Archive for 7 Line Extension

As time marches on and the subways enjoy record-setting crowds (more on that later), various capital construction deadlines are fast approaching. As we know, two megaprojects — the 7 line extension and the Fulton St. Transit Center — are due to wrap this year, after nearly seven years of construction. Due to the delays plaguing the escalators and elevators at the deep 34th St. station along 11th Ave., the Fulton St. ribbon-cutting has leap-frogged the 7 line. According to MTA Board documents released yesterday, Fulton St. will open to public on Thursday, June 26, 2014. Save the date.

Meanwhile, mitigation work and acceptance testing continues on the Far West Side, and the MTA is still committed to delivering the 7 line in the fall, nearly 11 months later than scheduled. For now, the official word is still “November,” but according to an engineering report contained within the MTA’s materials this week, that date could hit December if problems aren’t resolved. The winter solstice is December 21. So the MTA has three weeks in December in which it is still technically fall to deliver the project. Hold your breath.

Finally, over on the East Side, the Second Ave. Subway continues to be on pace for a December 2016 revenue start date, but the documents detail some slippage. Construction crews have burned through approximately half of the project’s planned contingency days, and a few delivery dates have been pushed back. Still, until we hear otherwise, December 2016 it is. That’s only 33 months away, and the real estate market is responding in turn.

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Surprise! The 7 line extension isn’t likely to open by late summer or early fall, as the MTA had promised in January. That date has once again slipped a few months, and in a comment to NBC’s Andrew Siff following today’s MTA Board meeting, Capital Construction President Michael Horodniceanu said that mid fall — November, to be exact — is more likely.

It’s a bit concerning that, for a station so far underground, the escalators and elevators have become a problem. How else are straphangers going to ascend and descend the 11 stories that separate 34th St. and 11th Ave. from the subway platform beneath? (Never mind the fact that nearly everyone other than transit agencies can install escalators and elevators without a problem.)

Meanwhile, for the 7 line, this is yet another delay, even if it is just a minor one. The project was originally supposed to open before Mayor Bloomberg left office in December, but the projected launch date hit June of 2014 nearly 24 months out. When Bloomberg took a ceremonial ride late last year, MTA officials spoke of a “summer” launch, and Board materials last month, as I mentioned, referenced late summer/early fall. Recently, Horodniceanu has discussed an October date, and today, we hear it is November. The Second Ave. Subway, for what it’s worth, is still due to open in December of 2016. I’d probably bet the over.

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While we all gathered to celebrate Mayor Bloomberg’s 7 line extension a few weeks ago, the rest of New York City is going to have to wait even longer as this project too has been delayed a few months. According to MTA documents to be presented to board members on Monday, due to issues with the escalators and elevators at 34th St. and the transmission backbone system, the opening of the station at Hudson Yards will be delayed until at least late summer/early fall of 2014 and possibly into the fourth quarter of 2014.

The three main concerns seem to focus around equipment. The hand rail motor for the high rise escalators at 34th Street failed the Factory Acceptance Test; the transmission backbone system which operates all major systems including HVAC, fire alarms and the elevators and escalators were delayed; and the inclined elevators at 34th St. have twice failed Factory Acceptance Tests. The MTA notes as well that “installation logistics and access…may become an issue.”

According to the documents, the MTA is working with contractors to mitigate the delay, but it’s not likely that the agency will meet the previously promised June 2014 date. The delay should not impact the cost, but it is yet another sign of problems managing major construction projects. By the time it opens, the 7 line extension will be nearly two years late past original estimates and one year off of its revised timeline that had service commencing in December.

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MTA contractors survey an unfinished station at 34th St. and 11th Ave. (Photo: Benjamin Kabak)

It will be six months yet — and, judging from the photos I snapped, maybe more — before passengers can ride the 7 train to 34th St. and 11th Ave., but as Friday’s ceremonial first ride demonstrated, uncharted territories of Manhattan will soon be on the (subway) map. When the official ribbon-cutting arrives, it will be a big day with New York’s first new subway stop nearly three decades, and as with any project of this magnitude, the gains are real but so are the mistakes. As Mayor Bloomberg stood at his podium Friday afternoon, I pondered some of those mistakes.

