May
22

An unclear future for Phase II of the Second Ave. Subway

By

Late last week, a bunch of politicians gathered on the Upper East Side to celebrate the ongoing progress toward completion for Phase I of the Second Ave. Subway. At the time, the project was approximately 960 days away from revenue service, and after nine decades, everyone’s feeling pretty good. “For years, people have been asking me if they will live long enough to ride the 2nd Ave subway. Usually I’ve had to respond that it depends on your age,” State Senator Liz Krueger said, “but now I finally feel we can say with confidence, ‘Get ready: We will soon have a new subway to ride.’”

It would, obviously enough, be a good time to think about starting the funding push, let alone the work, for Phase II. The second part of this multi-step project is a northern extension from 96th St., through preexisting tunnel and some new stations to a connection to the 4/5/6 and Metro-North underneath 125th St. It was initially estimated to cost around the same as Phase I, as the station caverns and auxiliary structures drive the expense, and it’s a key element to the East Harlem transportation picture.

It is then a bit concerning to hear the MTA be a bit non-committal as the deadline for funding for the next capital program looms. In the past, the agency has noted that, while the EIS will be updated, the project is still an important one, and powerful politicians have urged the MTA to keep building. Still, MTA CEO and Chairman Tom Prendgast said this week, as amNY reports, “it’s too early to tell what will and won’t be included” in the next five-year plan.

The MTA has to shift its focus to climate change-related work to shore up the system in the event of another Sandy-type flood event, but the Second Ave. Subway is an important element of any plan to improve mobility and reduce NYC’s dependency on car travel. The MTA shouldn’t wait until 2016, when everyone is celebrating the ribbon cutting for the Second Ave. Subway, to start planning for Phases II (or III or IV). The time to act is now, and politicians and agency officials should do what they can to move this behemoth forward.



70 Responses to “An unclear future for Phase II of the Second Ave. Subway”

  1. “It’s too early to tell what will and won’t be included”

    Too early? Don’t they have to present a draft of the next capital program to the board in July (i.e. two months from now)? When did they plan on gettting around to figuring out what will and won’t be included? A week and a half before?

    • SEAN says:

      Oh come on, you never waited to the absolute last minute to do a research project when you were in high school or college? What do you think this is!

  2. Eric F says:

    I don’t think the future of Phase II is unclear at all! It’s as clear as the future of the Somerset Freeway, the Long Island Sound bridge or tunnel and the fourth NY airport.

  3. Larry Littlefield says:

    The lesson of Sandy is the need for redundancy in case of a service shutdown.

    The transfer at 125th would provide it for those coming down the East Side on MetroNorth and the subway from the Bronx.

    That alone makes Phase II worth building.

  4. Michael says:

    I am wondering if the issue is not really about the Second Phase of the Second Avenue Subway and its extension into East Harlem, but rather the climate-related work in late of Hurricane Sandy. On that project the major planning, financial estimates and engineering work has been done, or at there is an understanding of it.

    As noted: “The MTA has to shift its focus to climate change-related work to shore up the system in the event of another Sandy-type flood event.”

    Since the 5-year capital plan will be governing work for the next few years – there has to be some agreements about projects related to the fall-out from Hurricane Sandy and protecting the system. Does the plans include improvements to the Coney Island yards that were flooded, or improvements to the 148th Street-Lenox Yard, changes to the bus depots, etc.

    What else will be in that 5-year capital plan besides the Phase II of the Second Avenue Subway?

    • Larry Littlefield says:

      “The MTA has to shift its focus to climate change-related work to shore up the system in the event of another Sandy-type flood event.”

      Perfect excuse. They’d rather not say “we need to only do work the federal government will pay for regardless of the consequences, because Generation Greed has ruined the infrastructure financially.”

      • Justin Samuels says:

        The MTA just handles the operations of running the various transit operations under it’s umbrella. It does not lobby for expansion and it won’t. Governor Pataki put together packages of federal and state money to fund the LIRR to Grand Central, the Second Avenue Subway Phase 1, and Fulton Street Transit Center.

        Bloomberg funded the 7 line extension to 34th and 11th. In order for there to be additional phases of the Second Avenue Subway, either Albany or City Hall will have to come up with the money. Once the government presents them the money for a project, THEN the MTA builds.

