Nov
13

Under pressure, Prendergast vows to ‘accelerate’ Phase 2 of the Second Avenue Subway

By
With costs seemingly skyrocketing, will Phases 2 and 3 of the Second Ave. Subway see the light of day?

Facing political pressure, the MTA may try to speed up necessary planning work for Phase 2 of the Second Ave. Subway, seen in this graphic in blue.

It took the reality of a delay for New York City’s politicians to wake up to the reality of the phased approach to the Second Ave. Subway. Without forceful political oversight or sufficient funding streams, the MTA’s original promises of constructing multiple phases at once fell by the wayside, and although Phase 1 may wrap by the end of 2016, the agency didn’t expect to begin construction on Phase 2 until 2019. When, thanks to a delay in resolving capital funding obligations, that date slipped to 2020, our elected officials finally noticed.

Pick a politician with a hand in the pie, and they had a complaint. In turn, the MTA promised to do what it could do speed up the planning process so that they could stick some shovels in the ground before 2020. Yet, behind the scenes, action continued, and on Thursday, MTA Chairman and CEO Tom Prendergast met with a delegation of New York City representatives in what amounted to a rightful airing of grievances. The politicians want to see this project realized, and the MTA doesn’t want to bite the fiscal hands that feed it.

Thus, a statement from Prendergast, released on Thursday evening:

“Today I met with federal, state and city elected officials to discuss ways to advance and accelerate bringing the Second Avenue Subway to 125th Street. This is a prime goal for the MTA, for the state of New York and for the hundreds of thousands of people who will benefit from its construction. The MTA is fully committed to beginning work on the East Harlem extension even before the first segment to the Upper East Side opens by the end of next year.

“The MTA is committed to find every possible way to accelerate this project. We will employ alternative procurement methods to speed the planning, design, environmental review, property acquisition, utility relocation and construction preparation in our proposed 2015-19 Capital Program. Representative Charles Rangel, dean of the Congressional delegation, has offered to work with the delegation to explore ways to accelerate the project’s environmental review and assure the maximum federal funding possible, and we welcome their assistance.

“If these efforts to speed up the project timetable are successful, the MTA will amend our Capital Program and seek additional funds to begin heavy construction sooner. We appreciate the attention and commitment from our elected officials, and we share the goal of bringing the Second Avenue Subway to East Harlem as quickly as possible.”

This is what happens when six Assembly members, four State Senators, three City Council members, the Manhattan Borough President, the Public Advocate and a member of Congress gather in a room together. It’s not quite a promise to build the line faster; rather, it’s a promise to amend the capital plan if the opportunity arises for the MTA to start work sooner. But it also raises a series of questions.

For instance, why didn’t the MTA budget to start Phase 2 planning and design work well in advance of the completion of Phase 1? If Prendergast feels “alternative procurement methods” can speed up the initial stages of work, why wouldn’t they be implemented as a matter of standard policy? How much will all of this cost? And what can we do to keep those costs under $5.5-$6 billion?

Politicians should continue to focus on this issue, and the MTA should be able to figure out a way to start construction within four years from today. Hopefully, too, this can serve as a wake-up call for future projects of this magnitude (whether future phases of the Second Ave. Subway or otherwise). If politicians — those with access to dollars — stay involved, the MTA responds. It’s a lesson well worth learning.



67 Responses to “Under pressure, Prendergast vows to ‘accelerate’ Phase 2 of the Second Avenue Subway”

  1. Nowhereman says:

    “This is what happens when six Assembly members, four State Senators, three City Council members, the Manhattan Borough President, the Public Advocate and a member of Congress gather in a room together.”

    More news at 11.

  2. Roxie says:

    Actually getting shit done? In this city? Would that it were true.

  3. Joe Steindam says:

    I agree that the next phase planning should have occurred before now, while Phase I was beginning to wrap, so the MTA would be ready begin construction ASAP, and ideally just move its construction crews and equipment to the new staging areas for phase 2. But that didn’t happen, and when the capital plan was getting delayed last year, Prendergast should have gone to the board to find some other money to get it started.

