Scenes from the 7 line: Who watches the watchers?By
Remember those photos from Hudson Yards I posted last week? Showcasing a leaking wall and some out-of-service escalators, these pictures represented but a slice of the problems plaguing the MTA’s newest subway station. As many have noted — both in the media and as riders — icicles formed over the winter, and MTA officials eventually poor grouting work that a contractor will fix, at a cost of $3 million to this contractor. It won’t cost the MTA a penny, but it leaves egg on the face of an agency with a poor public image. Worse yet, it exposes some deep rifts in the oversight process.
Yesterday morning, the MTA’s Board committee met for the first time since the Hudson Yards flaws hit the headlines, and they were not happy with the news. Polly Trottenberg said she found out about the water intrusion problems first from reading Gothamist and not from internal MTA reports, and MTA Capital Construction President Michael Horodniceanu grew very defensive in the face of appropriately combative and probing questions. At one point, in response to questions regarding faulty escalators, Horodniceanu said simply, “I do not control when things break.” His words came awfully close to a self-absolution of responsibility, and he later indicated that MTACC knew about the problem as early as 2012.
Meanwhile, while Charles Moerdler was content to defend the MTA’s shoddy waterproofing efforts — a reason, by the way, why the new South Ferry station is being rebuilt from the ground up — Jonathan Ballan, Trottenberg and Allen Cappelli were far less forgiving. “The level of surprise and disappointment cannot be overstated,” Ballan said, of a station the MTA Board seemed to call a $2 billion lemon. “It should work.”
Cappelli, meanwhile, picked up on the public relations aspect of the problem. The images, he said, are “damaging to the reputation of the agency,” adding that it “looks foolish” to have problems so soon after opening, and Horodniceanu hedged when asked if the contractors responsible are working on other MTA capital projects. My own reporting has indicated that the Yonkers Contracting Company is involved with some work in the East Side Access cavern but does not appear to be involved with the Second Ave. Subway construction.
For its part, the MTA plans to engage an outside consultant to assess the process. The agency will study “what did we know and what actions did we take with respect to trying to correct the conditions that are existing there, so we can find ourselves in a position next time that we don’t have the same outcome?” MTA CEO and Chairman Tom Prendergast said.
But on the other hand, this development raises questions regarding general oversight. No one in charge of the MTA today was around when this project was approved in the mid-2000s. Peter Kalikow was in charge of the agency then, and Mysore Nagaraja was the head of Capital Construction. Still, the current administration, and in particular Horodniceanu, have been around long enough to oversee numerous contract awards and the day-to-day construction progress. Yet, waterproofing and escalators, a technology that dates to the mid-to-late 1800s, have remained frustratingly out of reach.
So what next? The MTA is going to open some new stations later this year or early next (if they can once more, in part, overcome the hurdle of escalator installation and operations), and we’ll do this all over again. But from oversight to construction practices, it seems as though an agency that can’t spend efficiently needs some help. How they get it is an open question.