As has been the party line for some time now, Bloomberg repeated that the 7 line extension was “on time and on budget.” It’s a $2.4 billion, one-stop extension from 41st St. between 7th and 8th Avenues to 26th and 11th with a station that spans 34th-36th St. in front of the Javits Center. By the time the Hudson Yards development is in full swing, it will see tens of thousands of riders per day and has already opened up some of the last underutilized space in Manhattan to development. Even in 2013, where the subways go, people and business will follow.

But what did we give up to make sure the 7 line extension was on time and on budget? The economics of it all are a bit shady. The city forked over $2.1 billion initially, and the MTA had to pick up some cost overruns. Ultimately, as the MTA didn’t want to build this subway extension if it had to fund any of it, the parties agreed on a funding scheme that worked for all involved but at a big cost. The initial plans called for a two-stop extension with a interim station at 41st St. and 10th Ave. Shortly after I started this site in 2006, that station fell by the wayside, and the MTA and Mayor’s Office engaged in a battle of attrition over the project’s plans.

A panoramic view of the mezzanine at the 7 line’s 34th St. station. (Photo: Benjamin Kabak)

When it became clear that the second station wouldn’t see the light of day during the initial stages of construction, the city and MTA tried to come to an agreement on a station shell. The construction would have cost around $500 million. Again, the city wouldn’t pay, and the MTA had no spare capital funding. So the shell was axed, and the MTA built in bare provisioning for a future station. The incline of the tunnel flattens out for a few hundred feet near 10th Ave. should money materialize in the future for two platforms on either side of the street. In a fight over the paltry sum of half a billion dollars, New York residents of today and tomorrow lost out. That station will cost significantly more to build in the future than it would have today.

During the battle over that station, we had a glimpse into the machinations of the Mayor’s Office. Dan Doctoroff, when he was the deputy mayor for economic development, was the public face of the fight over the second station, and one line from a Bloomberg P.R. rep, in particular, highlights Doctoroff’s and Bloomberg’s thinking. “Unlike the extension to 34th Street and 11th Avenue, which the city is funding, a 10th Avenue station is not necessary to drive growth there,” the statement said. “A Tenth Avenue station would be nice, but it’s really a straight transportation project versus an economic development catalyst. We do recognize the difficult financial situation in which the M.T.A. finds itself as pressure on all of our budgets intensifies.”

Doctoroff has pursued this line of thinking in recent comments on the Second Ave. Subway, and I worry about what it means for future city investment in transit expansion. During Friday’s ceremony, Ann Weisbrod of the Hudson Yards Development Corporation spoke, and Stephen M. Ross, the chairman of the Related Companies took the mic as well. For all the pomp and circumstance over infrastructure expansion, this was about development first and transportation a distant second.

So what happens in the future? Are we doomed to subway expansion efforts funded by the city only if they feed development in the relative wildness of New York? If so, we’re out of luck because there are no more Hudson Yards-type spaces in New York City. The need to invest in transportation for the sake of transportation looms large, and Bloomberg, as a fighter for congestion pricing, traffic calming and pedestrian safety, should have recognized it five years ago as he did through his words on Friday. Where can we expand next is a very good question indeed.

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Mayor Bloomberg flashes a thumbs up as his 7 train heads east from 34th St. and 11th Ave. (Photo: Benjamin Kabak)

The 7 line extension down to 11th Ave. and 34th St. isn’t quite what I’d call ready for passengers. In some spots, the floor is down; in some areas — conveniently behind the train that pulled in carrying the mayor this afternoon — the wile tiling is there. But mostly, it’s a station without finishes. Wiring, paneling, ceilings, walls and floors: None of it is in place yet, and it doesn’t have to be. The opening date for the station, perhaps optimistically, isn’t until June of 2014.