    The amount of work to begin Phase 2 is staggering, new environmental documents, new studies of where to site station entrances and auxiliary buildings (many of the original sites were vacant when the EIS was finished in 2004 aren’t anymore) and how that impacts station layouts, whether or not to use eminent domain. These are all significant, and it is important to get them done so that we don’t see further delay in Phase 2. And once Phase 2 is under construction, this work should continue for Phase 3. I know anything beyond Phase 2 is a fantasy at this point, but the MTA needs to not make the same mistake again.

  4. SEAN says:

    Under pressure did you say? Well then… [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v.....8;h=315%5D

  5. Roger says:

    What is so hard about Phase 2? Most of the tunnel in Phase 2 had already been dug and we only need to get 106-109, 114-117, and 120-125.

    • Eric Brasure says:

      The bedrock north of 100th Street is 10 times harder than anything else on Manhattan. It’s why the Commissioners’ Plan of 1811 put 100th Street where it is–so people would remember.

      • tacony says:

        Really? On the East Side? I’d never heard that. It seems hard to believe that the boundary of bedrock hardness would cut across the island in a straight line… Early maps and descriptions of Manhattan usually indicate that the lower part of East Harlem was a low-lying, swampy area around a creekbed that periodically flooded– the “Harlem Creek” ran east into the Harlem River around what is today 106th and 107th Street and part of it survives today as Harlem Meer in Central Park. The Manhattan schist is on the West Side uptown.

        I’m no geologist, but this page seems to indicate that the East Side is softer in upper Manhattan, as opposed to the harder rock under the “ridge” on the West Side: http://depthome.brooklyn.cuny......geonyc.htm

        I’d be interested in hearing more about this 100th Street boundary of hardness though…

      • Larry Littlefield says:

        Hard rock isn’t the problem that soft sand is.

        If Tammany Hall could build the Concourse Line, the MTA can build this.

      • Bolwerk says:

        Looks to me like they’re going over the bedrock, if this document is still accurate.

        http://web.mta.info/capital/sas_docs/2ndave.pdf

        • Jon says:

          They’re now planning to tunnel under the existing tunnels in an effort to increase costs. That should put them firmly into the bedrock.

          This project should literally just be digging out some shallow stations between the already-built tunnels. The 125th Street station will definitely be complex, but the rest of it should be extremely simple. I also don’t understand the need for the elaborate station entrance buildings that take up huge amounts of valuable land. Stairs and an elevator down from the sidewalk are perfectly adequate for the rest of the system. Why not here?

          • Rick says:

            ears ago the hollywood producer Ray Stark was asked why no makes a movie for under million dollars anymore. “Because,” he said, “you can’t steal a million dollars from a million dollar picture.”

    • Rick says:

      Why not build to 117th St right now?

  6. Seth R says:

    “If these efforts to speed up the project timetable are successful, the MTA will amend our Capital Program and seek additional funds to begin heavy construction sooner.”

    I’m sorry, how is this any different from what he was saying last week? Did they actually get any concrete changes or did they just get more words?

  7. Nick says:

    I think it’s time for us all to mount a campaign for a full buildout to start ASAP. For those of us that ride the 4/5/6 the Lex Ave Line is bursting at the seams. It’s irresponsible of the City not to undertake this project if growth is expected to keep happening.

  8. BruceNY says:

    We lucked out in a way because the narrative of “Sure, the wealthy Upper East Side is getting its Second Ave. Subway but poor East Harlem residents only get the shaft” is too juicy for opportunistic politicians to pass up.

    • AG says:

      And hopefully in 10 years – if we are all still here – someone will champion the original vision to push it to serve the “poor” people in the Bronx who never got a replacement for the 3rd Ave El… While in 2015 – the borough is almost back at its all time population peak. Which if growth continues as is – it will pass that peak by 2020.

      • Eric says:

        That would be a big waste. Better to add a few stops to the Metro North Harlem line, and reduce the in-city fares to subway prices.

        (Doing the same with the remaining Metro North lines and the LIRR would do a lot to reduce crowding on the Lexington Ave and Queens Blvd subway lines, for very little money.)

