Archive for MTA Construction
During Monday’s MTA Board committee meetings, the Transit Committee received an update on the Orwellianly named FASTRACK program. The MTA’s overnight shutdowns have helped speed up maintenance on key subway trunk lines while saving the authority money, and after a series of treatments in the heavily-trafficked and heavily-redundant parts of Manhattan this year, the treatment will spread out of the so-called Central Business District.
The key slide from the presentation [pdf] for travelers wondering what the MTA’s future plans will be is this one:
As we see, when FASTRACK moves out of the areas of the city well covered by trains, shuttle buses enter the equation. There me be lines parallel to 8th Ave. one block east, but for some areas, service grows a bit more scarce. Notably, the MTA will have to provide some shuttle bus service in the Bronx and Northern Manhattan as well as along the Queens Boulevard route.
FASTRACK for the Lexington Ave. line through the Upper East Side is intriguing as well. The double-decked tunnels allow for some interesting service patterns in which express trains will run while locals do not and vice versa. That’s good for people heading to 86th St. and not so great for those trying to reach the stops in between. The MTA has yet to announce any 2013 dates for theses shutdowns, but they’re on the way.
Meanwhile, the 10-page document offered up some other numbers. During the first quarter of 2012, FASTRACK allowed the MTA to realize savings of over $5 million while addressing backlogged maintenance requests. Ridership drops through the CBD have been around three percent while buses have picked up some of the slack. Finally, the fourth quarter work later this year will involve removing all debris from the rights-of-way and cleaning the Joralemon, Clark, Cranberry and Rutgers tubes.
One way or another, it sounds as though we’re stuck with FASTRACK for the foreseeable future. It may mean less convenient overnight subway service now and then, but if all goes well, it should mean more reliable service overall. Fair trade?
The MTA needs its contractors, and the contractors need the MTA. The authority, with its multi-billion-dollar capital plan, is one of the main drivers of the construction industry in New York City and the surrounding region. Without that investment and the drive to expand, workers would see jobs dry up, and contractors would see the flow of funds evaporate. Yet, all is not perfect between these two major players.
Yesterday’s amNew York featured an extensive interview with Denise Richardson, the managing director of the General Contractors Association of New York. Richardson is a former procurement officer for Transit’s capital program and has spent her career in various governmental and agency positions. In light of the current price tags attached to various MTA capital projects, Richardson’s words are quite informative and well worth our attention.
Richardson begins the Q-and-A throwing her voice behind the MTA. When asked what she wants to see changed, she argues for more comprehensive investment in and more attention paid to the MTA. “Everyone complains when there is a problem on their line,” she said, “but the MTA moves 8.5 million people every day and gets almost everyone to their destinations safely and on time. There was almost no capital investment in the system at all from the 1950s to the 1980s. They’ve spend $76 billion since 1982 trying to bring it back to a system of good repair, but some of these projects – like refurbishing the signal system to provide increasing capacity – are very messy and they still haven’t caught up.”
Of course, the GCA is a unique position to lobby for the MTA, and generally, they do so. They were an important voice during the lead-up to the funding of the capital plan, and they have argued for MTA dollars time and again in the past. They support congestion pricing, as Richardson explains in the interview, and they have some weight in Albany as well.
Yet, as the contractors have a symbiotic relationship with the MTA, they also have a slight parasitic one as well. Archaic work rules has led to overstaffing that significantly increases costs. While MTA Capital Construction President Michael Horodniceanu once made an off-hand reference to me on overstaffing, few MTA officials are willing to speak at length about this problem, and Richardson didn’t say too much either. “As a practical matter, the only way we can build large, transformational projects like the World Trade Center or the Hudson Yards is with the skilled, unionized construction workforce,” she said. “[Unions] have had issues adapting to new construction techniques and new construction methods, but they’ve worked hard to address them, so it’s a positive future.”
Ultimately, Richardson’s dream lines up with the impetus behind this blog. As she says, she wants to see “a full-length, Second Avenue subway.” She explained, “The plan is for it to run from Upper Manhattan all the way downtown. I would like to see the funding to continue the project.”
