Archive for Second Avenue Subway
It’s no secret that the MTA has long struggled with opening dates for their capital projects. From staircase replacement projects to supposedly normal state-of-good-repair work like the Culver Viaduct rehabilitation to the 18 month-and-counting drama at the site of the 7 line’s future 34th St. terminus, the MTA simply cannot deliver on time. Whether it’s due to union featherbedding, contractor corruption, or the complexity of large-scale infrastructure work, the problem affects the agency’s credibility and New Yorkers’ collective ability to enjoy a subway system.
Along the Far West Side, the MTA’s troubles with getting the 7 line extension past the finish line and more comical than anything else. No one lives there yet so lives haven’t been disrupted and promises that were broken were made originally only to convention goers. The real estate interests constructing the Hudson Yards development will have their subway long before the buildings are complete.
The Upper East Side though is a horse of a different color. The MTA originally hoped to finish Phase 1 of the Second Ave. Subway in 2011 and then planned for a mid-2015 debut. As early as 2009, the agency had to push back the projected completion date to 2016 with a threat that work would continue into 2017. For Upper East Side residents who have lived with construction for nearly a decade already, further delays now would be infuriating.
Meanwhile, in 2009 and again in 2011, the Federal Transit Administration disputed the MTA’s timeline. While the agency pledged to open the $4.4 billion Phase 1 project by the end of 2016, the feds viewed a $5.5 billion extension opening in early 2018 as the most likely scenario. Over the past five years, the MTA has doubled down on the 2016 date while New Yorkers, rightfully skeptical of the lessons learned (or not learned, as the case may be) from the 7 line, still aren’t surprised by the feds’ timeline.
Yesterday, in prepared remarks first identified by Andrew Siff of NBC 4 and later in questions posed by the House Oversight Committee, FTA officials first doubled down on the 2018 timeline but then later walked it back. Federal officials acknowledged that the MTA’s 2016 revenue service date is achievable, but both the MTA and FTA seemed to agree tacitly that it will take a concerted oversight effort by agency officials to realize this earlier date.
The FTA’s pre-printed statement is decidedly less optimistic than the FTA’s subsequent comments during the hearing. Matthew Welbes, executive direct of the Federal Transit Administration, had this to say in his prepared remarks [pdf]:
In February 2015, FTA and the MTA executed an amended FFGA for the Second Avenue Subway Phase I project reflecting the changes in cost and schedule to the project. The amended FFGA includes a cost of $5.57 billion, and a revenue service date of February 28, 2018. As in the original FFGA, the amount of Federal Capital Investment Grant funding remains unchanged, with the local project sponsor covering the cost overruns.
In government-speak, that paragraph means the Full Funding Grant Agreement between the FTA and MTA acknowledged significantly higher costs and a delayed opening date. The MTA — or in this case, New York State — will foot the bill on cost overruns.
During subsequent question by Rep. Carolyn Maloney, Welbes walked back some of the FTA’s statements. When asked about the differing timelines, he provided the following explanation:
“When we executed the revised Full Funding Grant agreement in March, the schedule is that the project is supposed to open by by February of 2018. And that was based on what we agreed to with the MTA. If the MTA can deliver the project sooner, we would be proud to see that happen. It looks like the project is trending, based on our data, toward an opening of closer to, maybe early in, sometime in 2017. So the truth is probably somewhere between December of 2016 and our February of 2018 opening date. If the MTA does some of the aggressive schedule management steps that they have planned, they may very well achieve that December date.”
A revenue service start date early in 2017 wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world for the MTA. True, the feds’ outcome means a 30-block, $5.5-billion subway that takes nearly a decade to construct. True, those costs are higher, on a per mile basis, than any other comparable project. But for the MTA, a delay of only a few months would represent a significant improvement over its experiences on the West Side.
The MTA in response, meanwhile, defended its own timeline. “?The MTA reports our projections for megaproject cost and completion every month based on our own understanding of the work done so far and our best estimates of the work still to be done,” the agency said in a statement. They insist that the Second Ave. Subway’s first riders will be able to ride a 96th Street-bound Q train before the year is out.