        • AG says:

          Waste? Have you been to the Bronx? It’s not Nassau or Westchester… It’s a very crowded and fast paced place (much more crowded than Queens for example). Adding commuter stops ever 30 min. isn’t going to solve the problems.

          • Eric says:

            So run more trains, many more trains, to those stops. It’s cheaper to add trains than it is to dig new tunnels.

            • AG says:

              Sure – but it’s not going to happen in our lifetimes. There is a reason commuter rail and subways are separate systems.
              That’s like saying they should have done the same thing on Park Ave. in Manhattan.. just add stops along Metro North and run the trains as frequent as the subway? Yeah I’m sure that would be cheaper than the SAS – but it’s not practical reality.

              • Eric says:

                The tracks are busier on Park Ave, and you wouldn’t want to slow down the trains and decrease capacity by having lots of people getting on and off at stops there. In the Bronx, there is much more track space.

                This can’t happen in the next year or 5 years, but if people make it a priority, it could happen a lot sooner than a new subway to the Bronx.

                • AG says:

                  I’m co fused by the comment they are busier. By how much??? The two busiest MNR lines both pass through the same exact tracks in The Bronx once you leave MT. Vernon. You seem like another one of those “subways should only be built in Manhattan” types…

                  • Eric says:

                    Only two out of three lines. And for one of those two lines, a lot of the trains can be diverted to Penn Station. So yes, there is a lot more room in the Bronx.

                    • AG says:

                      As I said – the two busiest ones… And no – they can’t just be diverted to Penn just like that… Nothing happens in a vacuum on the transit system.

                  • Eric says:

                    And for the record, I’m in favor of subways where there isn’t already commuter rail. For example Utica, and to Soundview/Throggs Neck in the Bronx.

                    • AG says:

                      Soundview and Throggs Neck are not as dense as the area served by the old 3rd. El

                    • Bronx Resident says:

                      @AG, Soundview, south of Bruckner Blvd (and I focus on this area because of it’s isolation from the 6 train unlike the northern sections) is very dense. Significantly more dense than other proposed corridors in fact. It’s a community of NYCHA complexes, several highrises, and attached multi unit-housing units between them.

                      Clason Point (South of Lacombe Ave) is less so, that’s a totally different area however. They are often compiled but significantly different.

                      Lower Castle Hill (south of Bruckner) also has pretty significant density as far south of the Castle Hill projects, one of the largest in NYC.

                      Throgs Neck is the least dense, geographically separate from the above due to a river and even farther from the 6 which swings northeast at that point.

                      There were plans to run a subway down Lafayette Ave with a terminal in Throgs Neck. This is the ideal location for an expansion.

                      However, I feel that the Third Ave corridor should receive priority in the Bronx. This is the number two area, followed by crosstown service.

                  • Alon Levy says:

                    The Hudson Line splits from the Harlem and New Haven Lines north of 125th and south of Melrose. The result is that the traffic on the mainline in the Bronx is just enough that with some schedule discipline, local trains could be running local in the Bronx, providing frequent service to those stations. All that’s needed is mode-neutral fares, which implicitly requires lower operating costs by removing the conductors.

                    The other issue is that between 125th and Grand Central there are the 4, 5, and 6. Under mode-neutral fares, the 6 makes 10 stops, the 4 and 5 make 3, and commuter rail runs express, and people can transfer freely. If the Lower Manhattan system is built as it should be, then something similar happens for service between Grand Central and Fulton Street. In contrast, there’s no subway between East Harlem and Wakefield, so commuter rail should be making stops there to provide service instead.

              • mister says:

                It’s reality in other parts of the world, like Paris, where the RER has ridership more like that of a typical Metro than a commuter railroad. Re-opening existing stations at 59th, 72nd and 86th and making a fare that is competitive with subway fares would certainly help to reduce crowding on the Lex. The bigger problem would be the lack of capacity on the Park Ave viaduct, the need to run northbound Hudson Line trains north on the “southbound” track, and the fact that the platforms at these stations are only about 150′ long, and an extensive construction project on Park Ave would likely be opposed by some of the wealthiest people on the planet.

