Home Second Avenue Subway Report: 72nd St. station completing could delay Second Ave. Subway opening

Report: 72nd St. station completing could delay Second Ave. Subway opening

by Benjamin Kabak

Construction on the Second Ave. Subway’s 72nd St. station, shown here in a rendering, may delay the project’s opening date. (Via MTA)

Unfortunately, for the MTA and its contractors working underneath the Upper East Side, time is marching inevitably forward toward December. As the agency is facing mounting pressure both internally and externally to deliver Phase 1 of the Second Ave. Subway by the end of the year, we are receiving monthly updates in the form of MTA Board meeting materials on the project, and each month the story is the same: The MTA’s work schedule is aggressive and not being met with the usual suspects looming as issues. Last month, I detailed how escalators and elevators may again delay the opening of a major MTA project, and this month, we hear more of the same.

The latest is found starting on page 48 of the MTA Capital Construction pdf that the MTA’s oversight committee will discuss later this morning. The short of it is that one station — 72nd Street — may gum up the works for the rest of Phase 1, and overall, escalator and elevator installation efforts are falling behind schedule. Right now, four of seven key milestones at 72nd Street are behind schedule. These involve elevator and HVAC installation and tunnel vent fans. At both 86thand 96th Streets, escalator and elevator installation is a few weeks behind schedule. All work at 63rd St. remains on schedule even as half the station continues to serve F trains.

In each case, the MTA claims the delayed timelines will not affect the projected December 2016 revenue service date, but the agency’s independent engineering consultant isn’t as confident. First, the IEC notes that only 70 percent of tracking milestones met in March were met and that the lack of improvements at 72nd St. mean that the problems with escalator and elevator installation “remain close to impacting the target [revenue service date].” As they have done so in past months, the IEC again warns that the MTA’s testing schedule is “highly compressed which maximizes the demand on NYCT staff.” But this is an all-hands-on-deck effort right as the MTA is engaged in what is essentially an eight-month sprint, but demand on staff is an ancillary concern at best.

Ultimately, the IEC is worried, and they sum up their concerns succinctly:

  • The work effort at the 72nd Street Station site has not reached the level necessary to support the accelerated schedule.
  • Late design changes have continued through March and the backlog of changes may present a risk to the scheduled completion of the testing program.

In response to this development that one of three stations could hold up the entire project, a few readers have asked me if the MTA could open Phase 1 but keep 72nd Street closed until elevator and escalator installation is completed. As of now, this isn’t a particularly likely scenario and may present a challenge to the way the MTA operates. For now, MTA Capital Construction, a distinct agency under the MTA umbrella, has control over the entirety of Phase 1 of the Second Ave. Subway, and when all systems are completed, tested and accepted, they’ll turn over the project to MTA New York City Transit, a different agency under the MTA umbrella. (For the 7 line extension, MTA CC didn’t turn over the reins until shortly before the ribbon-cutting on the station, and even now, remediation work is ongoing.)

MTA CC can’t turn over part of the project while retaining control over another part, and the MTA can’t get certified to open the station with, say, only escalators and no elevators due to ADA compliance issues. It is essentially an all or nothing proposition. So everyone is holding their collective breaths as December ticks closer. We’ll get another report in May, but the key updates will arrive in June when the testing schedule must come into focus to meet the December revenue service date. We won’t know until very late in the year if the project will be delayed, but the warning signs are there. Anyone betting on the actual opening date?

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33 comments

Abba April 18, 2016 - 12:55 am

I’m sorry but elevators and escalators at 72 can’t delay the opening.If 96th is open and functioning just bypass 72

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Chris C April 18, 2016 - 11:30 am

obviously they can.

Read the next to last paragraph.

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G M April 19, 2016 - 10:57 am

Doesnt mean it’s true.

It’s called beneficial use, and it’s never an all or nothing proposition. Unless there was some language in the contract that noted otherwise, beneficial use has been standard contractual language for City contracts longer than I’ve been around.

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Al April 18, 2016 - 11:32 am

The next to last paragraph points to why.