        • Larry Littlefield says:

          As shouldn’t be forgotten, New York City gave up the toll surpluses of the Triboro Bridge and Tunnel Authority when the MTA was formed. It was promised the Second Avenue Subway.

          Frankly, in Europe Phase II would probably only cost $2 billion.

          • jack says:

            Thats because of New York States “Labor Law” and other giveaways to trial lawyers and unions. Shelly Silver and his trial lawyer pals have driven up the cost of construction to insane levels. Either its done with tax incentives, on the feds dollar or by the super rich. Without real tort reform nothing will ever change.

            • Nathanael says:

              These aren’t the cause of the problems.

              There are really serious problems with New York’s “lowest bidder, even if the lowest bidder is a scamming crook” contracting laws. Other states make it much easier to reject suspicious, low-quality bids. There’s been a lot of discussion of this here; perhaps someone should describe the dynamic in a major blog post.

              • Henry says:

                It’s a mix of both, really. The work rules regarding construction in this city are very tight; Spanish firms may have high labor costs in their home country, but they also don’t have rules saying that X work requires Y amount of people, and things of that nature.

                Coupled with the fact that competition isn’t really existent in this particular sector of the New York construction industry (all firms are bound by the same rules, and how many firms can blast/outfit a station cavern the size of East Side Access?) and that conflicts of interest are not prevented (design firms can bid to construct the projects they design, which removes any incentives to keep costs low), this just leads to high costs across the board.

                If it’s any consolation, nearly all Anglosphere countries have major cost issues (and not all of them have as restrictive labor laws), so the legal system may also come into play here.

                • Nathanael says:

                  Part of it is the ability for the rejected bidders to sue. Part of it is the ability for the accepted bidders to work to the letter of the contract, violate the spirit of the contract, and get away with it. And there’s more such stuff going on.

                  Part of it is the ability of building owners to saddle the MTA with costs by suing, when their buildings were already falling down. That was really awful.

                  So there’s a sense in which the legal system is a problem. But “tort reform” as it’s usually advertised — preventing severely injured people from getting compensation for being maimed or poisoned — wouldn’t help.

                  One thing which would help would be an ability to quickly throw out cases like the ones filed by the building owners — where the building was already violating city building standards, and already subject to remediation orders from the city, which the building owner was disregarding… but the building owner managed to sue for “damage” to their building *anyway*. This shouldn’t be permitted under traditional equitable principles, and I really don’t know how they got away with even filing the case, but they managed to delay things long enough that the MTA threw up its hands and agreed to pay the bribes they wanted.

                  • Ralfff says:

                    Then that’s on the MTA. They should be like the City, viciously fighting every lawsuit no matter the cost. Anything less is an invitation to get rolled over.

                    • AG says:

                      Not sure of the policy of the MTA and the state… The City has a policy though to try to settle out of court first. Simply because if they fight every case – legal fees may not even be worth it. What is needed is true tort reform.

  5. Mike says:

    I fully agree that now is the time push for getting at least Phase 2 funded. With two sections of existing tunnel for a total of 16 blocks under 2nd Ave there’s no real reason not to get at least this part of the project built. Phases 3 and 4 (and SAS service beyond Manhattan) are no doubt important as well, but like Phase 1, they would have to be built almost entirely from scratch and they’d also have to dodge existing cross-river subway and vehicular tunnels. So the immediate focus should be on Phase 2.

  6. John-2 says:

    The problem is the funding is more likely to come in response to public pressure/public demand, and that’s likely to hit its peak at the time the three-stop segment of the SAS opens (assuming they don’t have a bunch of embarrassing glitches in the opening weeks that allows the local tabloids to bring out the long knives). So while it would be both nice and prudent to plan ahead and get the funding now, odds of getting it will be higher if the new line causes area residents/voters to call for further extension of the line to 125th

    • Bolwerk says:

      The opening of the 7 extension later this year may be a clue about how that will turn out.

      Though, how much more public excitement do we need for transit? The number of riders we can attract is probably already basically limited by availability of customers and, in some cases, by capacity.

