Archive for Second Avenue Subway
Time isn’t on the MTA’s side as December slowly creeps up on the first phase of the Second Ave. Subway. Years ago, the MTA vowed to deliver this long-delayed subway line to the Upper East Side before 2016 is out, and over the past six months, we’ve heard a steady drumbeat of bad news about the pace of work on the project. Now, with five months to go, the MTA’s Independent Engineering Consultant is again sounding the alarm bell over the amount of work remaining while the MTA continues to promise a December 2016 opening. With numerous vital systems’ installations and tests still pending, the race to the end of the year doesn’t favor an on-time delivery.
The latest update came at Monday’s Board meeting session of the Capital Program Oversight Committee. The MTA first ran through its litany of updates, and the pending items sound awfully similar to those that delayed the opening of the 7 line extension by nearly 20 months. The agency notes that fire safety and communications systems at various stations remain behind schedule. At each of 72nd St., 86th St. and 96th St., the delay is in the testing of fire safety systems and, more importantly, the installation of critical communications systems. Since conduits were installed late, testing has been delayed, and without testing and acceptance, MTA Capital Construction cannot certify the project complete and ready for New York City Transit control. As of now, the MTA doesn’t expect these problems to cause a delay in revenue service date, but they appear in the red on the status dashboard.
Meanwhile, elevators too remain an MTA bugaboo. The agency has not yet received four elevator cabs for the 72nd St. station, largely due to last-minute design tweaks that delayed deliver of specifications for the elevators to the manufacturer. We’ve heard recently about the ongoing need for Change Orders related to this project, and this delay is a clear indication of the impact of those COs. With the project so delayed, the MTA has completed only 336 of the 608 tests it was due to wrap by June and is now pushing operations testing out by 30 days and into a short window set to begin on October 1.
In a follow-up presentation, the IEC issued its warning. “Based on the project’s reports and IEC field observations of station construction progress, the IEC finds that the project is not on schedule and has fallen further behind schedule in the month since our last report in June. The Project Team now needs to implement and maintain a revised schedule for completion of testing and for meeting the Revenue Service Date.”
The IEC notes that the MTA needs to spend money faster than it has been to support a December revenue service date and urged the MTA to adopt a four-prong approach to finishing on time. This plan involves speeding up testing, ensuring contractors deliver on time, speed up work on the backlog of pending changes and begin to close out station room inspections.
Despite all this, the MTA assured me earlier this week that revenue service in December remains on the table. The agency is prepared to cover unanticipated issues with the systems testing, and contractors are now working overtime and at night to ensure around-the-clock production. It’s a race; it always has been, but it’s shifted from a marathon to a sprint. For the sake of Upper East Siders’ sanity, the MTA’s credibility and, perhaps, Michael Horodniceanu’s job, the MTA is urging its contractors to get the job done before December. Time is not on their side.
For the MTA, this is the summer of the Second Ave. Subway. News has been slow around the transit space in New York City as the L train shutdown remains a concern, but still a few years off, and the next fare hike isn’t going to dominate headlines for a few more months. Meanwhile, the MTA is trying to open the Second Ave. Subway ahead of a self-imposed December deadline, but as we’ve heard every four weeks, the project is increasingly under pressure as deadlines slip and testing gears up.
During the monthly updates regarding the state of the project, we’ve often heard from the MTA’s engineering consultant on the agency’s change orders. The change orders are a rather technical element to this project, generally a part of a governance process in which one party has to request a change, and justify any associated costs, before the other party accepts and/or implements the change. It could be something as simple as staffing or as complex as a new design. With just six months to go before the long-awaited subway line is set to open, the pace of change orders should be slowing down, but instead, they seem to be steadily adding to the project’s obstacles.