Still, with Mayor Bloomberg’s tenure up in a little bit more than a week, he wanted the opportunity to talk about his contributions to New York City. It wasn’t quite a ribbon-cutting; that will come when the station is complete. But it was a ceremony as a 7 train rolled down the tracks from 42nd St. to deliver the mayor to the station he helped see through with $2.4 billion in city money. Since this was, after all, the first city-funded subway extension since the Queens Boulevard line went east to Jamaica-179th Street in 1950, the mayor, flanked by his daughters, wanted to be there himself to see something through. I don’t blame him.

A wall, nearly finished, just for the mayor. (Photo: Benjamin Kabak)

Press materials distributed by the Mayor’s Office today spoke about how the extension “demonstrates the commitment by the Bloomberg Administration to invest in infrastructure projects that will ensure New York City continues to be a leading global city in the future.” For a one-stop subway extension priced at $2.4 billion, the pomp and circumstance was almost too much, and when Bloomberg dropped an “on time and on budget” reference into his remarks, I shed a tear for our dearly departed station at 41st St. and 10th Ave. Yet, in the mayor’s comments, what he said about investment rang true.

The mayor, who flashed his senior MetroCard, admitted to “virtually never taking the bus” and spoke about how he rides the subway often, spoke about the need to invest in infrastructure. New York City, he noted, will not have more streets, and it is going to be even more dependent on mass transit. Yet, the transportation network hasn’t kept pace with the growth of the city. “We stopped building subways,” he said, “but the population keep moving.”

In his remarks, Bloomberg touched upon areas I’ve covered over the years. He spoke about subway service deeper into Brooklyn, extending lines into eastern Queens and a connection for Staten Island. He talked about he need to renovate and overhaul the city’s aging airports, and he discussed how he expects congestion pricing to one day return and pass. “There will never be a time,” he said, “when you don’t have the opportunity or necessity to expand infrastructure.”

Much work remains on the 7 line extension stop at 34th St. and 11th Ave. (Photo: Benjamin Kabak)

Through it all, I thought about my lukewarm embrace of Bill de Blasio and if he truly understands the need to focus on infrastructure expansion, but I also thought on Bloomberg’s past 12 years. He seems to get the role mass transit plays, and his contributions — Select Bus Service, borough taxis, Citi Bikes, pedestrian plazas — have been multi-faceted. But considering how many areas could use a subway extension, even of a stop or two, and how there are no firm plans on the horizon for more capital work after Phase 1 of the Second Ave. Subway wraps, I wondered if we had missed some good opportunities to exploit shorter expansions to deliver better service for New Yorkers. We don’t always need to build full lines; even just 2.5 miles down Utica Ave., for instance, would make a big difference.

So today the 7 line had its moment in the sun, but it’s debut is a while away. The wall tiling is up only where the Mayor’s train pulled in, and the floor isn’t in place everywhere. Work remains to be done on the mezzanine and platform, but it’s coming along. And when it opens and tens of thousands of people a day start using this new station, the Far West Side won’t be so far after all.

After the jump, a slideshow of all of my photographs from today. You can find a few more on my Instagram account as well. Read More→

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Two quick hits on some outstanding items right now with more to come: The MTA confirmed today that the new South Ferry station, totaled by Sandy’s floodwaters in October of 2012, will reopen at some point in 2016. The project is still expected to cost around $600 million — or the same as it cost to build the station from scratch — and it will include significant remediation work. MTA Board materials contain more details on the remediation that I’ll cover tonight, and Matt Flegenheimer confirmed the 2016 date during the Board’s Capital Program Oversight Committee meeting today.

In more current news, the 7 line extension is sort of set to open this week. While the station at 34th St. and 11th Ave. isn’t set to enter revenue service until June of 2014, with the primary funding partner on the way out of office at the end of the month, the MTA and Mayor Bloomberg will host a ceremonial ribbon cutting this Friday afternoon. We haven’t seen many images from inside the station cavern lately, but clearly, crews have made enough progress to conduct a limited run of a subway train set for dignitaries. I’m hoping to snag a seat on the ride and will, of course, have plenty of photos if I do. Stayed tuned for more on that front too.