      • John-2 says:

        The number of potential new riders may not be that high, but it’s more the quality-of-life issues that would help here, from those on the Upper East Side now closer to subway stops to the riders on the Q and the 4/5/6 both in Manhattan and the Bronx who should face less crush-loaded cars both on the new SAS and the Lex.

        It you bump up the goodwill among the public be showing them the benefits to subway expansion as a reality and not as the current hypothetical, you boost the chances of getting support at that time for further extending the SAS to 125th, and probably other long-hoped for line extensions.

        • Eric F says:

          Bingo. A key part of the attraction of the SAS is that it simply makes life on the east side of Manhattan better. Traveling in a crowded train with stations that require a long walk is juts unpleasant.

        • Bolwerk says:

          I wasn’t disagreeing with you. I see this wasn’t clear, but what I meant was “the number of riders we can attract to the system as we currently have it is probably already basically limited by availability of customers and, in some cases, by capacity.” In other words, that should pretty much prove (insofar as proof is possible) we need system expansion to get serious system growth. We aren’t getting it from the system we have, at least not without encouraging a lot of periphery infill around low-density parts of the system.

          SAS seems like it will carry an enormous number of riders. 7ext? Maybe not so much.

          • John-2 says:

            The Hudson Yards stop is in a way like when the Flushing line was plowed into the empty void of Queens almost 100 years ago, in that unlike the SAS — which is being built to relieve crowding that’s already there — the 7 extension is being built into an area to stimulate demand.

            So you can’t really look at the first week, month or year entry numbers for Hudson Yards and base its success or failure on that. Those numbers won’t be known for 5-10 years, if and when the area gets developed with offices, retail and even residential, and the 34th and 11th stop is the only convenient station for the majority of the area.

        • tacony says:

          Per the MTA’s estimates:

          “When complete in December 2016, the first phase will:
          Serve approximately 200,000 daily riders
          Decrease crowding on the Lexington Avenue Line by as much as 13%, or 23,500 fewer riders on an average weekday”

          That’s a ton of ridership. The UES is a large, densely populated neighborhood with tons of demand. More than almost any other transit expansion project that’s been reasonably proposed in recent memory. Don’t underestimate it.

          • Tower18 says:

            One of the bigger impacts on demand will be all the people east of 1st (York, East End) who currently drive or take the cab share. SAS may make using transit more attractive for these people who currently don’t. If you have a car anyway, in the time it takes you to walk from East End to Lex, you could have driven halfway downtown…not that this is a wise decision for a few reasons, but you can see how one would do the math if time is worth more than money (which it is for a lot of people in NY).

            SAS could also improve service on the M86, as the jog up York could possibly be trimmed back.

            Also, on the topic of where to accommodate growth in New York, there are still a number of relatively low-rise blocks on the Far East side that could be development targets, with closer subway access.

            • ajedrez says:

              The thing is that the Lexington Avenue Line is still a straight shot downtown, so there would probably still be enough ridership/demand from people around 92nd & York who still need the Lex in order to justify keeping the stint along York.

              • Michael says:

                Full agreement that currently the Lexington Avenue subway is a straight pathway to downtown, while the almost open “Stubway” provides a pathway to the westside from Second Avenue. When in the full Second Avenue Subway is built – it will provide a second direct path to downtown on the Eastside.

                The idea of the Q-train on Second Avenue and the T-train on Second Avenue are they are complements of the other. They work better together than alone.

  7. Spendmor Wastemor says:

    Does the following make sense?

    Take something instead of nothing by extending the line sooner, filling in the stations later.

    Use the existing and some cut’n cover new tunnel to reach 125th in a straight line, ending below basement level (10 ft down?).
    Make provision for a large radius turn for an extension under 125th, but no such service in this phase.
    – Build a transfer station under 125th: This has a wide moving sidewalk or automated mini-mover to get people AND stuff they’re carrying to/from Lexington ave and Metro North.** Costs could inflate due to the NYC $$ drain effect, but it will be far less than turning the train to go 3 blocks.
    – Make provision for stations between 125th and 96th (move utilities, legal cr-p, etc), but build only one, either at 116 or 110. That puts almost everyone on 2nd ave within a ten minute walk from a station; for the eleventeen quadrillion dollars per station plus operating costs under current practice, you could pay people to walk to the station and still come out a ahead.