Last week, The New York Post went behind the scenes on these COs, and while I have some questions in with the MTA regarding the details, here’s a snippet:
The Second Avenue subway delays have nothing to do with no-show workers — they’re the fault of the nitpicky MTA for demanding a staggering 2,500 design changes, a rep for the contractors said. Hardhats have even had to go back and rip up completed work on several occasions to satisfy the agency, General Contractors Association of New York Executive Director Denise Richardson told the agency’s board.
A recent delay came when the MTA demanded a new shade of concrete on the sidewalk outside the 86th Street station — after contractors had already installed the completed walkway for two blocks, she said. Contractors also had to tear down and rebuild station entrances, move a pump room three feet, and twice install the pipes for the fire-alarm system between the 72nd Street, 86th Street and 96th Street stations, Richardson said.
There are always changes on projects of this size, said Richardson, but not nearly this many — and they are typically made before work is completed.
I’ve heard from residents on the Upper East Side who have been told of the concrete shading issues by workers, and these residents, who have lived through years of unanticipated construction, tell me the whole is “getting old.” (Of course, once the subway opens, they’ll be a bit happier, but even now, these delays simply add to an unpleasant and long experience while chipping away at what little confidence residents may have had in the MTA.)
An MTA spokesman told The Post that “there are always inconsistencies that need to be addressed as part of the design process.” Yet, the MTA’s low-bid contracting process lends itself to a situation where change orders come to dominate the closing months of the process. It’s worse at Second Ave. where people live and work than it was with the 7 line at Hudson Yards, a relatively underdeveloped area, and now attention has shifted to the Upper East Side. The clock is ticking, and yet, shades of concrete are just one of many obstacles to completion.
If the MTA still plans to open the first phase of the Second Ave. Subway by the end of December, as the agency continues to insist it will, completion of the work will require an “aggressive and unprecedented” effort, an independent engineering consultant warned the MTA Board on Monday. For their part, MTA officials continue to say that December is not only feasible but realistic, and after years of delay, the agency has yet to push back the opening date for the project.
Word of delay isn’t exactly new. Setting aside the fact that this project was supposed to be completed three or four years ago, delays have been the theme in December, January, February, March, and April — essentially every month during which the Board has received regular updates. In May, the IEC raised a skeptical eyebrow but didn’t have additional words of warning. This month’s report lands with a bang.
As the MTA Board materials indicate, the same hot-button items are the culprits. Elevators and escalators won’t be ready for testing, and fire safety systems are lagging behind. If this sounds familiar, well, it’s why the 7 line extension opened nearly 20 months behind schedule, and it’s an issue on the Upper East Side as well. The IEC put it bluntly in its latest update:
“Initial testing activities have not kept pace with the schedule for test completion. 67% of scheduled tests were completed by the end of May. Another 1104 tests need to be completed by the end of October 2016. Should the Project experience delays in testing at the three new stations similar to that which occurred at the Lexington Ave/63rd St. Station, the December Revenue Service Date would be impacted.
The time available for testing of station equipment and rail systems requires a very aggressive and unprecedented performance of the combined MTACC and NYCT test teams.”
That last sentence is key. The MTA’s agencies are not known for cooperating with each other. Due to political inter-agency turf battles and the issues with handing over the keys from one agency to the other, MTACC is very territorial, and joint testing between Transit — the folks ultimately responsible for operating the Second Ave. Subway — and MTACC — those tasked with building it — is complicated in part by design and in part by stubbornness.
Meanwhile, both the IEC and MTA officials have thrown up red flags. The MTA keeps implementing change orders, and the IEC notes that the contractor installing communications equipment is going to miss every single upcoming deadline, putting the project’s completion at risk. Meanwhile, MTA Capital Construction President Michael Horodniceanu found no one working at project sites over the weekend.
None of this sounds particularly promising as June ticks to a close, but MTA officials are hewing to the party line. “There is no reason at this time to believe the project won’t open by the end of the year,” newly installed MTA communications head Beth De Falco said to the Daily News — no reason, that is, except many of them, if you believe the IEC, and a history of failing to finish projects on time.
