Archive for 7 Line Extension
On an unseasonably warm Friday toward the end of his 12-year tenure, then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg took a celebratory subway ride on the 7 train from Times Square to the station in progress at 34th St. and 11th Ave. Although the mayor had pushed to see the one-stop extension, funded nearly entirely through city money, open before he left office, the MTA couldn’t finish the project on time, and so his ride and subsequent press conference became a celebration in symbolism. The 7 line was supposed to open soon after Bloomberg rode off into the sunset, and he was content to smile for the cameras during his valedictory lap around the city.
“Today’s historic ride is yet another symbol of how New York City has become a place where big projects can get done,” Bloomberg said at the time. “This project is the linchpin of an ambitious transit-oriented, mixed-use development that is already transforming Manhattan’s Far West Side, and it demonstrates our Administration’s commitment over the past 12 years to invest in infrastructure that will allow our city to grow for generations to come.”
Since then, no one has gotten to ride on the 7 train since the MTA hasn’t been able to move past a few key problems. The long wait for revenue service, we learned today, should be over before summer ends. The MTA expects to open the 7 line extension by September 13 — presumably of 2015. As the agency has no plans to host a ribbon-cutting during the dog days of August, it’s possible that the new stop will open before September 13, but as they did with the Fulton St. Transit Center, it seems likely that Sunday, September 13 — Erev Rosh Hashanah — will be the big day for the mayor’s pet project.
It’s hard to view this as anything other than a relief. The MTA has the proverbial egg on its face due to its inability to get this project across the finish line until nearly 21 months after Bloomberg’s ride, and the project itself is marred by a costly game of chicken in which neither the city nor the MTA blinked over the $500 million cost-saving measure to cancel the plans for a second station at 10th Ave. and 41st. Though provisioning is in place for a side-platform station should the money materialize, there are no immediate plans in the works for anyone to fund or build this station.
In honor of the eventual opening, let’s take a look back at all the times the MTA promised to open the 7 line extension starting with the plan to build the Jets a new stadium atop the Hudson Yards and bring the Olympics to New York City. In 2005, as those plans percolated through MTA Board actions and various lawsuits, the MTA promised to open the 7 line extension before any potential Summer Olympics in 2012. Obviously, they missed that deadline.
In mid-2010 as work continued on the project, the MTA’s deadline had already slipped to June of 2013, but that was a short-lived target. By early 2012, MTA Capital Construction President Michael Horodniceanu said the 7 line would likely be in testing by the end of 2013 and open for revenue service in 2014. In early 2013, Mayor Bloomberg threatened to push the 7 train himself if it meant running trains before he left office, and that is basically what he did.
During Bloomberg’s press conference, the MTA stated that they expected a summer 2014 opening date, but as we know, that too proved elusive. In January of 2014, the MTA predicated a late summer/early fall opening; in February of 2014, the MTA predicated a November opening; and in June of 2014, the MTA predicted an early 2015 opening, a timeline later firmed up in September.
It didn’t stop there. In December, the MTA discussed an opening during the second quarter of 2014, and in April, the agency pushed that back to the third quarter. And that’s where we stand now. Despite this tortured history, I wouldn’t bet against a September opening. The MTA is performing the final tests, and officials don’t usually set a firm date as they did today without ample faith in that decision. Still, stranger things have happened.
Ultimately, in a year or five years or ten years, no one will care that the MTA couldn’t open the 7 line extension on time, but residents along 2nd Ave. are rightly skeptical the MTA will deliver on promises to open that project by the end of 2016. Furthermore, politicians too are also skeptical — rightly or wrongly remains an open question — on the MTA’s ability to deliver. While delays are ultimately temporary, city pols are happy to use them as an excuse to keep badly-needed funding out of the MTA’s hands. Thus, as we did with the station at 41st St. and 10th Ave., we all lose. It’s just a few things to keep in mind as we hurtle toward September 13, the 7 line extension’s latest do-or-die day.
