Archive for 7 Line Extension
As the transit world once debates sending the 7 train to New Jersey, the MTA has once again attempted to douse this fire. In a very brief statement in response to the Economic Development Corporation’s report, the agency said simply, “We don’t see this as an economically viable idea.”
This is not the first time MTA officials have added a dose of reality to the project. Last April, then-MTA Chairman and CEO Joe Lhota issued a similar statement. “It’s not going to happen in anybody’s lifetime,” he said. “the expense is beyond anything we’re doing.” Of course, one of my complaints about the EDC report is that it doesn’t mention costs at all, but needless to say, those costs would be steep.
The Mayor, though, remains undeterred. In his own statement, he calls the 7 to Secaucus a “promising potential solution.” Said Bloomberg:
“It’s been a century since there was a new rail tunnel under the Hudson, and demand for travel between New Jersey and Manhattan is growing rapidly and quickly exceeding the capacity of existing transit infrastructure. The lack of new transit investment is creating a serious and urgent threat to New York City’s economic competitiveness. Extending the 7 train to Secaucus is a promising potential solution – it would leverage existing investments and be compatible with other proposed projects – and is deserving of serious consideration. We look forward to continuing to discuss this option, as well as other feasible proposals, with the numerous stakeholders involved.”
So is this all just a game of politics and economics? It seems like it. The 7 to Secaucus is the Mayor’s pet project, and it came about originally with virtually no input from the MTA. The MTA, with its own capital priorities, isn’t about to sink its finite resources into a subway to New Jersey, and if the mayor wants such a tunnel to be his lasting legacy, he will to find a way to promote — and pay for — this project whatever the costs may be. I tend to think Lhota was right a year ago; I doubt we will see this in our lifetimes. But it sure does have everyone thinking.
The idea of sending the 7 train under the Hudson River to Secaucus just won’t die. This proposal first came about when Mayor Michael Bloomberg started yakking after New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie pulled the plug on the ARC Tunnel. It would be our very own answer to the trans-Hudson rail capacity problem, albeit one focused exclusively around a subway ride. Despite Joe Lhota throwing a bucket of very cold water on this hot idea last April, it’s come roaring back in the form of a feasibility study commissioned by the New York City Economic Development Corporation and released Wednesday morning. So let’s humor it.
The report issued yesterday isn’t quite an endorsement of a project Bloomberg is pushing as one for the history books. Despite the headlines and the excitement, the feasibility analysis [pdf] — a document that took the better part of 18 months to produce — essentially says that sending the 7 train to Secaucus is feasible from an engineering perspective and it would attract riders. Stop the presses, right?
Now, before I delve in with a hearty dose of skepticism, we should cover a few basic premises. First, while the EDC published the report, it was prepared by Parson Brinckerhoff, a company that would benefit tremendously from cross-Hudson extension of the New York City subway. Still, it presents a fair assessment of the question at hand, but the question itself is a pretty basic one. We’re not concerned with a few key factors I’ll cover shortly; we just want to know if it’s possible.
Second, extending the 7 line to Secaucus would lead to a projected 128,000 daily riders, and approximately 24,000 of those would be diversions from autos. In other words, it would likely generate far more than enough ridership to justify the construction. For more on this idea, check out Cap’n Transit’s thoughts on defining “enough” riders. So ridership and the engineering work aren’t the big deals.
So what then, you may be wondering, is in this report and why should we view it with a healthy dose of skepticism? Well, the bulk of the report is devoted to the how of it all. It charts the 7 line’s path from 34th St. and 11th Ave. to Secaucus. The route involves a tunnel along the ARC alignment beneath the Hudson River, a curve through New Jersey and then a climb of nearly 200 vertical feet to an above-grade terminus around 76 feet in the air at the Frank Lautenberg station in Secaucus. The PB study also includes building our dearly departed station at 41st St. and 10th Ave. and implementing platform access improvements at all of the 7 train’s current Manhattan stations. As to travel time, the engineering firm estimates an eight-minute ride from Secaucus to 34th St., 12 minutes to Times Square and about 16 minutes to Grand Central. It’s hard to do much better than that for a swipe of a MetroCard.
The questions though outweigh the answer. First, the report dispatches with the idea of any additional stations on the New Jersey side of the tunnel. It should at least contain a stop in Hoboken, if not a second prior to the Secaucus terminal. Second, the section on legal issues raises a number of concerns that warrant more than a few paragraphs in this feasibility study.