    Can’t afford even that? Then only dig the 110/116th station cavern and finish it later, leaving a gap between 96th and 125th. The station and transfer point with people mover at 125th should fill a fair part of the train, not great but it takes load off the stink-packed Lex.

    • JMB says:

      I think I read on subway.org that the original Harlem MetroNorth station was in a trench directly below the current station. When the viaduct was built, it was simply filled in. I’m curious if any of that old infrastructure is still really there and could be utilized for the PhaseII 125th terminal? Could be another spot for savings.

      • Nathanael says:

        What’s left is basically a pair of stone retaining walls. With some forethought, the old Harlem “trench” station location could be used for the “mezzanine” level of the Second Avenue Subway station, and the old retaining walls would certainly help a little. (At least they’d reduce the chance of neighboring buildings falling down!)

    • Hoosac says:

      I like the sound of this, for a couple of reasons. It’s practical, and eschews “shoot for the moon” planning for something that might actually get accomplished. Secondly, it avoids (or at least postpones) that curve to the Lexington Avenue line, which has always troubled me. The SAS ought to go to The Bronx, or at least be pointed in that direction, in order to provide residents there with an alternative way to get downtown. Likewise, the southern end of the line ought to be aimed at Brooklyn, with the expectation of a connection for residents of that borough. Otherwise, the long-delayed Second Avenue subway will likely wind up as a stub of a line that serves the Upper East Side and little else.

      • Henry says:

        Phase II is planned to have tail tracks pointing north from the curve, so it’s not as if the Bronx is being completely shafted here.

  8. pea-jay says:

    This project really needs a political sponsor to find the $ to make it happen.

    Otherwise we’ll get used to the Second Avenue Stubway moniker for some quite time.

    • BruceNY says:

      Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney was the most vocal proponent and ardent support for obtaining federal funding for Phase I. I will be writing her to find out what she plans to do for Phase II.

  9. Jerrold says:

    But Ben, can we even be reasonably sure that it WILL be finished by the end of 2016? What about the #7 Extension and the successive push-backs of its scheduled opening date?

  10. Alon Levy says:

    “Unclear” is a lot better than where I thought it was, which was “if someone else makes it a political priority, we’ll be glad to oblige, but otherwise, meh.”

  11. Nathanael says:

    It’s only 85 years since the SAS was announced (in 1929), and only 64 years since the full-financing bonds were issued for it (in 1950), and only 59 years since the Third Avenue El was demolished with promises of an SAS to replace it “soon” (in 1955).

    In that time, the proposed subway has been reduced from a 6 track plan to a 2 track plan. Replacing 6 tracks worth of Els on 2nd and 3rd (both lines had center express tracks).

    For God’s sake, the city needs to commit to building Phase II NOW. Having promised the line for *generations*, building it is the only way for the City of New York to demonstrate any sort of honesty.

    • Larry Littlefield says:

      Step 1: Promise services.
      Step 2: Raise taxes and go in debt.
      Step 3: Increase public employee pensions.
      Step 4: Fail to deliver services, because the city and state are broke.

      They’ve already done step 2 and 3. They are taking advantage of the revenues associated with bubblenomics to postpone step 4 until it is sufficiently separated from steps 2 and 3 to be blamed on “circumstances beyond our control.”

      What have YOU done to get rid of your state legislator in the past 20 years?

      • Bolwerk says:

        The only hope for serious electoral reform in NYS is probably proportional representation. Otherwise you’re just replacing one turd with another.

        • Larry Littlefield says:

          As one neighbor commented on term limits, if you share the tree you are going to end up with somewhat fewer bad apples.

          But there aren’t going to be term limits until people are willing to battle against the existing clan and its designated successors.

          • Bolwerk says:

            Term limits are a terrible idea that solve nothing, and the people who run on them know that. If the The Republikan class of 1994 didn’t teach us that well enough, the reminder New York City republicans (“Democrats”) gave us in 2009 should be a fresh enough memory.

            • rustonite says:

              This is quite correct. I live in a city (Saint Louis) whose state has term limits for state legislators- eight years in either house. It’s been absolutely ruinous for state government. Legislators spend their entire time in office arranging their next gig, either with a corporation whose bidding they do or with a state office they promote. Also, it turns out there actually aren’t that many intelligent people willing to put up with the indignities of holding an office- we ran through them all in the first eight years, and now we’re rotating in morons.