For her part, Rep. Maloney urged the FTA and MTA to find a way to get this project completed by the end of next year. “I think,” she said, “that would build up a lot of credibility by everyone.” That’s no small point considering the MTA’s lobbying for nearly $15 billion in additional capital spending right now, but the concern is a missed deadline. Do you believe the MTA or the feds? And what happens when the Second Ave. Subway doesn’t open by the end of December of 2016? It’s a future no one wants to contemplate but one that isn’t too far off right now.
Despite the ongoing drama with the 7 line extension — the MTA now anticipates opening the 34th St. station in September or October, 21 or 22 months late — the agency continues to push the party line that the Second Ave. Subway will open by the end of December of 2016. A recent media tour of the construction site revealed significant progress, and the MTA says the project is 82.3% completed. Still, Upper East Side residents I’ve spoken with are skeptical as the work has been marked by constant missed deadlines and broken promises.
Meanwhile, across the East River in Queens, Astoria residents are beginning to take notice of the looming completion of Phase 1 of this project, and they’re worried. When the MTA first unveiled plans for the Second Ave. Subway, it was billed as a northward extension of the Q train from 57th St. and 7th Ave. to 96th St. and 2nd Ave. via preexisting tunnel to 63rd St. and new tunnel underneath 2nd Ave. This was 11 years ago when the W split the Queens load with the N train, and extending the Q north would have no affect on service to and from Astoria.
Since then, the W has gone the way of the dodo and the Q serves a vital part-time link for Astoria subway riders. In fact, the BMT trains from Queens have seen massive growth over the past decade, and residents and politicians alike have called for more frequent service, especially during off-peak and weekend hours. Thus, the threat of a Q train service diversion has many nervous. Today, Dan Rivoli, the new Daily News transit beat writer, and Chris Sommerfeldt delved into this issue and for some reason, the MTA played its cards awfully close to its chest. The two write:
In diverting the Q line to the East Side, NYC Transit has not decided if the N can handle riders in Astoria “or if there will need to be trains added,” according to an email obtained by the Daily News. The email was sent to at least two riders who inquired to the MTA about Q service in Queens by Joseph O’Donnell, outreach director for the megaproject.
MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz stressed the transit agency is not planning a service cut. “While the route letters may change, and exactly what will happen hasn’t been determined yet, we have no plans to reduce service on the Astoria or any other line,” Ortiz said…
Sen. Michael Gianaris of Astoria said that while the MTA’s assurances sound good, he wants to make sure capacity on the Astoria train lines is maintained. But given the crowds of waiting commuters he sees from his district office, “what they really should be doing is increasing service,” he said.
As Rivoli and Sommerfeldt’s person-on-the-street interviewees note in the article, a service cut for Astoria seems ludicrous, and the MTA has maintained since eliminating the W in 2010 that the Second Ave. Subway opening would not lead to less service for Astoria. Still, I can see why some people in Queens may be unsettled by the MTA’s less-than-comforting remarks. At some point soon, the MTA should announce that some version of the W will return with part-time service into Astoria, and the MTA should consider restoring N express service in Manhattan during peak hours as well. For now, we don’t know what the service patterns will be, but in less than a year and a half we will. It should bring comfort to Queens even if the question remains unsettled for now.
As far as bargaining chips the MTA can use for leverage in discussions over capital funding, the MTA’s options are few and far between. Short of kidnapping a bunch of customers and hiding them in the station shell at South 4th Street, MTA officials can only make noises about potential options. We heard about steep fare hikes yesterday, but those aren’t the only trump cards the agency can play. How about big-ticket capital projects?
During the same press conference at which he promised not to raise fares to delivery capital funding to the cash-strained MTA, agency head Tom Prendergast spoke about what may need to go in the capital plan if funding doesn’t materialize, and of course, the namesake of my site came up. As part of the five-year spending plan, the MTA has requested $1.5 billion for the Second Ave. Subway. This line-item isn’t without controversy as the MTA hasn’t put a dollar figure on Phase 2 in over decade and wants a large sum for initial construction set to begin in the last year of the proposed five-year plan.