Some of the preliminary issues are easy to deal with. Real estate acquisition is simply a matter of cost, and and the same can be said of design considerations. But the real problem here is interagency cooperation. The MTA would need assistance and support from New Jersey Transit, and even though the right of way would be a good 40 feet off from NJ Transit’s and Amtrak’s current space, this type of interstate, interagency unity is rare for numerous reasons.
In a similar vein, the feds too would be involved in a subway that crosses state boundaries. What sort of FRA regulations would impact this project? And if the feds are funding it, in part, as PB assumes, what sort of control would they attempt to exert? Can the labor issues that would arise be easily resolved? And could a 7 to Secaucus simply piggy-back on environmental impact work already completed for ARC, as the report’s authors believe? These aren’t simple questions by any means, and many have never been asked, let alone answered, in the region before.
Beyond the legal concerns are the more practical considerations. PB and the NYC EDC punt on costs. Estimates for both the capital and operations costs, they say, will come about if this project moves into the Advanced Planning phase. And although PB estimates a three-year environmental review process, it’s not clear when work would begin or end. Ridership assumptions use 2035 as a baseline, but if Bloomberg wants this tunnel to be his legacy, he won’t argue for something that won’t see the light of day until he turns 93.
So where does this leave us and the 7 line extension? The report is too fresh for any of the next concrete steps. I like the idea of a subway to Secaucus and a one-seat ride from New Jersey to Midtown. I love the idea of building out the side-platform station at 41st St. and 10th Ave., but I’m not about to begin a countdown until the 7 train is in revenue service to Lautenberg station. From funding on down, the number of obstacles remains high, but if the city wants to turn this into its pet transportation project, there’s no need to stand in its way.
With just 319 days remaining in the final year of Michael Bloomberg’s third term, the rush is on for the mayor to see his pet projects through. An effort to rezone Midtown East and a ban on toxic, carcinogenic styrofoam containers will be among his final pushes, but the mayor also has his eye on the Far West Side.
In comments this morning, Bloomberg spoke about the looming final 10 and a half months, and it’s clear that he wants to take a ride on the new 7 line extension while still in office.
7 Line extension? @mikebloomberg says “they’ll run a train, if i have to push it myself.”
— Mike Grynbaum (@grynbaum) February 15, 2013
Considering the MTA’s projected timeline, Bloomberg better get those pushing muscles ready. The 7 line extension, once projected for revenue service by December of 2013, is not expected to be in revenue service until mid-2014. Perhaps, as a symbolic gesture for the outgoing mayor, the MTA will be in a position to run a
photo-op train from Times Square to 34th St. and 11th Ave., but I’m not holding my breath.
One may be wondering why the mayor cares so much about the 7 line extension when his record on rail-related transit issues has been spotty at best. The 7 line is a tortured part of his legacy, and he wants to point to the new subway line as an accomplishment of his years in office. Fully funded by the city, the 7 was an integral part of the mayor’s failed efforts to bring a stadium and the 2012 Olympics to the Far West Side. Even once the Olympics bid faltered, the mayor pushed forward with the 7 line as a driver of Manhattan’s last undeveloped frontier.
The project, of course, has not been without controversy. Due to rising costs, a second planned station at 41st St. and 10th Ave. that would have served a rapidly growing area with few current transit options was shelved, and only the barest of provisioning was put in place to ensure a build-out if money ever materializes. If the mayor is going to be so keen to embrace the subway extension, we shouldn’t be so quick to excuse him the project’s flaws.
The 7 line extension won’t be, as I once called it, the subway to nowhere. It’s going to spur growth in an area that will soon be filled with mixed-use buildings and office space. Yet, the extension represents missed opportunities as much as it represents growth, and the last missed opportunity will likely be Mayor Bloomberg’s chance to ride the first 11th Ave.-bound train while he’s still in office.
The 7 line extension has turned into the MTA’s silently (quasi-)successful capital project. Its initial problems — the lack of a station at 41st St. and 10th Ave. — and a subsequent short delay in revenue service have faded from the news, and now the MTA and its contractors are engaged in a race to the finish. In about 12-18 months, the first subway extension in decades will open.