                • Brooklynite says:

                  The point of commuter rail having multiple stops in the city is (aside from increasing regional mobility) to provide a faster alternative to the subway. Stopping at 59th, 72nd, and 86th would be no faster than the 6 train, given commuter cars’ lower acceleration rates.

                  • adirondacker12800 says:

                    The 6 goes places other than Grand Central too.

                  • Bolwerk says:

                    Faster for whom? Things like RER are stop infrequently in outskirts and suburbs and stop frequently in the city core. Implementing that here would add a few minutes to trips to 42nd, tops, and would improve time for anyone who has to walk, subway, or cab back north.

                    Nobody needs commuter rail “speed” between 42nd and 86th.

                    • Eric says:

                      We already will have SAS to relieve the 6. Metro North which *doesn’t* stop on the UES will be an effective reliever for the 4/5.

                    • Bolwerk says:

                      No objection there. But whether it stops at a few more Manhattan streets or not almost seems incidental to me. Probably not worth the capital construction dollars, but not an inherently bad idea.

                  • AG says:

                    Exactly – which is why the argument above that more stations and more frequency should be added in The Bronx makes no sense. You kill the express nature. Suburban users woulf be incensed. Plus operating wise – it is much cheaper to run subways. It’s ridiculously expensive to keep train conductors for the commuter rail any longer than necessary.

                • AG says:

                  Well yes your statement about the people on Park Ave. is true… Also note that the interiors of those RER trains look very “pedestrian” in comparison to MNR trains nowadays. Will those riders be willing to go for that? Will they get rid of conductors?? Very critical issues that won’t be solved any time soon.

      • Brian Power says:

        It’s a waste of money turning it toward 125 Street your absolutely right they should rebuild the third av elevated in the Bronx and at the same time tie in the second avenue subway with the pelham line, you have two lines going down the east side with the irt also having treo lines the white plains el and the Jerome Ave Elevated, it would split the passengers down the east side

        • AG says:

          Yup… Though I’m not sure rebuilding as an El would work in this day and age… But yeah I agree with your concepts.

          • Rick says:

            What about taking the two outer tracks of the Bronx Park Av MNR and connecting them to the Second Av subway? Park Avenue in the Bronx is pretty close to Third Avenue and the middle MNR tracks can hymnal all the Westchester-bound express traffic.

  9. mister says:

    Until this results in a concrete plan to start construction, it doesn’t mean much. Although “Alternative procurement methods” sounds encouraging. Maybe a P3 or a DB approach would help to accelerate the project. But if we’re going that route, then we need to apply it to all 4 phases, (and maybe a 5th, 125th st phase).

  10. Brooklynite says:

    Now that they’re redoing all the EISes, perhaps they should take the time and reconfigure the line to go the Bronx. Turning west on 125 still requires everyone from the Bronx to pile onto Lexington services, at which point they will be strongly inclined to stay on them. If SAS were extended to the Bronx and recaptured either the Jerome, Dyre, or Upper Pelham lines, it would truly be providing an alternative to the 4/5/6 and increasing capacity.

  11. Brooklynite says:

    Also, a question. Why have the last few posts on the topic (including this one) used a graphic omitting Phase 4? Have they completely given up on it?

    • The last post was only about Phases 2 and 3, regarding Horodniceanu’s comments on costs, and I was too lazy/tired last night to pull the graphic that shows only Phases 1 and 2. Phase 4 is still part of the overall whenever long-range plan.

  12. Larry Littlefield says:

    Speaking of looking ahead, what about Phase III?

    The SAS was supposed to be lined to the 63rd Street tunnel to allow a connection from Queens. And I’ve suggested that rather than build Phase IV, it should be connected to the Rutgers Tunnel east of 2nd Avenue station.

    But the 6th Avenue and Queens Boulevard signals are supposed to be replaced in THIS capital plan. So if the CBTC programs aren’t designed to accommodate those two switches, forget it for the next 75 years.

    Ooops. Too bad. Sorry no one thought of that.