Were I an excitable tabloid headline writer, I would have put something shocking atop this post — perhaps along the lines of “MTA report recommends against running trains underneath Second Avenue.” You see, as part of the presentation to the MTA Board today regarding the revival of the W train, New York City Transit’s subway ops team has prepared a list of alternatives should the Board, for some reason, vote against the W train, and one of those options is the so-called “no-build” analysis. When MTA Capital Construction hands over control of the Second Ave. Subway to New York City Transit, New York City Transit could “do nothing,” the report notes, continuing somewhat tongue-in-cheek:
Not implementing service on Second Avenue would not allow riders to benefit from the significant capital investments made to construct the Second Avenue Subway line.
Of course, the MTA isn’t going to not implement subway service on Second Avenue when Phase 1 opens over the next few months, but the inclusion of the “do nothing” option certainly highlights the absurdity of alternatives analysis. While one of the other alternatives — simply increase N train capacity to Astoria (and, by extension, along the Sea Beach and 4th Ave. lines in Brooklyn) — had its proponents during the April public hearings on the W train, the MTA noted this option isn’t feasible due to the availability of rolling stock on hand and track capacity concerns. Some N train service would have to terminate at Whitehall St. anyway, and having the same route designation for two different services would create passenger confusion.
So ultimately, as the MTA Board’s Transit Committee voted this morning, New York City Transit will bring back the W train in November, the next pick for its workers prior to the expected revenue start date for the Second Ave. Subway. The W will run local from Whitehall St. to Astoria-Ditmars Boulevard as a weekday-only service operating from around 7 a.m. until 11 p.m., thus maintaining current service between Queens and Manhattan. The Q will no longer stop at 49th St., eliminating an unnecessary choke-point between 34th St.-Herald Square and 57th St., and when the Second Ave. Subway opens, the Q will run from 57th St. to 63rd St./Lexington, 72nd St., and 86th St. before terminating at 96th St. and 2nd Ave. The Upper East Side won’t know what hit them.
But there’s a rub, and in a way, I’ve buried the lede again. The Upper East Side may be thrilled with the subway, but they’ll be less thrilled with the headways on the Second Ave. Subway which threaten to be the longest in the city for peak-hour service. During the public hearings on the W train proposal, one person asked the MTA to disclose headways on the Second Ave. Subway, and the answer is in these tables:
As you can see, the MTA isn’t really revising the Q train schedule to respond to shifting demand. Currently, Q trains are relatively empty crossing the Manhattan Bridge into Brooklyn in the morning and vice versa in the evening. When the Second Ave. Subway opens, while the Manhattan Bridge ridership likely won’t change, Q train demand south from 96th St. to parts south in Manhattan will spike, but the MTA is planning to run trains at eight-minute headways. Only weekend, midday and evening Q service will see improvements when the Second Ave. Subway opens, and Upper East Siders are going to be shocked at the long waits, especially when compared with the peak-hour frequencies on the 4, 5 and 6.
Immediately, you may be wondering if 7.5 trains per hour for the Upper East Side is sufficient to meet projected ridership, and it’s not entirely clearly it will be. Based on ridership expectations and current travel patterns, the MTA may expect around 60,000 riders during the morning commute on the Second Ave. stops, but the eight-minute headways allow for service that can carry a bit under 45,000 over three hours. Trains will be very crowded and waits far longer than many expect. That’s due in part to available rolling stock and in part due to capacity concerns over the Manhattan Bridge and through the DeKalb Interlocking. As the Second Ave. Subway gears up for its grand unveiling, crowds and service frequency is a story worth watching.
In some reality, the MTA’s recent five-year capital began nearly 16 months ago at the start of 2015, and we are well into year two of the work. In our reality, Gov. Andrew Cuomo still hasn’t really funded the plan, and the five-year spending proposal hasn’t gone through the state approval process. Yet, on Wednesday, for the third time in two years, the MTA released a draft of the capital program. The agency thinks this one will finally garner Capital Program Review Board sign-off, and in it are plans to begin in earnest Phase 2 of the Second Ave. Subway.