Still, the MTA knows the Second Ave. Subway won’t cost less than $1.5 billion, and the agency needs this money to keep momentum going. When Phase 1 of the Second Ave. Subway opens, the rest of the East Side will clamor for more segments of this line. It’s going to be that much of a game-changer for people that this phased approach is likely to be viewed as a mistake (if it already isn’t).
But as is the MTA’s wont with in-demand projects, the Second Ave. Subway makes for a potential liability and lever. In speaking on the impact of no funding solution earlier this week, Tom Prendergast said, as Capital New York reported, that future phases of the project could be “put on hold.” Isn’t that exactly what Sheldon Silver wanted when he forced the MTA to break one subway line into quarters?
The MTA can’t really afford not to build out more of the Second Ave. Subway. After all, phase two northward to Harlem and 125th St. is the part that will truly alleviate capacity constraints along the Lexington Ave. line. But threatening the future of the Second Ave. Subway is indeed something the MTA can do. Much like Prendergast or his underlings can discuss fare hikes, so too can the MTA boss talk about putting capital projects on hold. The more he discusses this in the context of Albany, the clearer it becomes that someone is responsible for holding up discussions surrounding badly-needed subway extension plans. I don’t love using the Second Ave. Subway as a bargaining chit, but if it forces legislators to the table as the days tick by, that’s better than the alternative.
Meanwhile, to show progress and perhaps to force a reckoning over this capital funding issue, the MTA released a series of photos from inside the Second Ave. Subway construction area. The agency maintains that the new stations will open for revenue service by the end of December of 2016. That gives the agency a full 20 months from today to realize this goal. The clock is ticking, and the delays at 34th St. and 11th Ave. along the 7 line loom large. Click through for some photos and check out the full set in this PDF presentation. Read More→
Earlier on Wednesday, while browsing MTA news, I came across an interesting AP piece published on Crain’s New York with quite the inflammatory headline. “Why the Second Ave. subway could be delayed—again” the article said. With news of delays on the 7 line extension — this month due to emergency radios, last time due to elevators, escalators and vent plans — my first thought was that the December 2016 revenue service date was just a mirage. As I read closer, though, I realized this was about the next phase of the Second Ave. Subway and not the current one.
Phase 1 of the long-aborning subway — north from 57th St. and 7th Ave. to 96th St. and 2nd Ave. — is fully funded. Work may stretch into next year, but the money is in place. At this point, the only delays will arise if (or perhaps when) the MTA can’t get the project across the finish line, and those won’t come into view for another 18-20 months. Phase 2, despite a lack of concrete price tag, was included in the 2015-2019 capital plan, and as we know, that capital plan remains very much a work in progress.
Earlier on Wednesday during the MTA Board meeting, agency head Tom Prendergast spoke about the affect a lack of funding could have on expansion plans. It’s a good 18 months until the MTA has to face this reality, and in the past, New York has come up with interim measures to keep capital programs moving on a two- or three-year basis. But the threat of a work slowdown at a time when the city is finally re-learning how to build new subway lines looms large.
Benjamin Mueller of The Times summarized the state of the capital program with the funding picture hazy at best:
The chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority on Wednesday sought to reassure New Yorkers that the agency would secure the necessary funding to forestall what transit experts were warning about — a slump in service, overflowing subway trains and more frequent delays. The sense of alarm has been occasioned by a $15 billion gap in the agency’s five-year capital plan, which is meant to finance long-sought repairs and improvements to the city’s transit system. Transit officials and elected leaders are currently in discussions about how to fill that gap or, alternatively, to pare down costs.
But the authority’s chairman, Thomas F. Prendergast, warned that future stages of major construction plans and renovations for the overtaxed system were at risk if officials were unable to come to an agreement. The full five-year plan calls for $32 billion.