At this point in our saga, the monthly release of the MTA Board books presents another opportunity to find out that the 7 line extension opening has been delayed. In March, the Board saw a fancy presentation with photos from the completed but unopened station while MTA Capital Construction officials noted that opening may not be until the start of the third quarter. In this month’s Transit committee meetings, we learn that the project is now officially delayed until the third quarter of 2015. The MTA hasn’t said if July 1 or September 30 will be the opening, but they expect the great unveiling to be some time in that time period.
This month’s materials don’t go into the same detail as previous updates. After all, the MTA’s Capital Program Oversight Committee has a variety of projects that require oversight, and they can’t all be as comically delayed as the 7 line extension. But we know that the vent fans, some alarm systems, escalators and inclined elevators have been at the root of the delay. Some of these are systems the MTA opted not to purchase off the shelf due to a combination of low bid requirements, Made in America obligations and sheer stubbornness.
Meanwhile, the one-stop extension — without, of course, the station at 41st St. and 10th Ave. that would have dramatically improved this project’s overall value — will now open more than 16 months before outgoing Mayor Bloomberg basically forced the MTA to conduct a ceremonial ride as part of his valedictory lap around the city. Because the area is still under development and considered Manhattan’s final frontier, few residents are up in arms over the delay. The project simply wasn’t disruptive to a densely-populated area.
The Second Ave. Subway, the MTA says, is still scheduled to open in December of 2016, but if similar delays happen on the Upper East Side — and remember, the feds have never revised their own estimate of an early 2018 opening for Phase 1 of the Second Ave. Subway — a powerful and vocal group of Manhattanites will not go quietly into the night. The 7 line opening date is a farce; the Second Ave. Subway could be much, much worse.
For the most part, the abandoned subway stations dotted through the city are remnants of subway service past. The 91st St. station located beneath by childhood apartment building flashes by in the blank of an eye, and the Bergen St. express stop — destroyed in a fire — is visible only during the right GOs. Then, there are the stations never used such as the mythical South 4th St. stop or the lower level at Nevins Street. Urban explorers and city historians know about these secrets.
But what of the station that’s pre-abandoned? It one day will be used, but for now, it sits mostly finished but with no passengers. It’s the newest subway station in New York City, and it’s not yet set to open until, well, soon — perhaps by mid-summer if all eventually goes according to plan. I am of course referring to the 7 line extension at 11th Ave. and 34th St. As recent photos released by the MTA show, it’s a gleaming, bright, brand-new subway stop entirely devoid of people, and as a recent report released by the MTA shows, the station is likely delayed again until the start of the third quarter of 2015.
The latest new came out of Monday’s MTA Board committee hearings. As the Capital Construction committee books reveal, the MTA is “aggressively pursuing completion” before the end of June, but foundation work at a site underneath planned development and testing is likely to push that date into July. During Monday’s meeting, MTA officials confirmed that the June opening is unlikely, and a summer opening is in the 7 line extension’s future. Considering how unfinished the station looked in December of 2013 when Mayor Bloomberg had his ceremonial non-opening, we never should have believed the station would be ready in 2014 in the first place.
The source of the latest delays is two-fold. First, the MTA’s own testing issues are an impediment. The fire alarm and transmission-backbone systems are behind schedule while Transit is finally beginning Level 4 acceptance testing for those pesky incline elevators. The MTA and its consultants anticipates 15 weeks for remaining testing with two weeks’ lead time; hence, the July revenue service date.
Meanwhile, additional work at Hudson Yards — something that wouldn’t have been a problem a year ago — has reared its head. Site J was due to host a ventilation plant that wasn’t required for revenue service. Work was due to start around now, and, well, here comes the work. As crews seek to sink parts of the foundation near passenger areas, the MTA may need to coordinate schedules around this work. You may think this should have been a consideration earlier in the project, but here we are.
What is completely surreal about this project right now is that it’s a nearly finished subway station underneath the streets of Manhattan. You can skim through the photos in this PDF or take a stroll near the Javits Center. It’s not a particularly important stop for a few more months, and I’d wager that most New Yorkers have no idea it’s on the eternal verge of opening. But it’s there, awaiting completion for the past 15 months.
