Archive for East Side Access Project
Despite a request by President Obama to fulfill full-funding obligations, Congress has authorized slightly less than promised for the MTA’s big-ticket items. As Rep. Carolyn Maloney announced yesterday, in the 2012 budget, House and Senate leaders have granted the MTA $186,566,000 for the Second Ave. Subway and $203,424,000 for the East Side Access Project. Some House Republicans had tried to introduce significant funding cuts, but a bipartisan effort led to the restoration of nearly all of the promised dollars.
Despite these grants, the MTA had been counting on more. The President had asked for $197 million for SAS and $215 million for ESA. Some House drafts of the appropriations bill would have cut those mounts by 21 and 47 percent respectively. These cuts, in the 5-9 percent range instead, are much more palatable. It is, as yet, unclear how the lesser grants will increase the MTA’s two megaprojects.
“These funding levels are not ideal, but the MTA should be able to keep the Second Avenue Subway and East Side Access on track with the amounts provided. These desperately-needed transit projects are creating tens of thousands of jobs literally beneath our feet,” Maloney said in a statement. “At a time when pretty much everyone agrees that job creation should be our number-one priority, I’m relieved that adequate federal funding for two of the best job-creation engines in the New York area has been included in the 2012 budget. Transit projects are among the best economic stimulus programs around – indeed, every dollar spent on public infrastructure boosts our economy by an estimated $1.59.”
In January of 2010, MTA Capital Construction announced an incremental benefit of East Side Access construction. Although at the time the project was not set to open until 2016, the MTA planned to debut a new entrance this September on 47th Street between Park and Lexington Avenues. It is not yet meant to be.
Many frequent Metro-North commuters had noted that the entrance hadn’t opened in September as planned, and I recently reached out to the MTA for an official statement on the delay. While the completion date for East Side Access has been delayed with a report on a new estimated date due out later this year, the entrance could have opened as planned. It was not meant to be, and now the MTA expects to ready this entry point early next year.
“We expect the entrance will open in the first quarter of 2012,” MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan said. “Metro-North has shifted to a more sophisticated security system for Grand Central, and the entrance needs to be made compatible with the new system.”
The new entrance, when it opens, will feature an escalator from the street to the 47th St. cross passageway and a staircase from the street to the platform shared by Tracks 11 and 13. Meanwhile, we’re stilling waiting for the bad news from MTA Capital Construction President Michael Horodniceanu concerning the estimated revenue service date for ESA. My money is on 2018.
When the MTA Board gathered for its most recent meeting in July, the authority’s leaders addressed concerns over the East Side Access Project’s rate of progress. With federal officials predicting a 16-month delay, the MTA admitted that it had exhausted its schedule contingency for a variety of reasons. This week, we learn that the authority has officially delayed the project completion date to April 2018, sixteen months later than scheduled. “This is a project facing significant challenges,” MTA CEO and Chair Jay Walder said during subcommittee meetings yesterday.
Ultimately, shaky project management as well as conflicts with Amtrak over the Harold Interlocking has led to these delays, and the news is only going to get worse for LIRR riders. Beginning in October and continuing through 2015, Amtrak is set to replace the track in all four of its East River tunnels after inspections following a May derailment found significant track damage. The work will take place in 55-hour spurts over nearly every weekend until 2015. Tracks will be out of service from 10 p.m. on Fridays through 5 a.m. on Mondays and during some weekday overnight periods. The LIRR says the work will have “little or no impact” on its service, but the work will leave less operating flexibility during the weekends. This tunnel work will delay work on the Harold Interlocking which, in turn, will delay the East Side Access project.
Meanwhile, official recognition of this delay leaves me worried over the fate of the Second Avenue Subway as well. At the same time they predicted this postponement, the Feds also said that SAS was likely headed toward a similar fate. Such a substantial delay along the Upper East Side would be disastrous for the neighborhood and for the MTA politically. Meanwhile, as foreign transit agencies build at a quick rate and for less money, the MTA is stuck with a deep cavern north of Grand Central for upwards of $8 billion and 12 years of construction. That’s a problem.
The federal government is raining on the MTA’s parade again. For the past year, the Federal Transit Administration has warned that the East Side Access Project and Phase 1 of the Second Ave. Subway would not wrap in 2016 as the MTA predicts. Rather, the government believes the two projects will finish in 2018, around 15 months later than planned and over budget. A new report reiterates that stance.