This element of the capital plan — the northern extension of the Second Ave. Subway to Lexington and East 125th St. — is not without controversy. In August of 2014, when the MTA first put forward this five-year plan, the funding request for Phase 2 was $1.5 billion, and the MTA expected to begin construction in 2019. As Cuomo dragged his feet, though, the MTA had to revise the plan, and an October 2015 version included only $500 million for preliminary design and engineering work. The MTA said it couldn’t start work before the end of 2019 and planned to request the balance in the 2020-2024 plan. East Harlem pols were not happy, and politicians began a push to examine construction timelines (albeit one that came far too late).
When the state finally approved a budget a few weeks ago, Phase 2 of the Second Ave. Subway was back on the table, and the MTA has released the third version of their 2015-2019 capital plan that reflects this expenditure (pdf). All told, the MTA will spend around $1.035 billion on Phase 2 of the Second Ave. Subway, with approximately $500 million coming from the feds. The plan is a bit of a hedge as heavy construction won’t begin until 2019, and if the MTA misses that deadline, as the agency expected to six months ago, they can roll the money over into 2020 while lining up the rest of the funding to begin work on that phase.
If all goes according to plan, the MTA will spend around $535 million on environmental, design, and real estate and project support in order to begin utility relocation work for Phase 2. The new plan also, in the MTA’s words, “reserves $500 million to support progressing major construction activities.” This is a promise to maybe kinda sorta begin real work on Phase 2 by the end of 2019 with an eye toward ramping up construction activity through funds available in the next capital plan. (What happens if the next capital plan takes years to approve is an open question.) While the proposal allows for modest expenditures spread out over four calendar years, the reserve is all bucketed for 2019. Do you think major construction will start by then? I’m not convinced.
Meanwhile, at Wednesday’s board meeting, MTA CEO and Chairman Tom Prendergast echoed MTA Capital Construction President Michael Horodniceanu’s off-the-cuff cost estimate from early November. The agency still expects Phase 2 to cost between $5-$6 billion, an exceedingly hight amount even in New York City. Most of the costs seem tied up in the 125th St. station which involves tunneling underneath Metro-North tracks and the Lexington Ave. Subway while building a deep-bore subway stop that’s up to modern safety codes. It’s still not yet clear if the MTA intends to utilize pre-existing tunnel segments north of 96th St. that may be too close to the surface to support the MTA’s current approach to subway construction. We’ll know definitively one way or another within the next year or so.
And thus, this never-ending saga inches closer to another phase. One day, we may even have a full length Second Ave. Subway, but as the tenth anniversary of construction on Phase 1 nears, it’s still going to be a while.
Unfortunately, for the MTA and its contractors working underneath the Upper East Side, time is marching inevitably forward toward December. As the agency is facing mounting pressure both internally and externally to deliver Phase 1 of the Second Ave. Subway by the end of the year, we are receiving monthly updates in the form of MTA Board meeting materials on the project, and each month the story is the same: The MTA’s work schedule is aggressive and not being met with the usual suspects looming as issues. Last month, I detailed how escalators and elevators may again delay the opening of a major MTA project, and this month, we hear more of the same.
The latest is found starting on page 48 of the MTA Capital Construction pdf that the MTA’s oversight committee will discuss later this morning. The short of it is that one station — 72nd Street — may gum up the works for the rest of Phase 1, and overall, escalator and elevator installation efforts are falling behind schedule. Right now, four of seven key milestones at 72nd Street are behind schedule. These involve elevator and HVAC installation and tunnel vent fans. At both 86thand 96th Streets, escalator and elevator installation is a few weeks behind schedule. All work at 63rd St. remains on schedule even as half the station continues to serve F trains.