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REBNY is still trumpeting the 7 line extension to Secaucus. Click to enlarge.

Will we hear more on the plan to send the 7 to Secaucus? Click to enlarge.

As Mayor Bloomberg’s last month in office dawns upon us this weekend, the plans to send the 7 train to New Jersey will likely exit the political arena along with hizzoner. Despite some feasibility studies, the proposal hasn’t generated much support from others on our side of the Hudson River, and the MTA has bigger, New York-centric fish to fry. With some Staten Island politicians threatening to torpedo any funding initiatives that may come through the City Council, we’re unlikely to see much action on the plan now or in the foreseeable future.

That fate, though, isn’t stopping New Jersey from trying. The New Jersey State Assembly recently passed a resolution expressing support for the project. That is, unfortunately, all this resolution — available here as a PDF — accomplishes. Taking a jab at Governor Chris Christie’s decision to cancel the ARC Tunnel, the measure that it is “in the best interest of this State to extend the 7 Train to New Jersey.” Thus, “this House” — the NJ Assembly — “supports the extension of the New York City IRT Flushing Line into the State of New Jersey.”

Beyond a token gesture of support, the bill isn’t worth much more than the paper it’s printed on. There is no talk of a funding scheme or any attempt at contributing to the project’s forward progress. In fact, reports out of New Jersey indicate that even the politicians who supported the resolution are not so keen on the 7 line extension as currently proposed. NJBiz’s Andrew George has more:

Though the Assembly Transportation, Public Works and Independent Authorities Committee voted to release the resolution for further consideration, legislators said there were still too many concerns surrounding it…Committee chair and Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Sayreville) said that the extension is worth further consideration if only to continue looking for an alternative to the $8.7 billion Access to the Region’s Core project, a trans-Hudson rail tunnel that Gov. Chris Christie nixed in 2010.

Wisniewski said that while everything had been in place to move forward with the ARC project, Christie “chose to pull the rug out from underneath that.” But Daniel O’Connell, a state legislative director for the United Transportation Union, testified before the committee that rather than diverting resources to extending the 7 Line, the state should instead look to support efforts “that get the biggest bang for the buck,” such as the Gateway Project and viable alternatives to the ARC project.

He said a priority should also be given over the project to exploring a one-seat ride route for NJ Transit’s Raritan Valley Line, which currently requires passengers to change trains in Newark before continuing on to Manhattan. That’s something Assemblywoman Linda Stender (D-Scotch Plains) said she could get behind, given that the Raritan Valley Line cuts through her district. Stender said legislators “have to keep the pressure on” about exploring that option.

In a world where transit funds are limited, the best use of New Jersey’s resources likely involve pushing forward on Gateway rather than the 7 line extension or a one-seat option for Raritan Valley riders. Still, even though this resolution has no teeth and even though this project’s biggest supporter is leaving office in a mouth, it has at least gotten people talking. If talk becomes action of one form or another, after the fallout and ill will from ARC, the zany 7 line extension may just serve a purpose yet.

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REBNY is still trumpeting the 7 line extension to Secaucus. Click to enlarge.

REBNY is still trumpeting the 7 line extension to Secaucus. Click to enlarge.

I’ve had a tough time getting a handle on the Real Estate Board of New York’s position on transit advocacy over the years. Time after time, we’ve seen how better transit has a positive impact on the value of real estate and the pace of development, but REBNY never seems to be out in front of key issues. For instance, they supported a station at 41st and 10th Ave. on the 7 line extension years too late, and their website devoted to the cause is no longer up and running. They have power but not necessarily the will.

Now, though, they seem to have emerged as the most vocal supporters for one of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s odder proposals that will likely die when he leaves office at the end of the year. REBNY has become the champion for the plan to send the subways outside of New York City, under the Hudson River and to Secaucus. Jerry Gottesman, the chairman of Edison Properties, and Steve Spinola, the president of REBNY, made their case in the Daily News yesterday for a comprehensive study. Why stop at 34th St. and 11th Ave., they ask, and their answer has a twist.