According to the FTA, East Side Access and the SAS and well behind schedule and significantly over budget. East Side Access, the feds say, will open in April 2018 with a price tag of $8.1 billion while the SAS will enter revenue service in February 2018 and at a cost of $4.8 billion. The MTA maintains these two projects will be completed in September and December of 2016 and at a cost of $7.1 billion and $4.4 billion respectively. The authority did however note that concerns over East Side Access remain.
The MTA disputed the FTA report. “As we have said previously, a project of this magnitude does not come without risks. We continue to work to mitigate those risks, adhere to the current schedule and keep the project on budget,” agency spokesman Kevin Ortiz said.
However, the FTA called the pace of the subcontracting work “unacceptable,” and AM New York has more:
The reports show the feds’ continued frustration with the East Side Access project, reiterating its stance on when the first riders will benefit from it — and at what cost. But they did soften their opinion on the management of the Second Avenue subway, saying the team overseeing the project “has been diligent in resolving critical construction issues and avoiding extensive construction delays,” despite its negative projections.
MTA board member Mitch Pally, who sits on the agency’s capital projects committee, said the board is aware of the government’s concerns, but is not convinced the problems are unavoidable. “Obviously we’re concerned about the timing because the quicker we can put this into revenue service, the better it is for the MTA,” Pally said, adding that the agency is trying to find ways to speed up work and trim costs. “We have no plans on waving the white flag until we absolutely have to.”
Charles Moerdler, another MTA board member on the committee that oversees the projects, said he believed the FTA’s reports were “inaccurate,” and called capital construction president Michael Horodniceanu’s work “perfectly magnificent.” “They are doing as good if not a better job than one can reasonably expect,” Moerdler said.
The FTA had nothing to add to their report, according to amNY but further explained that if the MTA “successfully managed and mitigated its risks, the overruns they predict for the projects’ schedules and costs could be reduced.”
As amNew York reports and as I said above, this debate over the timeline truly is nothing new, but it’s not a comforting development. It shouldn’t take 10 years to build three stops of a subway line, and the MTA may have to get its ducks in order to see these projects delivered in time. For now, the warnings and the disputes are out there, and the subway construction will continue seemingly forever and ever.
As the East Side Access project inches toward completion, one of the tunnel boring machines digging out the tubes in Manhattan has spun its last cutter head, and it won’t be coming up for air. The Spanish contract that owns Seli, the TBM that has been cutting through Manhattan schist since 2007, has decided to abandon the TBM 14 stories beneath Park Avenue. It would, simply put, cost more than the TBM is worth to pull it back out into Sunnyside, dismantle it and sell it for scrap, and so the nether reaches of Manhattan will be its final resting place.
Its exact resting place appears to be at around Park Ave. between 37th and 38th Streets, and the MTA and its contractors will use the laid-to-rest TBM for tunnel support. Later this week, it will be encased in concrete, and the 22.5-foot-long drill will be marked with a plaque only. As The Times notes, the decision evokes images of Planet of the Apes, and while other countries have buried TBMs, this is a first for New York. There is, of course, no room to do the same along Second Ave. or the 7 Line extension. “People will find it, and they will find it exciting to see it, if they ever unearth it,” Michael Horodniceanu, head of MTA Capital Construction, said. “Who knows? Maybe they will want to continue the railroad south, at which point they would have to take it out.”
In its original incarnation, the East Side Access project was to be completed by the second quarter of 2012. As we well know, that timeline has been pushed back by over four years to September 2016, but according to an MTA report, the agency is concerned that they may need to further delay the projected substantial completion date for the Long Island Rail Road connection into Grand Central.
In a document presented last week at the MTA Board committee meetings, MTA Capital Construction officials said “our confidence level in meeting the September 2016 revenue service date is low without significant mitigation.” Because of “on-going contractor delays in Manhattan and Queens” as well as some back-and-forth with Amtrak over the Harold Interlocking work, the MTA has nearly exhausted its schedule contingency, and thus, without mitigation work, the project is in danger of missing the September 2016 date.