In each case, the MTA claims the delayed timelines will not affect the projected December 2016 revenue service date, but the agency’s independent engineering consultant isn’t as confident. First, the IEC notes that only 70 percent of tracking milestones met in March were met and that the lack of improvements at 72nd St. mean that the problems with escalator and elevator installation “remain close to impacting the target [revenue service date].” As they have done so in past months, the IEC again warns that the MTA’s testing schedule is “highly compressed which maximizes the demand on NYCT staff.” But this is an all-hands-on-deck effort right as the MTA is engaged in what is essentially an eight-month sprint, but demand on staff is an ancillary concern at best.
Ultimately, the IEC is worried, and they sum up their concerns succinctly:
- The work effort at the 72nd Street Station site has not reached the level necessary to support the accelerated schedule.
- Late design changes have continued through March and the backlog of changes may present a risk to the scheduled completion of the testing program.
In response to this development that one of three stations could hold up the entire project, a few readers have asked me if the MTA could open Phase 1 but keep 72nd Street closed until elevator and escalator installation is completed. As of now, this isn’t a particularly likely scenario and may present a challenge to the way the MTA operates. For now, MTA Capital Construction, a distinct agency under the MTA umbrella, has control over the entirety of Phase 1 of the Second Ave. Subway, and when all systems are completed, tested and accepted, they’ll turn over the project to MTA New York City Transit, a different agency under the MTA umbrella. (For the 7 line extension, MTA CC didn’t turn over the reins until shortly before the ribbon-cutting on the station, and even now, remediation work is ongoing.)
MTA CC can’t turn over part of the project while retaining control over another part, and the MTA can’t get certified to open the station with, say, only escalators and no elevators due to ADA compliance issues. It is essentially an all or nothing proposition. So everyone is holding their collective breaths as December ticks closer. We’ll get another report in May, but the key updates will arrive in June when the testing schedule must come into focus to meet the December revenue service date. We won’t know until very late in the year if the project will be delayed, but the warning signs are there. Anyone betting on the actual opening date?
For the MTA’s $27 billion five-year capital plan that is now entering its 16th month of being late, the budget allocates a whopping $1 billion in actual cash with some vague references to the overall $27 billion five-year program. Cuomo of course played this up as though the entire thing has been funded, but we are no closer to understanding how this money will be realized than we were yesterday, last week, last month or last year. Unless momentum behind a push for the Move New York plan materializes, it will be more debt or (or is that “and”?) bust for the MTA. (New York also committed to spend an equal amount on upstate roads despite a far worse return on its investment. At least the Erie County executive was happy. After all, New York City residents are the ones paying for his roads, but I digress.)
In response to this magnanimous nothing from his boss, MTA CEO and Chairman Tom Prendergast released a statement of praise, calling the budget appropriations a “monumental win for the people of New York.” It’s not really a win except that it paves the way for the MTA to gain Capital Program Review Board approval and start spending money it doesn’t really have for projects it badly needs. He continued:
“This $27 billion agreement marks the largest investment ever made in the MTA. It is an important victory not only for New York City and its suburbs but for all the communities across New York State. The plan will enable the MTA to maintain critical infrastructure while renewing, enhancing and expanding our system to meet the ridership and growth demands of the future and improving the current experience for the millions who critically rely on our system each day.
The Governor has once again assured a year-to-year increase in state operating assistance for the transit system and brought us a significant increase in support for the MTA, including a commitment to the second phase of the extension of Second Avenue Subway to East Harlem, and billions of dollars for the essential work of keeping the transit system safe and reliable…The MTA has been hard at work preparing projects supported by the new Capital Program and will now submit a revised plan to our Board as well as to the State’s Capital Program Review Board.”
Most of this is what we call pure puffery, but the last sentence is key. The MTA is going to submit their third version of the capital plan — and it will actually restore an important item cut from the last iteration. That’s right; Phase 2 of the Second Ave. Subway is back, baby.