“For a period of time, maybe a year or two, we’re O.K.,” Mr. Prendergast said after a board meeting. “But as you start to get down that path, we get to the point where if we don’t have money we can’t award design contracts, we can’t award construction projects.”
We could quibble for hours over whether the “or, alternatively” at the end of the firs excerpted paragraph should just said “and,” but the truth remains that the capital plan funding question is very much up in the air. Already a long, drawn-out affair, the Second Ave. Subway could very much be a casualty of politicking and lukewarm support for transit from the Governor.
Meanwhile, the Mayor went to Albany and did a great imitation of the pot calling the kettle black “”The State must do more to fund the MTA’s capital plan – a situation that is reaching crisis levels,” Bill de Blasio said. “The current MTA capital plan is woefully underfunded. The State’s investment has steadily declined over the last 14 years.”
So too, de Blasio declined to mention, has the city’s investment. They contribute the paltry sum of $100 million a year to a multi-billion-dollar capital plan, and de Blasio has proposed trimming that figure by 60 percent. Transit advocates, such as the Straphangers Campaign, were not impressed. “We need the Citiy’s leadership to press the State to do much better for the MTA’s millions of riders,” Gene Russianoff said in a statement.
There are only so many times we can say the same thing about the capital plan, but it’s hard to underscore the needs. The subways are more crowded that ever, and to keep up with demand, the system has to be able to sustain more frequent service in more areas. With the billions of dollars requested, the alternative is a scary one indeed.
Although the 7 line has limped to a finish line that always seems to be receding into the future, the MTA insists that Phase 1 of the Second Ave. Subway will open for revenue service in December of 2016 as promised. To that end, the agency announced today that the $332 million contract to complete the station shell at 86th St. has wrapped. Additional finishing work, including on HVAC systems, those pesky elevators and escalators and other architectural details continue, and to commemorate this milestone, the MTA released a new set of photos (embedded above) showing the progress. It’s beginning to look a lot like a subway.
Phase 1 of the Second Ave. Subway is a $4.4 billion extension of the Q north from its current sometimes-terminus at 57th St. and 7th Ave. Using preexisting tunnels, the subway will head north to the unused side of the F train’s 63rd St. station (with a new entrance at 3rd Ave.) before heading north through new tunnels underneath 2nd Ave., making stops at 72nd St., 86th St. and 96th St. Money for the Phase 2 extension to 125th St. has been included in the 2015-2019 Capital Plan, but the MTA, controversially in some circles, has not yet set a firm budget for the project. Meanwhile, the MTA says work on Phase 1 is 76 percent complete, and despite those troubles on the Far West Side, the agency promises an on-time opening. As the cliché goes, only time will tell.
As a coda, the 86th St. station may bring up memories of the second Yorkshire Towers lawsuit against the project. As you may recall, Judge Furman of the Southern District threatened to sanction the attorneys for bringing a frivolous suit and failing to adequately represent previous lawsuits in their 2013 filings. The case was shortly dismissed voluntarily by the plaintiffs thereafter, and all has been smooth sailing, legally, for Phase 1 of the Second Ave. Subway ever since.
As Monday dawns, the MTA Board Committees will gear up for a full day’s worth of meetings. Despite the fact that the fare is set to rise in March, we won’t hear hand-wringing over the fare hike amounts or even new proposals as, by a few accounts, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is putting pressure on MTA leadership to delay public announcement of any fare hikes and toll increases until after Election Day. There’s nary a mention to be found of the looming rate increases in this month’s Board materials, and usually, the MTA announces the plan in mid-October.
What’s done is done — or better yet, what’s not done isn’t done — on that front, and for now, we’ll move on to other things such as what’s up with these never-opening capital projects? October will end this week, and the Fulton St. Transit Center, once expected to open in late June, will remain shrouded in construction. This week’s Board materials offer few clues to the project’s opening. A note in a presentation to the Transit Committee states only that “the Fulton Center Opening date is currently under review” while the opening date is projected to be some time in Q4. Work started, by the way, in December of 2004.