    They are in the business of expanding options for the suburbs and foreclosing them for the city.

    • Brooklynite says:

      Is CBTC so rigid that it’s unable to adapt to a new track layout at all?

      • Larry Littlefield says:

        IT should be easy — it’s just code.

        But I recoil in terror to think of what some organization such as Siemens would charge for the change order.

        • Brooklynite says:

          If this article is any indication, they’d charge a hell of a lot. Very interesting and detailed article – BEN have you seen this?

          http://www.theatlantic.com/tec.....re/415152/

          • Larry Littlefield says:

            A great article and one everyone should read. Good to see some actual journalism done.

            I member telling the people in charge look, the signals have to be replaced every 60 years.

            Here is the Bureau of Economic Analysis data on the total earnings, including benefits, of everyone in NYC.

            Here is the average state and local tax burden, as a percent of income, for everyone in the U.S.

            If this is what replacing the signals is going to cost per track/mile interlocking, it would cost # more percent of people’s income, and we can’t possibly afford it.

            Part of the problem is the engineer’s mentality. Everyone knows John and Washington Roebling were the engineers that supervised the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge. No one thinks of them as the engineers that over-ran their budget for a project that took a decade longer than expected.

    • Justin Samuels says:

      I don’t think connecting the 2nd Avenue Subway to the Rutgers Street line is a good idea. The full length Second Avenue Subway is supposed to relieve congestion on the 4,5, and 6. Therefore it needs to go all the way downtown.

      So if it becomes necessary to save money and time, they just build phases 2-3 and connect the Second Avenue Subway to the underutilized Nassau Street Line. That people on the East Side would have the option of taking the T train all the way down to the financial district. It would make use of an underutilized tunnel (partially with the M going to Midtown and Queens) and save on money.

      I do think eventually the Second Avenue Subway should go to the Bronx as well.

      • Bolwerk says:

        Seems problematic. Parts of the Nassau Line have four tracks, which could maybe be re-appropriated for the J so the T could take the current J tracks and go to Broad. However, in doing that, the J would probably need to be terminated at Chambers, assuming it’s possible to get to Chambers anymore by that route. The other alternative is the T shares tracks with the J, which is annoying but probably doable.

        Also, platforms would need to be lengthened. Could be a major difficulty at Fulton, maybe at Chambers.

        That said, I wish they’d at least explore the idea.

        • Brooklynite says:

          If the J stays on the middle tracks on the four-track Nassau line and the T takes the outer two tracks, there would be no problem cutting the J to Chambers and sending the T to Broad (and beyond… Staten Island anyone?) The platform extensions shouldn’t be the end of the world; they were done at much more challenging stations in NYC.

          The J stops underneath the Stock Exchange! It’s in a perfect location in the Financial District. The only reason it’s underused is because it doesn’t serve Midtown. The T would fix that.

        • Justin Samuels says:

          Well I think reappropriating two of the tracks of the Nassau line and lengthening the platforms would be cheaper and take less time than building phase 4 from scratch.

          During rush hours they could send the J or the T to Brooklyn so they wouldn’t have to share the same terminal.

      • Larry Littlefield says:

        “So if it becomes necessary to save money and time, they just build phases 2-3 and connect the Second Avenue Subway to the underutilized Nassau Street Line.”

        When I say connect to the Rutgers tunnel on both ends, I say so as a resident of Brooklyn. The highest job density is on the East Side of Midtown, and getting there is where the highest crowding is and the lowest potential to increase service without new lines is. Everywhere else, including Lower Manhattan, they could run more trains — and even more trains with CBTC, if they could afford it.

        The first phase of the Second Avenue Subway helps people to live on the Upper East Side and travel to West Midtown. The goal of the rest should be to help people elsewhere — Brooklyn and Queens — travel to East Midtown without getting on the 4/5/6, with a bit of a (preferably below ground walk).

        No one is going to want to travel slowly through Lower Manhattan to get through East Midtown. Now many people want to take the R to Midtown rather than the N/Q/B/D? If Lower Manhattan is so underserved, why not just send two of those services through the Montigue Tunnel?