In response to this development that one of three stations could hold up the entire project, a few readers have asked me if the MTA could open Phase 1 but keep 72nd Street closed until elevator and escalator installation is completed. As of now, this isn’t a particularly likely scenario and may present a challenge to the way the MTA operates. For now, MTA Capital Construction, a distinct agency under the MTA umbrella, has control over the entirety of Phase 1 of the Second Ave. Subway, and when all systems are completed, tested and accepted, they’ll turn over the project to MTA New York City Transit, a different agency under the MTA umbrella. (For the 7 line extension, MTA CC didn’t turn over the reins until shortly before the ribbon-cutting on the station, and even now, remediation work is ongoing.)

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Brooklynite April 18, 2016 - 4:22 pm

They can use whatever bureaucratic loophole they used for the work at Lex/63rd, or at any of the dozens of stations that have been rebuilt in recent years. MTA NYCT and MTA CC must be able to work side by side.

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Abba April 18, 2016 - 5:09 pm

I’m sorry but it’s not a reason not to open the whole line.Just pass that station.

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ben April 18, 2016 - 11:34 pm

I agree completely. Open without 72nd st. It’s a shame because it’s so good for the hospitals, but open the rest.

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John-2 April 18, 2016 - 1:56 am

If they had built the SAS in the 70s as previously planned, they would have still be going be the William Barclay Parsons credo of cut-and-cover as opposed to deep bore subway tunnels, which would have made the current HVAC/mechanical ventilation and escalator requirement of the stations more in the category of luxuries than necessities.

As it is now, with the possible future exception of the 116th Street station, all the added moving parts (aside from the ADA-mandated elevators) on the SAS are items rendered mandatory due to the MTA’s inability to place subways only 20-25 feet below the surface, as was the case for most of the first 65-plus years of the system. The more things you put in that can break or just not work correctly from the outset, the more things are going to break or just not work correctly from the outset, and in the case of 72nd Street, apparently will lead to another delay in opening the line.

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BoerumHillScott April 18, 2016 - 8:19 am

I believe modern cut and cover systems still require active ventilation systems to meet current codes.
Street grates are not allowed for new construction.

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imogen April 18, 2016 - 1:37 pm

yeah, but we’re talking wind tunnels vs. box fans here

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Roger Schonfeld April 18, 2016 - 4:48 am

MTA CC can’t turn over part of the project while retaining control over another part. It is essentially an all or nothing proposition.

Is there any reason why this is legally or technically necessary? It would be helpful to dig a little deeper into why there is such inflexibility in the project.

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Rob April 18, 2016 - 11:52 am

Agreed. First, determine whether the statement is even true.

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Larry Littlefield April 18, 2016 - 6:56 am

Bottom line — New York is in the middle of a development boom, and NYC Transit is competing with private developers for equipment and personnel.

The suppliers know they have a “right” to do future business with the MTA, either as themselves or as a new company they create, no matter how much they screw up. Just as public employees have a “right” to their jobs.

But private developers can reward or punish performance with future work or the lack thereof.

Were it not for the $50 billion in debt, on the way to $500 billion I suppose, and the politicians, the MTA would do well to build it when they aint.

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Manuel April 18, 2016 - 9:26 am

Boy they are milking that project like a cow !!!

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Larry Littlefield April 18, 2016 - 11:50 am

You’re the cow. You and me both.

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AG April 18, 2016 - 6:27 pm

Seriously – this is past ridiculous… Not just this but all public infrastructure in this region. Are there no penalties for late delivery?? Serious question – since I’m too annoyed to look it up myself.

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Andres April 18, 2016 - 10:29 am

A station without elevators or escalators beats no station at all.

A non-ADA-compliant station beats no station.

A line without some stations beats no line at all.

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Steve April 18, 2016 - 10:41 am

Except a non-ADA-compliant station IS no station since it won’t be allowed to open.

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Rob April 18, 2016 - 11:51 am

another example of the idiocy of parts of the ada.

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Avi April 18, 2016 - 12:34 pm

If by MTA you mean federal law.

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Mike April 25, 2016 - 5:20 pm

Idiocy is not finding a way to bypass 72nd. This is not that. Once you let stations open before they’re completely ADA compliant, you set up a system where the ADA specific components take forever to complete, if at all.

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MDC April 18, 2016 - 4:08 pm

The MTA has been given ADA compliance waivers for decades. They don’t need more. Making sure new construction meets ADA standards is not too much to ask. Lots of people have disabilities — whether temporary or permanent, visible or invisible — that make escalators and elevators essential for their mobility.

