.
The MTA has reserved all comments on East Side Access until after Monday’s board committee meetings, but this thing is a mess. While officials have repeatedly called it the “most technically complex” of all MTA mega-projects, this is a self-inflicted wound. The station cavern is unnecessarily deep, and the engineering challenges have added to the project’s woes. It’s not yet clear exactly why this project will be eight years and billions of dollars over budget, but heads should roll and causes discovered.
With the latest news, the questions will sure to focus around its future. Should the MTA continue? Can the money go elsewhere? At this point, too many federal dollars have been sunk into this project and too much of it exists to stop now. It was flawed from the start and continues to be a never-ending morass seven stories beneath Grand Central.