And yet, while it doesn’t really matter in the short-term if this station opens in June or July or last April or next September, it matters for the credibility’s sake. The MTA is asking for $15 billion for another capital fund, but it can’t open a one-station extension that was supposed to ready for service before 2013 ended. The cognitive dissonance is overwhelming. Meanwhile, according to MTA documents, Phase 1 of the Second Ave. Subway is still set to open by the end of December 2016. I think I’ll take the over.
For a long time, I took to calling the 7 line extension the “Train to Nowhere.” It’s not that it would always be the train to nowhere, but when it was supposed to open in late 2013, it would be the train to not very much. The first major Hudson Yards building still isn’t set to open until later in 2015, and the entire complex won’t be completed until the mid-2020s if all goes according to plan. And then the delays struck.
During Monday’s MTA Board committee meetings and in materials made available over the weekend, the MTA announced yet again that the opening for the 7 line would be delayed. While they’re holding out hope that the one-stop extension to 34th St. and 11th Ave. will open in late February, an Independent Engineering Consultant expects the line to enter revenue service some time during the second quarter of the year, and MTA officials did not dispute this finding during the meetings on Monday. Thus, potentially 18 months after Mayor Bloomberg’s ceremonial ride, the 7 line might open.
A problem of course is that 10 Hudson Yards is inching toward completion. The Subway to Nowhere will soon morph into the Somewhere Without a Subway, and the cushion between the projected opening of the 7 line and the projected opening of the Hudson Yards office buildings is disappearing before our eyes. If the MTA can’t deliver this project on time, what hope do we have for the Second Ave. Subway, which is supposed to open two years from now?
To add insult to insult to injury, the problem remains technologies that aren’t exactly new. Yet again, the inclined elevators are behind schedule, and this time, the fire alarm testing has not gone as planned. While the MTA notes that “all parties are working together to bring the construction
completion as close as possible to the original agreed upon date,” with no contingencies remaining in the schedule, the IEC sees the second quarter as a more likely revenue service start date.
I’ve said what I’ve had to say about these seemingly never-ending delays. In ten years, we’ll forget about it, but it’s imperative for the MTA to use this experience as a learning point if they are to continue to grow our transit network. We’ve gone from a short delay to November to eventually in 2014 or maybe 2015 to February and now to the second quarter of next year. The MTA just can’t get this project across the finish line, and if that’s not a metaphor for the capital construction issues, I don’t know what is.
As Monday dawns, the MTA Board Committees will gear up for a full day’s worth of meetings. Despite the fact that the fare is set to rise in March, we won’t hear hand-wringing over the fare hike amounts or even new proposals as, by a few accounts, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is putting pressure on MTA leadership to delay public announcement of any fare hikes and toll increases until after Election Day. There’s nary a mention to be found of the looming rate increases in this month’s Board materials, and usually, the MTA announces the plan in mid-October.
What’s done is done — or better yet, what’s not done isn’t done — on that front, and for now, we’ll move on to other things such as what’s up with these never-opening capital projects? October will end this week, and the Fulton St. Transit Center, once expected to open in late June, will remain shrouded in construction. This week’s Board materials offer few clues to the project’s opening. A note in a presentation to the Transit Committee states only that “the Fulton Center Opening date is currently under review” while the opening date is projected to be some time in Q4. Work started, by the way, in December of 2004.
The presentation to the Capital Program Oversight Committee offers a little bit more information. The Transit Center building contract is expected to be completed before the end of December, and it seems that only a few items remain outstanding. But a few items are enough to delay the whole thing. As the materials say, “Substantial completion of this contract has been delayed due to extended testing and commissioning and subsequent punchlist items.”