The presentation to the Capital Program Oversight Committee offers a little bit more information. The Transit Center building contract is expected to be completed before the end of December, and it seems that only a few items remain outstanding. But a few items are enough to delay the whole thing. As the materials say, “Substantial completion of this contract has been delayed due to extended testing and commissioning and subsequent punchlist items.”
Information regarding the 7 line is even harder to find this month. The MTA isn’t offering its Board any further information on the problematic elevators and escalators that have delayed the project, and although we’ve heard February 2015 as an opening date, the latest MTA docs give the agency some leeway. Currently, revenue service is projected to begin during the first quarter of 2015 — which runs through the end of March. The one-stop subway extension was once supposed to be open by the end of 2013, the first quarter of 2014, fall 2014 and then Q4 2014, but now it seems, one way or another, we’ll wait until late winter or even early spring.
All of which brings me to the Second Ave. Subway. Construction on the three-stop East Side extension of the Q train is continuing apace, and the MTA still believes they have approximately 26 months left on this project before revenue service begins. The Board materials confidently state a December 2016 ribbon-cutting, and although a few years ago, the feds disputed this projection, the MTA has vowed to open the subway on time. That said, the MTA has also vowed to open the Fulton St. Transit Center on time and the 7 line on time. Given the betting line, wouldn’t you take the “over” on December 2016? I know I would.
On a more immediate level, though, as the MTA wants political support for its $30 billion, five-year capital plan, the agency needs to show that they can deliver something somewhere on time or at least learning why they can’t. The aspect of the Fulton St. project that’s being delayed is a fancy headhouse while, seemingly, the complicated underground work has largely wrapped; the 7 line hasn’t opened because of vent fans, inclined elevators and long escalators — hardly technology unique to New York. We won’t know what happens with Second Ave. for another 18-24 months, but whatever remains of the MTA’s capital project credibility is riding on it.
So I had a back-and-forth with the MTA about these service advisories. I noted last week that the press office is no longer providing a reason for the changes, and as I said then, I and a few others liked seeing why our trains were rerouted, running local or being bustituted every weekend. The press office said to me that gathering all that information took up too much of their time, and so now we have service advisories without that information. I still prefer the added info.
Before I delve in, let me think to a Times piece on subway construction. You may think this would turn into a piece on why everything is so costly and takes so long and how initial planning for the Second Ave. Subway led to this foolish phased build-out, but you would be wrong. It is instead a piece of tropes that won’t die. West Siders want the 7 line extension; Upper East Siders are again complaining about subway construction. They’ll love the Second Ave. line once it opens, but for now you have people who didn’t adequately prepare for construction moaning about it. Same old, same old in the land of NIMBYs.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, October 3 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, October 6, Flatbush Av-Brooklyn College bound 2 trains run express from Atlantic Av-Barclays Ctr to Franklin Av.
From 6:00 a.m. to 11:45 p.m. Saturday, October 4 and Sunday, October 5, New Lots Av-bound 3 trains run express from Atlantic Av-Barclays Ctr to Franklin Av.
From 12:01 a.m. to 6:00 a.m. Sunday, October 5, Harlem-148 St bound 3 trains run local from 72 St to 96 St.
From 11:00 p.m. Saturday, October 4 to 6:00 a.m. Sunday, October 5, and from 11:00 p.m. Sunday, October 5 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, October 6, New Lots Av-bound 4 trains run local between 125 St and Grand Cantral-42 St.
From 11:45 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. Friday, October 3 to Sunday, October 5, and from 11:45 p.m. Sunday, October 5 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, October 6, New Lots Av-bound 4 trains run express from Atlantic Av-Barclays Ctr to Franklin Av.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, October 3 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, October 6, 5 trains are suspended in both directions between Eastchester-Dyre Av and E 180 St. Free shuttle buses operate all weekend between Eastchester-Dyre Av and E 180 St, stopping at Baychester Av, Gun Hill Rd, Pelham Pkwy, and Morris Park.