The MTA has gotten a commitment of an additional $1 billion from the state for this phase, but the investment nods at the bifurcated nature of the plan. The current budget will allocate an additional $500 million to Phase 2 so that the MTA will have $1 billion for Phase 2 under the 2015-2019 plan. This should be enough to complete all studies and design refreshes necessary and begin utility reconstruction by the end of 2019 which MTA sources have indicated is an aggressive but doable timeframe. The remaining $443 million will be a part of the state contributions to the 2020-2024 capital plan in recognition of the reality that Phase 2 won’t be completed until the mid-2020s.
After significant blowback when the MTA essentially moved $1 billion of Phase 2 funding to the 2020-2024 plan by eliminating from the 2015-2019 plan, Assembly members Rodriguez and Wright (that is, Robert and Keith and not Alex and David, as baseball fans would hope) were instrumental in securing these funds for the MTA and their constituents. They issued a statement this afternoon. “The restoration of significant funding for the Second Phase of the Second Avenue Subway represents a huge victory for the residents of East Harlem,” Rodriguez said.
So what comes next? The fight for an actual source of dollars for the capital plan will continue; the MTA will submit a revised plan and hope to avoid debt; and Phase 2 of the Second Ave. Subway is exceedingly likely to become a reality within the next decade. It all sounds good, but next week, we’ll take a look at what Paris has planned to open before 2030. And then we can wonder how New York City went so far off the rails. In the meantime, tonight is but one step in a continuing saga.
Over the weekend, House Representative Carolyn Maloney stood in front of the future Second Ave. Subway station at 86th St. to announce her reelection campaign for Congress. Maloney has served since winning election in 1992 and isn’t likely to face much of a challenge. She captured 80 percent of the vote in 2014.
In announcing her campaign, she played up the billions she has helped steer toward New York City infrastructure investments, but her press releases leading up to the announcement were a bit of a mess. In one, she touted, in various places that either 16 or 4 new subway stops would open this year at a cost of either $4 or $8 billion. Her press team also claimed that all 8.5 miles of the line would open this year (though with only four new stations). It was total nonsense and highlighted how the Congressional representative from the Upper East Side couldn’t be bothered with the details of the first phase of the Second Ave. Subway. Thanks for the money, but perhaps learn the details behind your investment.
My skepticism aside, Maloney used the opportunity to stress that part of the Second Ave. Subway will open this year, but will it? As part of the build-up to the supposed December 2016 revenue service date, the MTA and its independent engineering consultant have been giving monthly updates to the Board. In December, the early reports warned of a moderate risk of delay, and January brought similar news. In February, the MTA vowed to spend more to accelerate work, but in this month’s update, it’s not clear the agency will meet those goals. Furthermore, the IEC and MTA give some hints as to the cause of potential delays, and they appear to be some usual suspects: tight testing timelines and concerns that escalators and elevators won’t be installed in time.
The latest materials — available here as a PDF — weave a narrative of an agency trying to cram as much work as possible into the next nine months, but the MTA admits to certain yellow and red flags. Most of the issues concern testing. Testing at various stations for elevators, escalators, fire safety systems and vent fans may not be complete until the end of April, one month later than scheduled. As you may recall, issues with these exact systems’ passing acceptance testing were a key driver behind the delayed opening of the 7 line extension. These though currently warrant only a yellow flag, but at 72nd St., installation for escalators and elevators at one entrance will not be completed until the end of October, leaving only two months for testing.
In response, the IEC notes that the MTA’s testing schedule may be overly aggressive. “There appears to be a limited allowance for test failure and retesting activities,” the IEC noted. Further, the issues with installation of those escalators and elevators is “close to impacting” the December 2016 revenue service date. The IEC again urges more spending to keep pace with the ticking clock and notes that late design changes and a backlog of change orders haven’t been cleared yet. Any testing failures will throw that December promise into doubt.
