Archive for 7 Line Extension

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.

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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.

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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.

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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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