For a while, I called the 7 line extension the subway to nowhere. It was proposed to serve the Olympic village that never happened and a Hudson Yards development that will take decades to realize. Lately, though, the main driver for development has been moving forward. While Related still isn’t obligated to make payments to the MTA, that date is nearing, and officials gathered to commemorate groundbreaking at the site. With Coach on board and L’Oreal nearing a deal, tenants are starting to snap up the space, and the subway line will deliver workers to Manhattan’s final undeveloped frontier.
So what does a subway line nearly finished look like? That’s what MTA videographer Shawn Kildare wanted to know, and he produced the video embedded above. There’s some work to be done yet, but the 7 line, sans that important Hell’s Kitchen stop, is heading down the home stretch.
When last we checked in on the 7 line extension, MTA Capital Construction President Michael Horodniceanu had warned of a potential delay to mid-2014. Due to some extenuating circumstances, he expected the one-stop, $2.1 billion extension to be in the testing phase by December 2013, but it would not hit revenue service until June of 2014. The MTA’s project website seems to bear him out.
A small update to the 7 line extension site reveals the delay: The MTA now says “revenue service to begin June 2014.” There is a small amount of irony involved here too as the 7 line was Mayor Bloomberg’s pet subway project. The city is footing the bill for it, but now Bloomberg won’t be mayor for the ribbon-cutting ceremony. Still, Horodniceanu earlier this year said Bloomberg “will ride a train” to the Hudson Yards.
I’ll see what I can find out about the delays. The MTA did not get into specifics back in January, but perhaps if the six-month wait is official, word will come of a cause.
As we near the final 18-24 months of construction on the 7 line extension, the MTA is rapidly moving forward with some of the last elements of the project. Yesterday, the authority posted a video providing a behind-the-scenes look at the delivery of the rails. Their explanation offers us an update on the project as well:
The 7 Extension Project, now 65 percent complete, has just received its first set of rails.
Each rail delivered to the extension site is 390 feet in length and weighs approximately 15,000 pounds. Each delivery consists of only four rails because of their weight. The rails are delivered with a work train leaving the Linden Shop in Brooklyn. The trip takes about 48 hours from loading to unloading because it only travels during the midnight shift in order to avoid interrupting passenger service.
The first of sixteen deliveries left the Linden Shop on April 30 headed for the Grand Concourse Yard (via the 4 line) where it laid up for the day. The next day, the work train traveled via the D line and south of 34th Street, switched tracks and came back north on the F line. From there, it crossed over at Queens Plaza to the N line, and then switched to the 7 line to Times Square.
As for the overall project, structural work at the future 34th Street Station is now complete. Work also began in September on the project’s last major contract. This systems contract includes rail track, all mechanical, electrical and related systems throughout the tunnels, station, ventilation buildings and the main subway entrance at 34th Street. Completion of this contract is the last piece needed to initiate service on the 7 line Extension.
Even as this project nears its completion, I am still reminded of missed opportunities. Not construction a station or even a shell at 41st St. and 10th Ave. remains one of the more inexplicably short-sighted moves made by the City and MTA in recent decades. Perhaps though the 7 line will one day reach the western parts of Chelsea. That won’t make up for the missing stop near Hell’s Kitchen, but it would bring train service to an inaccessible part of Manhattan.
As the MTA nears the 20 (or perhaps 24-month) countdown to mark the days until the 7 line extension is put into revenue service, the future of the agency’s megaprojects continues to make headlines. Once the extension to the Hudson Yards area wraps, the Second Ave. Subway will surve as the MTA’s only subway expansion project, and many in New York are eying ways to keep the ball rolling. We heard one dreamer’s plan in January to send the L train to the United Nations, but what of the current MTA head?
During Friday’s Regional Assembly hosted the Regional Plan Associate, MTA Chairman and CEO Joe Lhota, the person whose voice may count the most over the next few years, spoke about his dreams for the 7 train. Specifically, he wants to send it south to Chelsea. “As far as big projects are concerned, I can actually see the extension of the No. 7 train to other parts of New York City’s west side,” he said. The 7 could “go all the way down to 23rd Street, and the West Side Highway, so we can incorporate that portion of the west side that’s not receiving a whole lot of coverage.”
Transportation Nation’s Jim O’Grady was on hand at the Regional Assembly, and he had more from Lhota:
Lhota told planners…that the first project on his “wish list” is extending the Number 7 subway train down 11th Avenue to 23rd Street. “It’s something that I think would make sense because if you look at the demographics of the West Side, we shouldn’t just make one stop,” he told reporters after taking part in a workshop at the Regional Plan Association’s annual assembly, which was held at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.