        • Brooklynite says:

          That’s a good point. Having lines from Brooklyn directly to Midtown distributes capacity more efficiently. IMHO a Utica Avenue subway then going via Williamsburg and merging into SAS around 23 St would work perfectly for this.

          • Larry Littlefield says:

            Given the big picture, and it’s a bad one for the next few decades, I don’t think fantasizing about completing the Second System is helpful.

            The question is, how can you maximize the value of the limited (if any) non-replacement investments you can afford?

            An SAS running into the Rutgers Tunnel and hooked to the 63rd Street tunnel, with three more stations, and (say) the Sea Beach run through it as the T and the F split with 6th Avenue vs. 2nd, would provide a very fast route to east Midtown via:

            The SAS T from the Upper East Side.

            The Queens Boulevard line via half the F (say the V).

            The BMT Southern Division and Brooklyn IRT via changes at Atlantic (to the N/T) or half the F.

            The BMT Eastern Division via changes at Delancey (J/Z) and 14th Street (L).

            A fourth station at, say, 28th Street might be considered depending on how much of a destination the hospital complex there is.

            • Justin Samuels says:

              Except again that does nothing for redundancy for the Lexington Avenue line when they need to close it for repairs. That’s a very important reason the MTA has 4 phases of the Second Avenue Subway, including the downtown connection. They won’t change that, plus clearly Manhattan residents have enough political pull. When it became clear that phase 1 was going to become a reality, East Harlem activists and politics then demanded phase 2 of the Second Avenue subway. As that goes under way you will see similarly demands from East Side residents for phases 3 and 4.

              No one from Brooklyn is demanding that the Rutgers tunnel be used for anything. No activists organization, politicians, etc. That speaks volumes right there.

          • Eric says:

            SAS phase 3 is supposed to connect to the 63rd Street tunnel which it will share with the F. How about connecting that to the G? Imagine the G being actually useful by running through to East Midtown.

            • Alon Levy says:

              That would require additional tunnels to connect the G to 63rd Street. At the southern end, it would need some way to connect the G to Manhattan via Rutgers Street, which would cut service to Park Slope. And on top of it all, the G’s route in Manhattan would have poor transfers to the other lines, because SAS is far east, and the east-west lines other than the L have their easternmost stop at Lex or 3rd.

              Better to just dig a line under Northern and connect that to 63rd Street. Would give Queens a new subway branch in an underserved area.

        • Bolwerk says:

          If you want better Midtown service, why not just run through the outer boroughs and then to Midtown from Queens or Brooklyn? A sane construction regime could do it economically, and even a less insane one could do it more affordably than the SAS. It’s rather nuts how much of a transit desert some of Brooklyn is, especially considering some of it started from the point of having good rapid transit.

          Whatever justification there is for the SAS, it lies in relief and crowd control.

          • Eric says:

            Transit desert? Really? Except for the Utica area, Brooklyn has way more subway capacity than it needs.

            • Bolwerk says:

              I agree Utica Ave. might be the most glaring example. But much of Bed Stuy? Northeast Greenpoint? Red Hook? A Nostrand expansion toward Marine Park? Not to mention virtually no east-west cross-borough traffic except by bus.

              I didn’t even mention Queens because it’s too obvious how much of a transit desert much of it is. :-\

        • Justin Samuels says:

          NYC is interested in developing the real estate on the East Side of Manhattan. The local stops on the Second Avenue Subway are further apartment. Meaning that it wouldn’t take long to travel on the East Side using it.

          Also if something terrible happens to the Lexington Avenue Line, a full length Second Avenue Subway gives the MTA redundancy so they could close the Lex and make repairs at night. A Rutgers tunnel connection does nothing for that. So whenever the MTA gets the money to go downtown, you can bet they will either build the new tunnel or use the Nassau Street line.

    • mister says:

      In theory, the interlocking could be built to accommodate the future connections. When we were working on the 6th avenue interlocking rebuilds, the contract included provisions to install equipment to accommodate a switch from B1 to B3 track, even though the structural work to accommodate this switch is not in anyone’s forecasted budget.

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