              We live in an era when legislating is a full-time gig. You can’t expect it to be done part time, nor by people who are planning on heading out to another job in just a few years. NYS has 20 million people and $133 billion in revenue- you can’t have that run by people with one foot out the door.

              If you want to solve the issues with the state legislature, you should make it unicameral and implement proportional voting, so it’s clear who has a mandate. And while I’m dreaming, let’s go full Westminster and get rid of the separately elected governor. A system where it’s clear who’s in charge, and who to throw out of office when things go bad.

          • Nathanael says:

            Term limits are worthless, and we’ve discovered that in other states. They cause a quick turnover of representatives… who are bought-and-paid-for by long-lasting power brokers behind the scenes. Because of quick turnover, any elected official who isn’t bought-and-paid-for doesn’t have time to learn the ropes before they’re out.

            Proportional representation would actually help. So would approval voting. Honestly, so would a single-house legislature (there’s no reason to have two houses).

      • Nathanael says:

        “What have YOU done to get rid of your state legislator in the past 20 years?”

        A hell of a lot, actually. Even succeeded a couple of times. My area keeps getting gerrymandered out of all influence, though.

        As Bolwerk says, we probably need proportional representation, only way to get rid of the gerrymandering.

  12. AlexB says:

    Does anyone know where the 200,000 daily riders number comes from? The 4 5 & 6 from 66th St to 96th St get about 165,000 today and the M15 gets what, 20,000, 30,000 riders in this area? Something doesn’t add up.

    • Bolwerk says:

      I thought it was the TA’s number, but I can only speculate at how they arrived at it. However, two things:

      (1) What does the number mean? People who swipe on? People who swipe on plus those who transfer from other services? New riders plus Lex diversions? Some who will be drawn to the area from the N/R/Q[/W] service area further south?

      (2) There is probably going to be some induced demand. Buses are obviously not going to attract people like a full-fledged subway. And capacity on the Lex might be rather limited by people further up who are passing through that area, which may inhibit demand.

      • SEAN says:

        3. It maybe small, but you could atract a group of new riders who reside along 1st & york who wouldn’t use the subway based on the challenge of just getting there let alone of the overcrowding on the 4, 5 & 6 lines.

    • Alon Levy says:

      First, 200,000 is in both directions; 165,000 is just boardings on the UES, so it’s really 330,000. Second, Second Avenue is denser than Lex. Third, the Lex only serves the East Side, whereas the Q is going to swerve to the West Side.

      • Tower18 says:

        The Broadway BMT line is actually quite advantageous in this way, of serving right down the heart of the job centers of Midtown (granted, the Q will miss Midtown East) and then continuing via transfer to local all the way downtown.

        • ajedrez says:

          I don’t think a whole lot of Downtown riders would be diverted from the Lex, considering the Lex is more direct, and doesn’t require a transfer (well, then again, if you’re around 72nd & 2nd, going to Wall Street it’s easier to take the Q to the R, than it is to walk to the 6, and transfer to the 4/5, so maybe it’s larger than I initially thought).

  13. AG says:

    someone please help me understand. how is it that LA got this money to extend the purple line – but we can’t get this for the next faze of the SAS (or even for another station on the 7 extension)? all jokes aside – I don’t get it.

    http://abcnews.go.com/US/wireS.....e-23800162

    $1.25 billion in grants
    $800 mill in federal loans

    this for a project projected to cost $2.8 billion (though it will probably go over).

    • Bolwerk says:

      We probably can as soon as we commit to funding the rest.

      FWIW, though, that LA project might really be the second most logical subway project on the table in the country (after the SAS).

      • AG says:

        That’s what I would have thought – but they still don’t have funding for the whole project. The completion date for that LA purple line is something like 2035.

        http://www.scpr.org/blogs/poli.....l-angelen/

        • Bolwerk says:

          Which is an optimistic view of SAS. Still, that other link says they are financing four miles of subway, which is not too shabby by USA standards.

          I guess LA is breaking it into phrases. This part is what gets me…

          Transit construction is booming across LA County. By years’ end, there will be a record five rail lines under construction, funded in part by $3.5 billion in federal grants and loans.