The current leadership at the MTA has yet to come out with plans for Phase 2 north to 125th St., let alone ay sections south of 63rd St. The engineering studies have long been completed, but the dollars aren’t there. A first step in the right direction would involve a concerted effort between the GCA and the MTA to identify ways in which costs can be lowered. Can the MTA and its contractors reduce staffing levels on these projects? Why does everything goes significantly more in New York than in other cities around the globe? These aren’t easy questions, but they need to be answered.
The General Contractors Association could be the MTA’s best friend. They both need each other to move forward, but at some point, moving forward will require compromise and sacrifice. It’s not an easy path.
Everyone’s favorite late-night service suspension returns this week as the MTA gears up for another round of FASTRACK work. The agency quietly unveiled the year’s remaining dates in posters that have sprung up over the past few weeks, and tonight, work begins anew on the West Side IRT. As of 10 p.m. tonight, all 1 train service is suspended south of 34th St.; 2 trains will not run between 34th St. and Atlantic Ave.; and 3 train service is suspended entirely. Those leaving the Bruce Springsteen concert at MSG this evening will find no southbound 1, 2 or 3 service at Penn Station.
Meanwhile, Transit is beginning what could be called Phase 2 of FASTRACK this week as well. Beginning on Saturday at 5 a.m., the authority shuttered Manhattan-bound stations on the Queens Boulevard line between Parsons Boulevard and 71st Ave.-Forest Hills. The closure is supposed to last until 5 a.m. on Monday, April 16th. According to Transit, this full segment shutdown for an extended period of time is aimed at speeding up work. Through weekend advisories, such a treatment would generally last many weekends, and both progress and commutes would be slow. By targeting the area in a condensed period of time, the inconvenience is greater for a week but lesser overall.
For those riders impacting, the following applies: E and F riders at 75th Avenue wishing to travel toward Manhattan must board a Queens-bound train, travel to the Union Turnpike-Kew Gardens station and transfer to a Manhattan-bound train; E and F riders at Briarwood-Van Wyck Boulevard must board a Queens-bound train and travel to the Jamaica-Van Wyck (E) or Parsons Boulevard (F) stations to transfer to a Manhattan-bound train; F riders at Sutphin Boulevard (F) must board a Queens-bound train and travel to Parsons Boulevard (F) to transfer to a Manhattan-bound train.
For transit expansionists, the MTA’s recent five-year capital plans have been a little bit of infrastructure excitement amidst a system that had remained fairly stagnant for a few decades. We’ve seen the 7 line head west, the Second Ave. Subway materialize after eight decades, a transit center grow and an LIRR tunnel emerge. It is an unprecedented era of expansion for most New Yorkers.
But what of the future? We know the 7 won’t end up in New Jersey in our lifetimes. Will future phases of the Second Ave. Subway survive? Joe Lhota isn’t making any promises. As City & State reports today, Lhota spoke of behind-the-scenes investment taking center stage for the 2015-2019 capital plan. They wrote:
The future is all about tweaking the existing system, Joseph Lhota, the MTA’s chairman, told the audience at a New York Building Congress breakfast yesterday. That means updated signals to shuttle more trains through, longer platforms and more entranceways to ease the flow of commuters in and out of stations. “We’re going to have to expand our system in a way that isn’t as sexy as these four mega-projects,” Lhota said. And while such mundane efforts may not grab the public’s attention, Lhota said the aim would be to cut wait times in half. “It’s about signals,” he explained after his speech. “If we’re going to have more throughput, we’re going to put more trains on the same track, and we’re going to have to have more modernized signals.”
Politicians love mega-projects because they are clear and visible signs of progress that piqué constituent interest. There are no photo ops for a modernized signal system as there are for the launch of a tunnel-boring machine. Still, these investments are equally as important, if not more do, than a mega-project. It’s also easier and more fiscally responsible of the MTA to eye a five-year plan that won’t saddle the agency with massive debt, and upgrades that increase capacity could deliver on that goal.
Yet, this blog is named after one of those mega-projects, and it’s my firm belief that future phases of the Second Ave. subway should remain on the radar. Phase 1 is a good start, but without phase 2, SAS is but a stub. To ease congestion and provide faster service, the full line must remain a target.
We are of course getting ahead of ourselves. The MTA only recently secured funding for the last few years of the current phase. But the era of mega-projects may be nearing an end, and that is not a day for celebration.
