Archive for 7 Line Extension
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Here is an interesting tidbit from The Wall Street Journal: Frank McCourt has acquired a development site in Manhattan for $167 million two years after Sherwood Equities paid $43.5 million for the space. The area, which will host a 730,000 square foot tower, sits at 30th St. and 10th Ave., mere blocks away from the 7 line extension, and various stakeholders are crediting the new subway stop with spurring on the tremendous increase in property value in the Far West Side.
Jeffrey Katz, president and CEO of the site’s former owner, is one of those stakeholders. “I think if you asked people a year ago about this district, still they would say ‘Are you crazy?’ Quite a number of people now understand there’s something extraordinary going on,” he said to The Journal. “The surge in value on this site was so dramatic—it was unprecedented—that our rate of return could never have been higher.”
The one-stop 7 line extension to 34th St. and 11th Ave. is set to open by next June, and the city has paid over $2 billion to the MTA to build this transit spur in the hopes of realizing the value in Manhattan’s last undeveloped frontier. So far, what I once derided as a Subway to Nowhere is shaping up to be the prime mover in something that is most definitely transit-oriented development within the boundaries of Manhattan.
I haven’t had a chance to sneak a peek at the 7 line extension work since last February when the MTA lead a press excursion into the work site. In the intervening 16 months though, work has moved forward at a steady clip, and the one-station extension of the 7 line to 34th St. and 11th Ave. is on target for revenue service by next June. Today, the MTA unveiled a new series of photos of the work, and with 12 months left, it’s looking more and more like a subway stop.
We can see that tunnel systems are in place and signals are awaiting incoming trains (though some signals remain wrapped in plastic, not yet ready for tests that should begin in December). Inside the station cavern, subway platforms are taking shape and so are the escalator banks. The switch cabinets in place too, and I believe this area will host the incline elevator that will bring passengers deep underground.
I’ve long been critical of the approach to this project. Losing the station at 41st St. and 10th Ave. is a mistake New York City will live to regret, and I’m skeptical that, even with provisioning in place for two side platforms there, we’ll live to see the 7 make that stop. Additionally, the train could continue south (or even west, if Mayor Bloomberg has his druthers), but for now, we get one stop. That said, that stop will be key in bringing people to one the underdeveloped areas of Manhattan, and growth will boom with a new subway stop.
After the jump, a slideshow of all of the MTA’s photos showing the latest progress at 34th St. and 11th Ave. Read More→
In the annals of New York City history, the construction of subway lines has regularly spurred on the development and growth of the city. The elevateds brought people north in Manhattan, and the famous photo above shows Queens at the time the 7 line started to snake eastward. Development, though, can take years, but eventually, it will come. Patience is a virtue.
A recent study commissioned by City Council member Dan Garodnick and released this week by the city’s Independent Budget Office makes me think we’ve forgotten about patience. The study assesses the amount of money the city has so far received from Hudson Yards development against the amount it has invested in the project. With subway construction not yet completed, the city still rebounding from a deep recession and no completed development at the site, as you can imagine, the study found that, so far, taxpayers have invested far more than they’ve gotten out of it. Should we condemn the project? Throw in the towel? Not quite yet.
The report [pdf] is heavy on numbers as IBO reports are wont to be. Its origins grew out of the Bloomberg Administration’s plan to rezone Midtown East. Garodnick worried that such a rezoning would lead Midtown East to compete with the Hudson Yards for development opportunities and dollars. If the city had too much taxpayer money riding on Hudson Yards, Midtown East may not enjoy the same benefits until Hudson Yards becomes self-sufficient.
As astute observers may have already guessed, the report found that Hudson Yards has a long way to go before it repays the city expenditures and infrastructure investments. The short of it is that initial city estimates predicated $283 million in tax and fee revenues through 2012 but the total actually collected has hit just $170 million. The city is on the hook for the increased costs of the 7 line extension, and the IBO highlights the need to cut the key station at 41st St. and 10th Ave. Ultimately, TEPs, PILOT revenue and taxes will begin to increase, but the IBO doesn’t expect serious jumps in revenue until late this decade or early next when the high rises go up.
Garodnick didn’t have too much to say about the report, but he commented for a Wall Street Journal article on the study. “It’s clear that Hudson Yards is moving slower than anticipated.” he said. “The city is on the hook there, which is a point of concern as we consider other development issues”
But should it be? How can we pass judgment on a project that isn’t close to completion yet and in fact has barely passed the point of commencement? The subway doesn’t start running to the Hudson Yards for another 14 months, and buildings are starting to go up in the area albeit slowly. Were we in this much of a hurry to judge new development throughout the city’s past, extending the grid into what is now the Upper East and West Sides would have come under heavy criticism far too early in time to pass real judgment.
At this point, the city is still investing in development of the Far West Side. A collapse of the New York real estate market five years ago and a slower-than-expected recovery means that the city won’t recoup its costs quite as quickly, but in 15 years, we won’t even remember this discussion. The pace of work at Hudson Yards shouldn’t be a concern quite yet, and it shouldn’t slow down the Midtown East rezoning effort. While time may not be on the side of elected officials constantly running for office, the Hudson Yards area has all the time in the world, and it will one day meet those economic expectations.
In what is possibly the weirdest MTA-related story in years, DNA Info reports today that the 7 line extension is safe from electric eels. Now, an astute reader may be wondering how this came about a year before the project is due to wrap and why anyone would be focusing on electric eels in the first place. Well, the story is quite strange.
As Jill Colvin reports, MTA Board Member Charlie Moerdler raised the issue at a recent board member when he claimed to remember eels coming ashore and wreaking havoc on metal pipes during construction of the Javits Center. Moerdler helped the Javits Center secure an exemption to New York’s plumbing rules, and the convention center received permission to use plastic piping. “That’s the issue. Does it apply to the 7 line and does it apply to the area where the Hudson Yards is?” he asked.
Colvin dug up the March 1980 Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Javits Center and could find no mention of electric eels raising any alarms. She also spoke with the eel project coordinator at the Hudson River Eel Project who said that electric eels do not live in New York Harbor or the Hudson River. “I don’t think you have to worry about electric eel damage,” Chris Bowser said. The MTA, meanwhile, has no plans to to eel-proof the West Side subway extension, and I for one am glad that’s settled.