Ultimately, the story remains the same. The MTA still promises to open the line before the year is out, but time is ticking as the issues that could delay the project aren’t melting away. I still would expect a short delay, but word of one won’t come out for a few more months. Meanwhile, we wait — for escalators, elevators, key systems, and, of course, House representatives who care enough to get the details right.
With Phase 1 of the Second Ave. Subway set to wrap later this year, in an ideal world, Phase 2 would be well under way now. The original proposal for the line contemplated a far more compressed construction schedule with work on multiple phases at the same time. There is no reason, for instance, other than money, why Phases 2 and 3 can’t begin concurrently. Yet, here we are, near the end of Phase 1, and the most exciting news is word that the MTA is going to follow through with its promises to “fast track” Phase 2.
The latest development came on Friday, but first let’s recap. When the MTA unveiled the 2015-2019 capital plan, the proposal included $1.5 billion for Phase 2 of the Second Ave. Subway with the promise that actual construction would begin toward the end of the five years. Then, late last year, thanks to delays in approval, the MTA chopped $1 billion from the SAS proposal, and New Yorkers were upset. The MTA later promised to accelerate Phase 2 if possible.
Meanwhile, the MTA’s five-year capital plan still remains unfunded thanks in large part to smoke-and-mirrors accounting on the part of Gov. Andrew Cuomo (more on that issue later this week), but the MTA is forging ahead with Phase 2 acceleration efforts. On Friday, the agency released two procurement documents that will usher in design and engineering work for Phase 2 [pdf] as well as operations for a community center for Harlem segment of this new subway line [pdf]. Much of the work will involve refreshing the environmental impact statement and planning and finalizing design options for subsequent bids. It’s all fairly modest as work goes but a very necessary first step in moving forward.
In announcing this new work, the MTA reiterated its commitment to Phase 2 and projected awarding these contracts over the summer. “Our goal is to fast-track Phase 2 to every extent possible, and if these efforts to speed up the project timetable are successful, the MTA will amend our Capital Program and seek additional funds to begin heavy construction sooner,” MTA Chairman and CEO Thomas F. Prendergast, echoing comments he made earlier in the week in Albany. “With the opening of first phase of the Second Avenue Subway planned for the end of this year, we are taking steps to ensure a seamless transition to the next phase of work ahead.”
I’m glad to see the MTA’s commitment to this important section of the plan survive. The plan calls for new stations at East 106th and 116th Sts. and 2nd Ave. along with a curve west to a connection with the Lexington Ave. IRT at 125th St. and tail tracks to 129th St. that could one day serve the Bronx. It’s perhaps the most vital part of the Second Ave. Subway, but it’s still a long way off.
The MTA doesn’t, as I mentioned, have an approved capital plan yet, and the agency doesn’t have the money to spend on these awards yet. They’re also still the same agency that has trouble meeting deadlines and builds projects that are exponentially more expensive than similar work the world over. If this phase is going to cost $5.5-$6 billion, as MTA Capital Construction President Michael Horodniceanu predicted in November, we have bigger problems to worry about than whether construction will begin in early 2019 or early 2020.
But either way, this project will lumber forward, and perhaps, we’ll have half of the Second Ave. Subway before the 100th anniversary of the original proposal to build a subway underneath that part of the East Side.
There is nothing quite like the fear of missing a looming deadline to inspire anyone to work a bit harder and a bit faster, as the MTA and its contractors are currently learning. Faced with the (for-some-reason) daunting task of delivering a major capital project somewhat on time (but only after years of shifting expectations), with ten months to go before 2016 runs out, the agency is entering acceleration mode and plans to spend $66 million worth of expenditures to speed up to work to ensure the Second Ave. Subway is ready for revenue service by year’s end.