Get ready for more “partial-line closures” this year. With little fanfare, Transit has unveiled the remaining FASTRACK dates for the rest of 2012. The announcement came via poster, and you’ve probably seen the signs in the fare control areas at your favorite subway station. I guess these week-long, late-night service shutdowns are the new normal.
Anyway, here goes: Service on the 7th Ave. line from 34th St. to Atlantic Ave. or South Ferry will be suspended from April 9-13, June 25-29 and October 15-19. Service along the 8th Ave. line from 59th St.-Columbus Circle to Jay St.-MetroTech or the World Trade Center will be shut down from April 23-27, July 9-13 and October 22-26. The 6th Ave. line will not run from 59th St.-Columbus Circle to West 4th St. from May 14-18, July 23-27 and September 24-28. The Lexington Ave. routes will be suspended from Grand Central-42nd St. to Atlantic Ave. from June 11-15, September 3-7 and November 5-9. All service suspensions will run from 10 p.m.-5 a.m. as MTA crews blitz the tracks without trains speeding by.
Earlier this week, long-time SAS reader Bill sent me the following query:
Court Square’s 7 Station is supposed to re-open on Monday, but judging from the looks of it today, they are WAY behind schedule. Large sections of the platform are missing and they haven’t even started putting the windguard back up on the Flushing-bound side. I’m not a betting man, but if I were, I’d predict that either it will be delayed by a week, possibly two or three—or, they will literally use plywood to hold it together come Monday morning.
I haven’t taken a ride on the 7 in a while and wasn’t in a position to assess the construction. I’d heard some good reports, some bad, but the reopening of the station — and the end of weekend shutdowns for the Flushing line — loomed. Today, Transit announced that Court Sq. would indeed open on time.
“Returning Court Square station to revenue service will once again allow our customers to take advantage of the recently completed in-system free transfer, and with full rehabilitation work nearly complete, the fast-growing area of Long Island City will have a refurbished and updated complex that will be fully accessible,” NYC Transit President Thomas F. Prendergast said in a statement this morning.
The station will reopen at 5 a.m. on Monday morning after a closure that began on January 21. New work included replacement platforms and windscreens as well as enhanced accessibility features. The entire station will be ADA-compliant come June.
In announcing the reopening of the station, Transit noted that the new platform relies on a new construction technique. It is not traditional concrete, but rather a composite of fiberglass and resin formed into panels. The composite are manufactured into 2×12-foot panels, bolted together and fastened to the platform support steel. It is modular station construction.
According to Transit, this composite is corrosion-resistant and will not be affected by de-icing salts. It will not crack during freeze/thaw cycles either. It is also lighter and faster to install. Thus, the new station will indeed be ready, 11 weeks after it was shuttered, come Monday morning.
As the Bleecker St. rehabilitation ambles toward a June 2012 completion, New York City Transit announced yesterday the opening of a new platform for the uptown 6. In order to provide for a connection to the IND trains at Broadway/Lafayette, the uptown platform has been extended southward by 300 feet, and the northern half of the preexisting platform has been shuttered.
Overall, this station rehab is part of three projects which include the rehabilitation of the landmarked Bleecker St. station, construction of that free transfer between the IND and uptown IRT and the installation of five elevators and a new escalator. Over the years, I’ve followed this project quite closely and have been critical of the costs and timeline. Costs have ballooned to $135 million, and when the station is ready in June, construction will have taken nearly four years. By comparison, it took just over four years to build out the IRT from City Hall to 145th St.
Either way, this is a welcome addition to what was an infuriating quirk of the New York City subway system, and in three months, the new transfer will make a ride up the 6 far more convenient for folks coming from the B, D, F and M trains in the morning.
As I mentioned briefly on Friday, the MTA does not anticipate reopening the Smith/9th Sts. station stop until the fall. Originally slated to open this month, the 78-year-old station has been the host of “especially challenging conditions,” according to a Transit spokesman, and its reopening will have to wait. Business owners and residents who are effectively cut out of from their subway stop are not happy, The Daily News reported today, and I don’t blame them.
“I really might have to close my whole business down because of this,” Abdul Zaokari, the owner of the deli that sits beneath the viaduct, said. “I’ve asked MTA to give me a break since I pay them for my rent, but they don’t listen. And even worse, they don’t realize how many customers used to come here in the morning, for lunch and even for a quick dinner. I’ve lost 80 percent of those customers. I really don’t know how my business can survive until November when they say the subway will be finished.”