          …just why the hell can’t New York do that? Surface or subsurface, we have more need for rail than anyone.

          • Alon Levy says:

            The Wilshire subway is $330 million per kilometer. At that cost, all of SAS, from 125th Street to Hanover Square, would be $4.3 billion.

            • Bolwerk says:

              I’ll read up on it. I assume it’s a fairly straightforward cut and cover project.

              • Nathanael says:

                Actually, the Wilshire project is murderously difficult, because it’s being tunneled through tar.

                • Eric says:

                  Manhattan is also difficult, due to the difficult Manhattan schist bedrock.

                  (Of course, it is hard to complain about this bedrock when it’s the reason NY is such a large and successful city. Because the bedrock it was so hard, it stuck out into the ocean without being eroded, forming the high-quality bay which led to NY becoming a trade center.)

          • AG says:

            Well it’s a complete different world out there – infrastructure wise. That said – East Side Access will probably affect more riders than all of there projects put together – let alone the SAS.

            I know they have that special tax to fund transit – but it just seems that they get a large portion from the feds… I could be wrong – but it doesn’t seem we get as much proportionally.

            • Henry says:

              We’ve had a lot of money thrown our way. East Side Access and SAS all have significant portions funded federally, on top of the federal funds used in Lower Manhattan after 9/11. The region also had a significant amount of federal money thrown into the dirt after ARC got cancelled.

              Given that these projects already caused several members of Congress to grumble about New York hogging the pie, this is about as much as we can ask for. A significant amount of federal money also goes to SBS and bike lanes, for what it’s worth.

              • AG says:

                No – I know we get our funds (which based on our economic output we get LESS than we should) – but it seemed that proportionally that LA project got much more. When I checked East Side Access though – it was pretty similar.

                • Bolwerk says:

                  LA is a bit less than half our population. They probably contribute less to the federal government than us in proportion, but ignoring that do they get more than half what we get?

                  We’re really getting screwed regardless because for the amount we spend locally, we should be able to adequately solve the problems ARC, SAS, 7ext, Fulton, PATH (actually doesn’t solve anything), and ESA purport to solve – without federal money – and have some left over for other worthy projects.

                  Point blank, it would have made much more sense if the Calatrava abortion was spent on ARC, which would have neutralized Christie’s ability to shake his junk at the libruls for the Tea Party. It was enough for the important part: the tunnel.

            • Bolwerk says:

              I’m not sure the differences are that severe outside Manhattan, and even in Manhattan they probably don’t impact surface rail much.

          • Henry says:

            LA funded its expansions through a voter-approved tax measure. As far as I am aware of, New York lacks the initiative process that California has in its Constitution, so such an approach would not be feasible. A lot of people would probably be willing to support a similar penny or nickel sales tax if it meant subways to their door, though.

            Feds will only give money if there’s a local match, so that’s that.

            • Bolwerk says:

              Nothing stops us from doing it. Well, besides Albany, I guess.

              We do have a history of voter-approved bond issuance, but it doesn’t seem there is anything to stop pols from using it for something else.

              • Henry says:

                Those weren’t initiatives per se, but votes on acts already proposed by the government. At least on the West Coast, either local officials or voters can themselves put initiatives on the ballot that, if passed, become law. If New York State had that style of referenda, it would allow us to bypass the dysfunctional black hole that is Albany, and we would probably have things such as a constitutional transit lockbox (like California) or more devolved power to the big cities in the state.

  14. Subutay Musluoglu says:

    I have it on good authority that before the end of the year NYCT will be advertising an RFP for consultant services to perform engineering services for Phase II. The work will include updating the preliminary engineering already completed by the Phase I designers (ARUP/AECOM), and taking it through final design. What is not yet clear is whether Phase II will cover the segment we all assume (to Lex Ave-125 Street) or if it will also push further south to midtown. The funding for this work will come out of the next capital program and the contract award will not be made until next year, when it is assumed that the next program is in place. Whether any construction money will also be in the next program is unknown at this time, and frankly, I would not be surprised if it isn’t, considering current realities, such as the likelihood that the design alone will consume the entire length of the next program from a time standpoint, based on NYCT’s track record to date.

Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>