Information regarding the 7 line is even harder to find this month. The MTA isn’t offering its Board any further information on the problematic elevators and escalators that have delayed the project, and although we’ve heard February 2015 as an opening date, the latest MTA docs give the agency some leeway. Currently, revenue service is projected to begin during the first quarter of 2015 — which runs through the end of March. The one-stop subway extension was once supposed to be open by the end of 2013, the first quarter of 2014, fall 2014 and then Q4 2014, but now it seems, one way or another, we’ll wait until late winter or even early spring.
All of which brings me to the Second Ave. Subway. Construction on the three-stop East Side extension of the Q train is continuing apace, and the MTA still believes they have approximately 26 months left on this project before revenue service begins. The Board materials confidently state a December 2016 ribbon-cutting, and although a few years ago, the feds disputed this projection, the MTA has vowed to open the subway on time. That said, the MTA has also vowed to open the Fulton St. Transit Center on time and the 7 line on time. Given the betting line, wouldn’t you take the “over” on December 2016? I know I would.
On a more immediate level, though, as the MTA wants political support for its $30 billion, five-year capital plan, the agency needs to show that they can deliver something somewhere on time or at least learning why they can’t. The aspect of the Fulton St. project that’s being delayed is a fancy headhouse while, seemingly, the complicated underground work has largely wrapped; the 7 line hasn’t opened because of vent fans, inclined elevators and long escalators — hardly technology unique to New York. We won’t know what happens with Second Ave. for another 18-24 months, but whatever remains of the MTA’s capital project credibility is riding on it.
Mark your calendars. Save the date. Scratch out the last reminder. For real this time, the MTA has re-announced a new opening for the 7 line extension, and if all goes according to the latest plans — a big “if” recent developments considered — the one-stop westward swing will be in revenue service by February 24, 2015, only 14 months after then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s photo op/ribbon-cutting ceremony in the waning days of his tenure.
For the MTA, capital delays are nothing new. No major project has opened on time, and even something as simple as the Fulton St. Transit Center headhouse has been pushed back until October. The 7 line has been beset by delays throughout the course of this project as it was originally proposed as part of the 2012 Olympics bid, should have been opened mid-way through 2013 and then prior to the end of Bloomberg’s tenure. At the December ceremony, the MTA discussed a spring opening, and then they mentioned summer, and then they mentioned fall and Q4 2014. Now, it seems this thing, with its problematic ventilation fans and prickly elevators, will open next year. Maybe.
According to materials released by the MTA on Friday, the project will be approximately $16 million under budget, but challenges remain to meet even that February date. According to these materials, the MTA is still struggling to see ventilation fans and communications system pass factory acceptance tests, and the elevators too remain a question mark. Final tests on the vent fans are planned for November while the high-rise escalators and incline elevators will undergo their examinations next month.
In an independent examination, though, the MTA’s external engineers noted that a February start date may be aggressive. If the accelerated schedule for wrapping the tests cannot be met, the MTA and its contractors won’t meet the February date, and in fact, the Independent Engineering Consultant predicts a March 2015 revenue service date for this project, one month later than the MTA’s goals. We’ll find out soon enough.
One of the problems with this project was the way it was scheduled. Original plans contained no contingency time in order to meet the goal of finishing with Bloomberg was still in the office. The MTA has blown past that deadline with an end vaguely in sight; yet, the agency still promises an on-time completion for the Second Ave. Subway. We’ll find out about that soon enough too.
Meanwhile, the IEC urges the MTA to finish its coordinated review of Capital Construction projects to ensure adequate resources are allocated internally. With Sandy work ongoing, and moving at a brisk pace, it seems there is a push and a pull on the MTA’s finite resources. Improving management and on-time delivery will help garner public support for the next few billion dollars in capital expenses. Right now, we’re just waiting for the 7 line to open.
Later on Monday, the MTA Board’s committee meetings will meet to discuss the various business before the agency, and one of those meetings — for the Capital Program Oversight Committee — will get an update on the 7 line extension. Shockingly, the MTA isn’t quite right to announce a firm opening date for this project, and it may not be ready for passenger service until early 2015. Will we have hoverboards, flying cars and a Cubs World Series win or the one-stop 7 line extension first?