Other shop owners say the crowds that used to accompany the F and G trains at the closet station to parts of Carroll Gardens and Red Hook are completely gone and won’t return for six to eight months. Now, I want the Viaduct to last another 75 years, but at a certain point, it’s understandable when people get upset. It is routine practice for the MTA to say a rehabilitation project will cost a certain amount and go on for a fixed period of time. In the end, the project usually costs more and takes longer than the MTA first promises, and people dependent upon the subway for travel and its crowds for a livelihood are the losers.
Had Zaokari known the full extent of the outage last year, he could have better prepared for it. Instead he has to weather another six unanticipated months of this storm while Red Hook residents will have to hike to the nearest open stop or continue to rely on one of Brooklyn’s least reliable bus routes. The wait continues.
Apologies for the silence. It’s been a busy 24 hours. To tide you over for a bit, how about a little FASTACK recap? The MTA wrapped up the final part of the first 2012 FASTRACK treatment last night, and they’ll begin anew again with the Seventh Ave. line in early April.
“With the first round FASTRACK complete, we can already see how much progress we can make in the vital areas of cleaning and maintenance, and just as importantly, our customers can see it in the station environment,” NYC Transit President Thomas F. Prendergast said in a statement. “There is a winning combination here of increased productivity and improved worker safety.”
Here’s how Transit summarized the early improvements:
Signals: Replaced 15 switches, serviced 34 signals, serviced two timers, supported the Track Division on various rail and switch jobs;
- Track: Installed 21 rails, installed 1,610 friction pads, scraped 16,750 feet of muck, removed 11,972 bags of rubbish, removed 27,950 pounds of scrap; Corrected 2,605 third rail defects, installed 1,269 plates, installed 60 tie blocks, and cleaned, scraped and bagged refuse from nearly four miles of track;
- Stations: 1,657 station lights replaced, 52 platform edge signs replaced, replaced 81 square feet of ADA tiles, repaired 1,510 linear feet of rubbing boards, grouted floor tiles, inspected 20 platform edges, installed yellow safety tack tiles and floor tiles at various locations, cleaned and tested 101 emergency alarms and telephones, inspected and cleaned 23 cameras and 12 monitors, and replaced two cameras. Additionally, workers scraped 19,970 square feet, primed 11,590 square feet, and painted 7,970 square feet of space at stations; and
- Elevators and Escalators: Cleaned glass enclosure panels, performed tests on fire alarms and sprinkler systems, corrected 22 outstanding work order defects.
Like it or not, this is, for the foreseeable future, the new normal for weeknight travel in New York City. That State of Good Repair remains elusive indeed.
As the map above reminds us, the last of the first round of FASTRACK treatments dawns tonight as the A, C and E trains are siphoned elsewhere to allow crews to attack 8th Ave. At 10 p.m. this evening and continuing until 5 a.m. tomorrow, the following, as I wrote last week, is in effect:
The C train will shutdown at around 10 p.m. while the A will run along the D and F lines from Columbus Circle to Jay St. It will make local stops as the E does as well along the 6th Ave. line with a southern terminus at 2nd Ave. Once upon a time, IND trains via the 53rd St. tunnel ran either to the Hudson Terminal or 2nd Ave., and that is essentially what the E is doing again.
Once this treatment wraps on Friday morning, the MTA will have blasted four of the major Manhattan trunk lines. The Broadway line avoided FASTRACK because it’s in a better state of repair than the other routes, and the Nassau St. stations weren’t included. Chambers St. on the J/Z needs more than just cosmetic work anyway.
As we know, FASTRACK will continue this year with a similar slate of planned shutdowns extending into late November. It is, in other words, the new normal. Next year, the MTA will look to shut down track segments north of 59th St. while the Outer Boroughs may have to wait until 2015. It’s trickier elsewhere outside of Manhattan because duplicative service isn’t always a short or practical walk away.
So now, a FASTRACK nears a first-quarter wrap up, allow me to pose a question to you: Is it worth it? The MTA can save money and speed up maintenance that otherwise keeps trains running, but we have to live through longer overnight commutes. Personally, I haven’t seen FASTRACK impact my life or commutes yet, but I know plenty of late-night straphangers have had minutes added to their rides. It doesn’t sound as though these diversions will soon go away.