Lhota said, “It’s important to have plans, to have a wish list.” But he cautioned there was no active push to send the 7 train from Times Square past its planned terminus at W 34th Street. “I’m not sure it can be done,” he said. “I’m not sure about how close you can get to the Hudson River.”
Lhota’s reference to the Hudson River concerns the technical side of any southern expansion. Because the new terminal with the tail tracks extending south to the low 20s is so close to the West Side, future tunneling would have to cut east. It’s not technically impossible to envision a connection to 14th Street, and furthermore, with the way the tail tracks are built out now, the MTA could add a stop without much more tunneling. A stop in the 20s underneath 11th Ave., however, would destroy the capacity and storage needs the trail tracks address.
On another level, though, Lhota’s discussion seems to be missing something, and that’s something that’s been largely swept under the rug over the past few years. If the MTA wants to add another stop to what has become a one-station extension of the 7 train, the logical spot can be found in the original plans. Before the 7 heads further south or curves around through Chelsea or goes anywhere else, the authority should figure out a way to build the long lost station at 10th Ave. and 41st St.
Ever since the city failed to pony up the dough for the station and both parties agreed to axe it, the station has disappeared from the discussion. It’s out of sight, out of mind. Yet, its absence will be felt for years in the rapidly growing area in the 40s west of 9th Ave. With high rises, a boat terminal and nightlife destinations, that area was primed for a subway stop, and the planned one never materialized. Provisioning for the station is in place, but the money isn’t. We may never see that station, but we should see it before we see a stop further south.
Of course, this entire discussion may be for naught as MTA officials stressed that Lhota wants to get the MTA’s financial house of cards in order first. The 7 extension, Lhota said, “may not necessarily be in the very next capital plan,” and Adam Lisberg, chief MTA spokesperson, called it a “very long term” plan in a note to Capital New York. We have to start thinking toward the future somewhere though, and 41st and 10th should get the attention it deserves.
I was unexpectedly out of town earlier this week when news broke of a tragedy at the site of the 7 line extension. On Tuesday night, shortly before 7:30 p.m., a crane collapsed in Site J of the 7 line extension, killing one worker and injuring another. The Manitowoc 4100, located on the east side of 11th Ave. between 33rd and 34th Streets, snapped, and Michael Simmermeyer, a 30-year-old who worked the site with his father, passed away.
“The entire MTA family would like to extend our sincerest condolences to the family of the worker who lost his life as a result of this tragic accident,” the authority said in a statement. “We at the MTA grieve for this loss and vow to do everything we can to ensure that everyone working on projects to better the lives of all New Yorkers can do so as safely as possible.”
In the aftermath of the accident, MTA officials ordered a full stoppage of work at the site, and Michael Horodniceanu of MTA Capital Construction, ordered all MTA cranes inspected. The NYC DOB was called in, and OSHA, the NYPD and the Manhattan DA were looking into the matter as well. The City Council too voiced its concern.
Christine Quinn, currently the presumptive frontrunner in the 2013 race for mayor, raised her voice in concern. She has repeated over the last few years the point that as a state agency, the MTA may invite city inspectors into their sites but is under no legal duty to do so. She also posted a similar message to her Facebook page. As news outlets noted that the crane was due up for inspection this week, Quinn called upon the MTA to allow for oversight closer to home.
“We need the MTA and other state agencies to give the city oversight and authority at these construction sites,” said Quinn. “In fact, the MTA should follow the lead of the Port Authority, that has enters into a memorandum of understanding with the city around crane safety issues.”
The MTA acknowledged the City Council Speaker’s concerns but seemed defensive in doing so. It highlighted two previous inspections that found no deficiencies with its equipment. “The MTA shares City Council Speaker Christine Quinn’s concern for the safety of MTA construction sites,” the authority said in a statement. “As a state public authority, the MTA already is subject to state building codes. The MTA is examining the Speaker’s proposal to put all MTA construction activity under the inspection authority of the New York City Department of Buildings.”
Still, other City Council members voiced similar views. Jessica Lappin who represents the area surrounding the Second Ave. Subway construction and has fought for crane safety, echoed Quinn. “I do think the MTA should stop pointing fingers and should follow the rules that we have already set out,” she said to WNYC. The MTA downplayed a jurisdictional tussle with the City Council, but it’s clear the city wants a greater say in the matter.