Over the past three years, the mayor’s office, working with a bi-state multi-agency task force, has studied a plan to extend the No. 7 line through a new tunnel under the Hudson River, connecting it to the Lautenberg train station in Secaucus, New Jersey.There, it would become the transit connection of choice for many of the millions of New Jersey commuters each day, linking this key workforce seamlessly to the Hudson Yards, Bryant Park, Grand Central Station, Long Island City and Flushing — and giving Queens riders direct access to New Jersey as well.

…The extension of the No. 7 to Secaucus would create important ancillary benefits. With over 200 peak-hour buses full of riders travelling to Secaucus for a smooth transfer to the No. 7 Line, the Port Authority Bus Terminal on 8th Ave. and West 42nd St. would be relieved of a significant portion of the demand that presently clogs that facility daily, increasing its operating efficiency and finally unburdening it enough to allow it to undergo a much needed renovation…

The public should know that there are two rail-tunnel proposals, both necessary. In addition to the No. 7 extension — which would address the needs of regional commuters and employers in both the city and New Jersey — there is the Gateway Tunnel, a keystone in Amtrak’s realization of a robust intercity rail system between Washington and Boston on its premier line, the Northeast Corridor. It would also provide redundancy in the event of failure of the existing 100-year-old tunnel to Penn Station. Having the two systems share a tunnel is not a new solution…By building one tunnel that can serve both the 7 train and Gateway, both projects will be able to advance when the first one proceeds, laying the foundation for future regional mobility and growth.

This is the first a bi-level tunnel similar to the one under the East River at 63rd St. has been proposed in the public discourse surrounding the 7 line extension, and the two real estate execs have requested a $2 million effort to fund a serious study. That would be on top of the $500,000 study the EDC unveiled in April that termed the extension “feasible.” I’m not sure this idea even goes that far.

It’s hard to imagine the money coming in for the Gateway Tunnel, let alone for a subway tube literally on top of that. The wisdom of such an approach from a practical standpoint should be question, and as Stephen Smith noted, this idea reeks of “insane overengineer.” But it’s still a Big Idea with some champions, and as I’ve noted in the past, that’s how Big Ideas become reality.

Still, this latest salvo in the ongoing battle to drum up some support for this extension doesn’t reach the fundamental question of need. New Yorkers won’t back a 7 line to Secaucus without some major contributions from the Garden State because it doesn’t benefit them, and already Staten Island politicians have threatened to block any such efforts with a commitment to improve transit connections to and from that isolated borough. There are areas in the city that could use better subway service and are primed for development should the transit connections arrive. Perhaps that — and not westward across the Hudson — is where REBNY should devote its energies.

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When Mayor Bloomberg promised to pay for the 7 line extension to 34th St. and 11th Ave., he did so in part on the basis of tax returns. Tax revenue from the Hudson Yards development will help pay off the $2.1 billion in bonds the city has outstanding for the subway project. What happens though if the city intentionally depresses that tax revenue?

Already, New York’s Independent Budget Office has raised some concerns over tax revenue from the project. Due to the Great Recession and a sluggish market, tax returns have not been as high as expected, but development is set to grow in the coming months. Now we get word of more tax breaks.

Here’s Daniel Geiger on the funding scheme:

The city’s Industrial Development Agency is expected to clear the way for a big tax discount for a portion of the Related Cos.’ vast Hudson Yards project on Tuesday. The anticipated thumbs up has raised eyebrows among some fiscal watchdogs.

The agency, a subsidiary of the city’s Economic Development Corp., is considering a 20-year long 40% property tax break for a roughly 1 million-square-foot retail mall and the 2.4 million-square-foot office spire that the retail space will be attached to that is being built over the rail yards west of Pennsylvania Station. According to a recent report on the discount, published by the city’s Independent Budget Office, Related could realize $328 million in savings from the exemption over the period…

Fiscal watchdogs say that the break is especially problematic given that the city plans to use tax revenue from the Hudson Yards to pay off the over $2 billion cost of extending the No. 7 subway to the site. That extension is set to open in mid-2014. According to the IBO, the city’s tax collections have fallen short of projections, forcing it to reach into municipal coffers to cover the shortfalls.