When we last heard of the delay, The Times explored some reasons for the elusive revenue start date, and this month’s Board materials shed further light on the problems. Notably, the project just isn’t finished. It’s now six months beyond when the MTA had planned to wrap the project, and the 34th Street Station is only 95% complete. Now, it’s true that the station can open prior to 100% completion, but the outstanding problems are significant.
Notably, the Finishes and Systems contract is only 89% completed, and this is the last contract required for completion prior to revenue service. This contract includes the elevators and escalators and the communications system — all of which won’t be tested until July — but the tunnel ventilation system hasn’t passed acceptance testing yet. The project had no contingency built in, and it’s starting to show.
According to the MTA materials, while the elevators have earned headlines, the ventilation fans are more problematic. The fans for certain sites failed factory acceptance, and the contractor is performing additional pre-tests to ensure that certain corrective measures work. Tests are supposed to begin again this month, but we won’t know for a few weeks how this part of the project is progressing. Without the fans, the MTA cannot begin servicing this station.
Meanwhile, the escalators and elevators at the 34th St. site remain an open question. Testing will begin again next month, and the contractors have agreed to speed up work on these elements of the project. This sounds well and good, but while the MTA is remaining vague on the completion date, their independent engineering consultants are now predicting revenue service by February 2015, a full 14 months after then-Mayor Bloomberg’s ceremonial ride back in December. The IEC notes that the MTA’s own December 2014 date relies on accelerated contractor schedules that the contractors haven’t been able to meet. Any slippage will push the opening date back further.
As I’ve noted before, these opening dates won’t matter in a few years once people are passing through this station on a regular basis, the 7 line won’t fulfill its potential until the Hudson Yards project is more fully realized. But the IEC also urges the MTA to consider how this failure to meet promised revenue service dates could impact other ongoing projects. For the Second Ave. Subway, the IEC urges the MTA to conduct a coordinated review to ensure resources can meet revenue service projections. It’s not clear if contractors can fulfill this aggressive schedule either.
So we wait, and the MTA shuffles its feet. It’s important to show to politicians who control purse strings that the MTA can deliver a functional project relatively on time. But right now, this 7 line extension remains a promise and not a reality.
Toward the end of December as his days in office dwindled away, then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg rode a 7 train from Times Square into the still-unfinished station at 34th St. and 11th Ave. It was the first — and so far the only — train to make the ride, and while it wasn’t quite a ribbon-cutting, it was a valedictory ride. If all had gone according to plan, the mayor would have inaugurated the station he funded while still in office, but all did not go according to plan.
Since late 2013, all we’ve heard about the 7 line extension are delays. Completion was pushed back from 2013 to early 2014, then mid-2014, then late summer, early fall and now before the end of the year. The MTA is so close to wrapping this project, but with around $60 million worth of work remaining, the finish line has remained frustratingly out of reach. Last week, Matt Flegenheimer explored a source of the delays in a Times article that focused on the station’s incline elevator.
Because the new station had to burrow underneath the 8th Ave. IND, Port Authority underpinnings, the Amtrak tunnel into Manhattan and the Hudson Yards, and the Lincoln Tunnel, the station at 34th St. is very deep. Most riders will be surprised by just how deep it is when they first arrive there, and to build out the station to ADA specifications, the MTA has gone with incline elevators. This is hardly a new technology, but it’s new to New York. That is a recipe for problems, and the elevator failed initial testings last summer. Here’s Flegenheimer’s take on the tale to date:
This is the anatomy of a transit delay — pocked with tales of an ambitious plan, the vagaries of an Italian summer, an unusual funding model and a complex elevator design that had roots in a global landmark and a pyramid-shaped casino, but not in New York’s transportation system…The station, and its unusual elevator, provide a useful case study in the difficulties of capital construction in the city. The idea for a diagonal elevator — two, actually, to go with the station’s escalators and vertical elevators — dates to the project’s genesis more than 10 years ago, the authority said. Angling the structures at an incline was thought to be less expensive than tunneling in relatively straight lines, down and across.
