With the fallout from the MTA’s decision to cut $1 billion in Second Ave. Subway funding from the current five-year capital plan stretching into this week, the agency engaged in an all-hands-on-deck approach to making nice. Years too late, politicians finally started asking the right questions about the cost and timeline for this project, and MTA officials engaged in some backtracking on the cuts.
“We have,” MTA CEO and Chairman Tom Prendergast said, “committed that if we can speed up the schedule to begin tunneling the East Harlem phase sooner, we will pursue a Capital Program amendment to do so. Governor Cuomo has made clear that he would like us to accelerate work on the Second Avenue Subway, and we are actively looking for ways to deliver the project faster.”
In speaking with reporters during Wednesday’s tour of the East Side Access caverns, MTA Capital Construction President Michael Horodniceanu repeated this promise. “We’ll do what needs to be done to speed up the second phase,” he said. But a vague promise to do something the agency was already going to do isn’t really the story. Rather, Horodniceanu opened the door to a question the agency hasn’t been willing to answer yet. When the MTA initially requested $1.5 billion for Phase 2, the agency refused to say how much the full phase would cost, raising eyebrows among those who have watched NYC’s transit construction costs skyrocket. On Wednesday, Horodniceanu kinda sorta spilled the beans.
While responding to questions about why everything cost so much, Horodniceanu said he expects Phase 2 to cost between $5.5-$6 billion and believes tunneling to south to Houston St. — Phase 3 of the project — will cost $10-$12 billion. It’s not clear if the latter eyepopping figure is the combined costs of completing Phases 2 and 3 or if Phase 3 separately will cost that much. Either way, these dollar figures are astounding and would shatter records for most expensive subway projects, on a per-mile basis, anywhere.
Horodniceanu had no real answer for the expenses. As I mentioned yesterday, he pointed to unionized labor as a cause of East Side Access cost increases, but unionized labor bills transit projects throughout the world. At one point, he tautologically stated everything cost so much “because New York is expensive” and mentioned as well the costs of building “massive underground transit connection in densely populated areas.” Tell that to London or Paris though.
For the Second Avenue Subway, Phase 2 involves old tunnels and a new dig that must cut underneath Metro-North at 125th St. and the Lexington Ave. IRT. The Final Environmental Impact Statement [pdf] claimed that Phase 1 would cost $3.8 billion while Phase 2 would cost $3.4 billion and Phase 3 would cost $4.8 billion. Even accounting for inflation, the new estimates, off the cuff as they may be, blow these 11-year-old projections out of the water. And that’s a big problem for future transit expansion in New York City.