The plan is set to come before the MTA Board during this week’s meetings, and if you read between the lines — or even if you read the lines themselves — it seems as though the agency is worried about that promise made all those years ago by MTA Capital Construction President Michael Horodniceanu to deliver Phase 1 of the Second Ave. Subway by the end of 2016. As the agency board materials note on page 131 of this pdf, “Failure to enter into the proposed Acceleration Agreements and implement the proposed acceleration plans will increase the risk that Revenue Service will not commence until sometime in 2017 which will also have a financial impact on construction management support costs as well as the operating budget and prolong crowded conditions on the Lexington Avenue line.”
That the project could face challenges meeting the December deadline is hardly breaking news by now. While the federal government has long doubted the 2016 date and believes a 2017 opening is more likely, the MTA’s Independent Engineering Consultant first warned of delays in December and reiterated this stance in January. In this month’s update, the IEC again raises concerns. It notes that certain major test dates have been postponed and design and scope change orders continue to be issued this late in the game. With the acceleration work set to reduce the project contingency, the MTA is fast running out of wiggle room.
That brings us to this request for accelerated work. As the MTA notes, perhaps discouragingly and perhaps alarming, in its request to enter into these agreements, opening up four new stations “presents logistical challenges unprecedented in modern New York City Transit operation.” With three different contractors working on three different stations at the same time, the MTA sees “enormous” and “complicated” challenges. That the language is so dire consider the relatively modest scope of Phase 1 of the Second Ave. Subway should give us agita regarding the future of any massive subway expansions in line with those underway by New York City’s international peer cities.
The acceleration work involves some relatively basic elements of the construction. Crews will begin to work extended shifts and some weekends to complete the stations, and the outstanding elements all involve what you would expect this close to completion. Behind-the-scenes power and mechanical rooms need more work; fan rooms, elevators and escalators must be ready; and finishes, testing and commissioning need to be complete before the Second Ave. Subway is certified for revenue service.
Meanwhile, as part of another modification (page 128 of this pdf), the MTA also just realized it is required to install 36 fire dampers at the 63rd St. station and somehow just discovered that the tunnel from 57th St./7th Ave. to 63rd St./Lexington is in bad shape. Here is how the Board materials describe the situation:
The tracks in the tunnel south of the 63rd St./Lexington Avenue Station to north of 57th Street and 7th Avenue Station were built in the late 1970s as part of the “New Routes” 63rd St. Line. These tracks never had regular train service, and have been rarely used, except for occasional re-routes. Currently there is no scheduled revenue service over them however, this will change once SAS service begins with the ‘Q’ train scheduled to operate along these tracks and continuing to the new 2nd Avenue Subway. Given the significant water ingress that has been constantly present in this area since its construction, the northbound and southbound tracks in this section have experienced severe degradation.
NYC Transit has determined that this tunnel section must be addressed immediately including the replacement of track, tunnel lighting, antenna cable, emergency alarms, emergency telephones, etc. The above track replacement and associated signal equipment work will be addressed through a third-party contract and NYC Transit in-house forces will address the remaining work, all of which must be completed in time for SAS Revenue Service. However, in order to perform this work, the water condition must be addressed first. NYC Transit has directed that the specialized chemical grout (NOH2O) and methods that were successfully employed on other MTACC and NYC Transit projects, be utilized in this tunnel section.
Now, you might be wondering how the MTA is only now just discovering this problem in a rather vital stretch of track key to launching the Second Ave. Subway, and for that, I have no answer yet. I will inquire this week as to how this just came to light. Contractors began this mitigation work in early January and should be able to finish in advance to ensure revenue service by the end of the year. The Board materials, however, note ominously that “the schedule impact of these modifications is still under review and any schedule adjustments will be addressed in a subsequent modification.”
This is a sprint now and the hurdles just keep on coming. Anyone out there expect to ride this new subway before we flip the calendar to 2017? With the obstacles, self-imposed or otherwise, in the MTA’s path, that is looking like one tough deadline to meet.