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Nathanael April 24, 2016 - 10:45 pm

Elevators are totally straightforward. Sure, retrofitting them in an ancient rabbit warren like Times Square is hard, but in a brand new station, they’re *easy*.

Something is deeply wrong with the MTA’s contractors if they can’t get simple elevators installed on time. It’s *150-year-old technology* and you can buy the things off the shelf.

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JEG April 18, 2016 - 11:18 am

Walking by this site everyday, it is not surprising that the milestones are not being met. What I find peculiar about the end of this story is that while it might be possible to run subways through to 96th Street, while bypassing the 72nd Street station, as the MTA CC deals with lingering mechanical issues, that won’t happen because there is no mechanism within the MTA to do so. That seems bizarre. Equally, strange is the statement that ADA compliance might keep the entire project from being brought online even if the only element to complete are elevators. Can the relevant law and agreements which brought this project to fruition really be read as to mandate that the new stations be ADA compliant from Day 1, and thereby block the opening of the entire project?

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Avi April 18, 2016 - 12:33 pm

It’s not the laws/agreements on this project, it’s the American with Disability Act(ie ADA). New construction of public buildings must meet ADA standards, that’s federal law. If you don’t meet standards you don’t get a certificate of occupancy. No CO, you can’t open to the public.

It may be nice to think about something over nothing with ADA coming later, but that’s not how the law works. If you allowed that, what’s to stop a developer from saying ADA will be built later? And then continue to delay and delay ADA. Do you give some kind of 1 month window? Then when the developer misses that you have to shut down an already open building? Like it or not, ADA is written the way it is to make sure buildings are accessible to all users, and the MTA has to comply with that.

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Nathanael April 24, 2016 - 10:47 pm

What bugs me is that — in normal new construction projects — the elevators are *not a problem*. They can be a pain in retrofit projects, but in new construction, they’re incredibly straightforward.

Why are the contractors fooling around? What are they DOING?

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Rich Brome April 18, 2016 - 2:56 pm

OK, I’ve been convinced that the ADA stuff can’t be worked around. Bummer, but I get it.

BUT this thing where the left hand of the MTA (Capital Construction) can’t coordinate with the right hand (New York City Transit) is silly. What I’m hearing is that NOW is the time to untangle this bureaucratic mess. Form a Project Launch Committee consisting of existing people from both CC and NYCT. Task them with figuring out how to work together. Give them whatever authority they need to cut through internal MTA red tape. Get it done.

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david vartanoff April 18, 2016 - 4:47 pm

Yes 72nd can’t open until the elevators are functional. But trains should be able to bypass 72 if 86,96 are ready.
As to deep bore,absolutely stupid. Start with the time penalty of five+minutes from sidewalk to platform compared to the single short flight of stairs on the Broadway BMT or the Lex IRT S of GGCT. Elevators do less work (longer MDBF all other things being equal) escalators the same. Breakdowns should be less frequent, and for non ADA users an OOS escalator for a short distance is less of an issue.
As to getting the contractors to actually perform… 3 shifts a day,

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Tim April 19, 2016 - 7:38 pm

Good luck getting that 3 shift plan past the residents. I live on 80/1st, so I’m close by and not too affected, but the people on 2nd right by the shaft sites are probably not too cool with three shifts

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Nathanael April 24, 2016 - 10:48 pm

It’s becoming clear that certain contractors need to be sacked and blacklisted.

Hire contractors from out-of-state if necessary — but I think contractors from Buffalo, Rochester, or Syracuse could do a perfectly good job.

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Jerrold April 18, 2016 - 6:31 pm

There is NOT one logical reason why the line cannot be allowed to open, with the trains skipping 72nd St. until that station is finished.
The current situation is like saying that the #7 extension should not have been allowed to open, because the proposed 10th Ave. station was NOT built!
If that comparison sounds crazy to you, did you ever hear of reductio ad absurdum?

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A.G. April 18, 2016 - 8:04 pm

At the CPOC meeting today, the 72nd street issues were reviewed, no actions were taken besides acknowledgement. FWIW, the existing delays do not impact the RSD, but there haven’t (or is it hasn’t?) been any actions toward preventing future delays, or recouping the lost time (which is a few weeks).

At least in my priorities, I wouldn’t want to bleed out another 50 million in overtime, even if the project was delayed to Jan-Feb 2016. Maybe this is what the committee is also thinking?

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