It would also prove a boon to wheelchair users, officials said. A traditional vertical elevator from the upper to the lower mezzanine would have left such passengers about 150 feet from a second elevator that could take them to the platform. But because the incline elevators run parallel to the escalators, Mr. Horodniceanu said, “you are providing a similar experience, irrespective of your handicap.”
Before construction began, the transportation authority led an international search for elevator manufacturers, recommending two companies to Skanska, the project’s general contractor: Maspero and Huetter-Aufzuege, in Germany.
Maspero’s résumé was impressive. Its angled lifts, calling to mind Jetsons-style transport pods, have been chosen to climb slopes in the French Riviera, the Kek Lok Si Temple of Malaysia and a Renzo Piano building in Genoa. The company was selected for the New York elevators. But project administrators preferred that the software and other components come from American companies with whom they were more familiar. (The authority said its contractors, not the agency itself, made these decisions after being presented with performance specifications.) The controller was made on Long Island. The speed governors, or limiters, came from Ohio. Other pieces, like buttons and speakers, were manufactured in Queens.
Dr. Michael Horodniceanu, head of MTA Capital Construction, calls this elevator a “mutt,” and officials have subsequently blamed winter, Italian summers and time for delays in retesting. (It is not the only cause of the delay though as tunnel ventilation tests are delayed and fire protection tests await.) Still, this elevator the description raise some concerns. Though the MTA tells me the “hodgepodge” approach shouldn’t impact maintenance or reliability, there sure are a lot of cooks stirring the soup. It’s concerning that something as relatively simple as an elevator should be so problematic.
Meanwhile, the 7 line can afford this delay. Though some 27,000 daily riders are one day predicted to arrive at this station, that number is dependent upon the completion of the full Hudson Yards project. It’s still years away, and no one will really notice if this station opens now or in 10 months. (In fact, in twenty years, no one will care, but that’s besides the point.)
I bring this up though because uptown and to the east, another subway is growing, and this one is more complicated. It features three new stations and one retrofitted old one. It too will have relatively deep stations, modern ventilation structures and the requisite fire proofing. The Second Ave. Subway is due to wrap in December of 2016, just 31 months from now, and the MTA has vowed to stick to that date. But one would be forgiven for casting a skeptical eye on the Upper East Side as the issues with finishing the 7 line station on time come to the fore.
It’s tough to cross that finish line. We saw a platform gap a few centimeters too wide at South Ferry, and now we’re seeing incline elevators fail testing at Hudson Yards. What troubles await the end of the Second Ave. Subway? Eventually, we’ll find out.
The proverbial ship has long since sailed on a 7 line station at 41st St. and 10th Ave. in the foreseeable future. While the provisioning exists for the MTA to construct two side platforms at the spot when the money and the will to build materialize, the 7 line extension will open at some point this year without that station. It’s just another in a long line of missed opportunities that plague the history of the New York City subway system.
With that in mind, consider the news of the first intra-Manhattan commuter ferry. It will not be subsidized by the city and will operate between the Far West Side and Lower Manhattan. The Post offers up a short bit on this new service:
The first commuter ferry to travel within Manhattan on the Hudson River will launch next week to serve residents of midtown’s transit-starved Far West Side. The westside Ferry boats will travel between West 44th Street and the World Financial Center every 15 minutes during the morning and evening commutes.
The New York Water Taxi service kicks off Monday with a week of free rides. After that the price will be set at $8 for round trip — but frequent users will get a discounted rate…The company hopes to get sponsorships from real estate developments on the Far West Side, as well as Lower Manhattan.
Even with an eventual bulk discount, that $8 fare is steep for intra-Manhattan transit. When the 7 line extension opens, riders closer to 34th St. will be able to access the subway system with the swipe of a MetroCard, but this ferry terminal at 44th St. serves a growing area that doesn’t have easy subway access. Imagine though if a subway stop were months away from opening at 41st and 10th Ave., and think — but not too hard — about why the city and MTA had to fight over $500 million.
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.