Work on the site, meanwhile, will resume on Monday after a pause of nearly a week, and the construction crews will return with a heavy heart as they mourn one of their own, taken at far too young an age.
When it comes to transit planning in 2012, not too many people in America are dreaming big. We can’t seem to get a national high-speed rail plan off the ground, and while some cities — notably Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. — are working hard to expand their subway systems, most urban areas are content with incremental improvements. In New York, it was a battle to get a four-station extension of the Second Ave. Subway built, and the East Side Access plan could be facing a two-year delay.
When Mayor Michael Bloomberg, then, announced in November 2010 his plans to extend the 7 line to Secaucus, New Jersey, he was met with both skepticism and enthusiasm. The skepticism arose from the fact that Bloomberg seemingly failed to notify even the MTA of his announcement, and enthusiasm because a leading New York politician had finally embraced an ambitious transit opportunity. It was, of course not to be.
The warning signs were in place early. Although the mayor continued to voice support for the 7 line last October, a promised engineering study that was due late last year has yet to materialized. Meanwhile, the MTA, under two different chairmen, never embraced the plan, and yesterday, Joe Lhota offered up a dose of reality in essentially canceling the plan. According to today’s reports, the authority had made the determination at least a month ago that the 7 extension to New Jersey was too costly, and the Mayor seemed to agree. “I know there’s an effort afoot to try to get the subway system to go to New Jersey,” Lhota said. “I told the mayor this, I told the deputy mayor this: I can’t see this happening in our lifetime.”
The Mayor, speaking yesterday afternoon, seemed resigned to Lhota’s reality. “It’s very hard to see the funding coming right now,” he said. Even the Mayor’s initial cost estimates of $5 billion seemed optimistic, and the MTA has other fish to fry. So even though, as The Wall Street Journal reported today, the Parsons Brinckerhoff preliminary study is still a few months away from seeing the light of day, it may just be an exercise in futility at this point.
As I pondered this development last night, I kept wondering whether or not we should mourn the death of the 7 line to Secaucus. I’ve long believed that we simply do not dream big anymore. Perhaps it’s a sign of the economic times; perhaps it’s a tendency to kowtow to loud NIMBY voices; perhaps it’s fallout from the Robert Moses Era, a period in planning with which New York has never come to terms. Likely, it’s a combination of all three factors, and rare are the politicians who have been the will to push through an ambitious plan and the political capital to do so as well. For better or worse, Mayor Bloomberg was one of those politicians, but his lasting legacies will be a meager extension of the 7 to Hudson Yards and a controversial arena in Brooklyn. Transit hasn’t been a top priority.
When Bloomberg announced the 7 extension to Secaucus, he seemed to be capitalizing on headlines concerning Gov. Chris Christie’s decision to cancel the ARC Tunnel, and he had hoped to secure federal dollars that would have gone to New Jersey. In that sense, it was a rather blatant move. Yet, it represented a sign that transit could command headlines, and with the Secaucus-bound subway dead for generations, plenty of other projects could grab the spotlight.
So let’s find a champion for a Second Ave. Subway that heads north. Let’s find someone willing to explore the Triboro RX plan. Let’s examine a connection to State Island for a rapid transit system. Let’s look into those Utica and Nostrand Avenue extension plans. Just because this grand idea died doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep dreaming.
The Mayor Bloomberg-inspired plan to extend the 7 train underneath the Hudson River to Secaucus has captured transit dreamers’ imaginations over the past few years, but the odds have long been stacked against it. The subway expansion would require interstate cooperation and billions of dollars that aren’t readily available. Useful? Yes. Practical amidst the current political and economic climates? Probably not.
Today, while speaking at a meeting of the New York Building Congress, MTA Chairman Joe Lhota threw an ice cold bucket of water on those dreaming of such a subway plan, as Transportation Nation reported this morning. The extension, he said, not going to happen in our lifetime. It’s not going to happen in anybody’s lifetime…The expense is beyond anything we’re doing.”
From the cost of construction to the need to build railyards and shops in New Jersey to the more pressing needs within the city, Lhota was unequivocal in his stance. “I’ve told the mayor this, I can’t see that happening in our lifetime,” he said. The Mayor, in his response, seemed to accept the MTA head’s assessment. Calling Lhota a “realist,” Bloomberg said later that he hopes it “happens within someone’s lifetime. Those people may not have been born yet whose lifetime it would be.” Ain’t that aiming for the stars?