Between 2006 and 2012, the city spent $137 million servicing the bonds for the No. 7 line, and is girding itself to spend more. According to the IBO, the city has set aside $155.6 million for that purpose in 2013 and 2014.

Various government watchdogs have questioned the appropriateness of the tax break, and it certainly doesn’t seem completely necessary to encourage development in the area. Meanwhile, the city has given out a subway extension and will now sacrifice more revenue that could have gone toward the station at 41st St. and 10th Ave. That’s not a particularly good look.

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A shot of the 7 line extension from June. It’s beginning to look a lot like a real subway tunnel. (Photo: Metropolitan Transportation Authority / Patrick Cashin)

As Mayor Bloomberg’s time in office nears an end, his tenure is racing against the clock for the 7 line extension. For better or worse, this project, less one key station, is his baby, and earlier this year, he vowed to push trains through the tunnel before his term ends if it means an opportunity for a ribbon-cutting. It may not be ready for revenue service until mid-June of 2014, but some sort of ceremony will take place before the end of the year just to Bloomberg can pat himself on the back for delivering the dollars.

At a certain point, the conversation surrounding the 7 line changed. I used to call it the Line To Nowhere, and while it’s sort of the line to nowhere, in a few years, it’ll be the Line That Turned Nowhere Into Somewhere. It shouldn’t surprise us because most of New York City developed on the backs of the various subway lines, but development of Manhattan’s last frontier is following the subway and at a very rapid pace.

In a big piece in this week’s Crain’s New York, Dan Geiger explores that development. The dollars are starting to roll in, and soon the buildings will start to rise. Geiger reports:

With the long-talked-about transit link almost ready, the area’s real estate interests are betting vast sums that more tenants will follow in the footsteps of the major companies that have already booked huge blocks of space, including Coach, Time Warner and L’Oréal. Indeed, as Crain’s first reported last week, Citigroup is considering relocating its global corporate headquarters from Park Avenue to Hudson Yards.

In response to those bullish signals from tenants, developers are snapping up major development sites at a prodigious pace, making the area the most active in the city this year for such deals, according to real estate experts. The 7 train’s looming arrival has only hastened that frenzy. Bob Knakal, chairman of sales brokerage Massey Knakal, said small fortunes are being created, as the activity has pushed up land prices by double or more.

“A lot of the development sites that only a short time ago were considered speculative are now tangible,” Mr. Knakal said. “You’ll see a lot more happen in the neighborhood coming up. There are at least four very significant sites that I know of that will be in play within the next month or two right smack in the Hudson Yards.”

The Related Cos., already in the process of developing the 26-acre, $15 billion Hudson Yards complex, has been the most voracious buyer of adjacent sites in a doubling down of its holdings in the area. The company has entered into a contract to acquire a parcel between West 35th and 36th streets—for $75 million or more—that will border a new “Hudson Boulevard” being constructed by the city to run between 10th and 11th avenues.

The actual arrival of the train to the area was a key moment psychologically for developers. As Geiger notes, those investing in the area believe that 70 percent of residents will use the 7 train on a daily basis, and the level of interest has increased as it’s become clear that the subway is a reality and not just a promise. Meanwhile, Related, the company with the largest stake in the area, plans to start work on the platform that will cover the Hudson Yards early next year.

“If there were no No. 7 subway, I’m not sure we would be starting the platform then,” Jay Cross, the head of the Hudson Yards project for Related, said to Crain’s. “But knowing that it is going to be there means we have to get going and that we will also have enough tenant interest for the space there.”

Is there a lesson here — besides, that is, the one Dan Doctoroff was espousing a few weeks ago when he praised the 7 line at the expense of the Second Ave. Subway? We see that subway construction can still feed development and can still dictate where people want to live, work and build in New York City. The same doesn’t happen around Select Bus Service lines, and our politicians would be wise to pay attention the Hudson Yards. There are other areas of the city that could use subway lines and the subway lines can lead to more density and a better use of scarce space.

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