According to the brief report, available here as a PPT document, Capital Construction is going to work with the LIRR to reassess construction sequencing and timing for the final sections. The Capital Program Oversight Committee will hear the suggestions and potential cost impacts in September.
With the MTA’s capital budget funded only through the end of the year, New York’s Senators down in D.C. are growing worried that key infrastructure (and job-creation) projects are going to run out of dollars when the calendar flips to 2012. To that end, Sen. Chuck Schumer has called upon the U.S. Department of Transportation to shift $2.2 billion in what would have been ARC Tunnel money over to the East Side Access project as a low-interest loan. This would guarantee completion of the project and avoid a slowdown should the state fail to act on the MTA capital budget this fall.
“While we have collectively committed billions of dollars to this project, it’s vital that the MTA has the resources it needs to finish this critical mass transit project that has the potential to alleviate congestion for tens of thousands of commuters who use the Long Island Rail Road every day,” he said in a letter to FRA officials. “Though the USDOT has never approved a financing package of this size under the RRIF program … the USDOT was willing to approve a loan of similar size for New Jersey to fund the ARC tunnel.”
DOT did not comment to Transportation Nation, but the MTA confirmed it had applied for a grant for the project. An authority spokesman said the MTA is “in discussions with the U.S. DOT as part of the application process but we don’t have an estimate on when we’ll hear back.” It would be money well spent.
Apologies for going light on the content today, but I’ve had a very busy Monday. Submitted for your enjoyment is this short video I shot with my camera inside the East Side Access project on Friday. It’s not my finest attempt at videography: I scan too fast at one point and accidentally hit the shutter early. Check it out anyway for a sense of the project.
For more on my trip to the TBM launch box, check out Friday’s post on that very same topic.
MTA officials and local politicians met underneath the Sunnyside Yard in Queens this afternoon to commemorate the launch of tunnel boring machines Tess and Molina. The two machines, named by sixth graders from I.S. 204 in Long Island City, will dig out four tunnels in Queens that connect the tracks of the LIRR Main Line with the tunnel underneath the East River and into Grand Central. Digging will be completed in October 2012, and MTA officials maintain that East Side Access is one pace to wrap up in 2016.
“One hundred years ago, the tunnels under Penn Station gave Long Islanders easy access to Manhattan, essentially giving birth to Long Island as we know it today and leading to enormous growth in the region,” MTA Chairman Jay Walder said thi smorning. “Today, East Side Access will build on this growth and transform this region in a similar way. Commuters throughout Long Island and Queens will have more service to Manhattan and shorter travel times to the East Side—making these communities even more attractive places to live, increasing housing values, and unlocking the next wave of economic development potential on Long Island.”
During the press event this afternoon, Michael Horodniceanu, head of MTA Capital Construction, and Walder spoke of the tunnel boring machines. The blue one that’s featured in my photos was named Tess by Sangida Bagum. It’s an acronym for Tunnel Excavation Sunny Side. Molina, the one digging below Tess, is a play on the word mole and was named by Mohammad Malik, Michael Morales, and Angel Peralta. Molina will actually begin tunneling first.
From a technical perspective, these TBMs are somewhat different from that working its way underneath Second Ave. These are, as Horodniceanu said, slurry TBMs. Because the ground is so soft and the water table is only 14 feet below the TBMs, these machines must remove soil and install interlocking concrete rings to create the tunnel as it proceeds. As Horodniceanu explained, the machines turn the soil into a slurry — a paste “thinner than pudding but thicker than shampoo.” Each machine has a 22-foot diameter cutterhead and, with 300 feet of trailing equipment, weigh 642 tons.
“We are building the largest transportation construction project in the country,” Horodniceanu said. “It’s an unbelievably complex undertaking which involves working in and around the busiest rail yard in the United States. I’m extremely proud of the level of teamwork all the staff and contractors are engaging in to make this project a reality.”
You can view all of my pictures from the event right here, and a slideshow follows after the jump. I should have some videos to post over the weekend.
While the ARC Tunnel has dominated the headlines lately and the Second Ave. Subway is the sexy New York City Transit project, the East Side Access project will deliver benefits for the city’s commuters, and it too continues apace. Reader Marc G. had a chance to take a trip through the tunnel in progress earlier this year, and he offered up these photos for our weekend enjoyment. The images are arrayed below in gallery form. Click on them to enlarge.