From 7:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Saturday, October 4 and from 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Sunday, October 5, 6 trains run every 16 minutes between 3 Av-138 St and Pelham Bay Park. The last stop for some 6 trains headed toward Pelham Bay Park is 3 Av-138 St. To continue your trip, transfer at 3 Av-138 St to a Pelham Bay Park-bound 6 train.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, October 3 to 4:00 a.m. Monday, October 6, Pelham Bay Park-bound 6 trains run express from Parkchester to Pelham Bay Park.
From 3:45 a.m. Saturday, October 4 to 10:00 p.m. Sunday, October 5, Flushing-Main St bound 7 trains run express from Queensboro Plaza to 74 St-Broadway.
From 12:01 a.m. to 5:00 a.m. Saturday, October 4 and from 12:01 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. Sunday, October 5, 7 trains operate in two sections:
- Between Times Sq-42 St and Mets-Willets Point.
- Between Mets-Willets Point and Flushing-Main St.
From 11:45 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. Friday, October 3 to Sunday, October 5, and from 11:45 p.m. Sunday, October 5 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, October 6, Queens-bound A trains run express from 145 St to 59 St-Columbus Circle.
From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 4 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, October 6, Inwood-207 St bound A trains run express from Canal St to 168.
From 6:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Saturday, October 4 and Sunday, October 5, Euclid Av-bound C trains run express from 145 St to 59 St-Columbus Circle.
From 10:45 p.m. Friday, October 3 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, October 6, Norwood-205 St bound D trains run express from 145 St to Tremont Av.
From 5:45 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Saturday, October 4 and Sunday, October 5, Coney Island-Stillwell Av bound D trains skip Fort Hamilton Pkwy, 50 St and 55 St.
From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 4 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, October 6, E trains run local in Queens.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, October 3 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, October 6, Jamaica-179 St bound F trains skip Fort Hamilton Pkwy, 15 St-Prospect Park, and 4 Av-9 St.
From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 4 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, October 6, Jamaica-179 St bound F trains run local in Queens.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, October 3 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, October 6, Long Island City-Court Sq bound G trains skip Fort Hamilton Pkwy, 15 St-Prospect Park, and 4 Av-9 St.
From 5:45 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Saturday, October 4, and Sunday, October 5, Jamaica Center Parsons/Archer bound J trains run express from Myrtle Av to Broadway Junction.
As the MTA gears up to release its proposal for its next five-year capital plan within the next few weeks, agency CEO and Chairman Tom Prendergast went to Albany to preview the package. We learned that funding for Phase 2 of the Second Ave. Subway will be included in the request, and a variety of other plans that I’ve discussed over the eight years of this site’s life will slowly come to fruition. Still, funding questions remain, and Prendergast challenged Albany to do something about it.
Earlier on Thursday, I noted that Prendergast had requested $1.5 billion for Phase 2 of the Second Ave. Subway. Phase 2 includes stations at 106th and 116th and Second Ave. and one at 125th St. and Lexington. The subway will use a mix of preexisting and new-build tunnels. As far as the money goes, the MTA’s plan for the next few years involves wrapping up Phase 1, refreshing the environmental impact study and working out designs for Phase 2, and beginning construction toward the end of the five-year period. I assume then that additional funding will come from the feds and from the next five-year plan that covers the years 2020-2024.
Even with a slower timeline — the full four-phase SAS was originally to be finished by 2020 — Phase 2 is the key to this project’s future. It connects with the Lexington Ave. line and Metro-North at 125th St. and provides the option for westward extensions to Manhattanville and northward to the Bronx. It provides the entire East Side will easier service to Times Square and Herald Square and will relieve crowding on the 4, 5 and 6. It can’t come soon enough.
But what else awaits? Pete Donohue provides the details. In addition to much-discussed safety enhancements for the MTA’s commuter rails, Donohue noted the following:
Prendergast said the plan, which isn’t finalized, would likely include approximately $20 billion for so-called “state of good repair” maintenance projects, like replacing tracks, signals and older subway trains. It is also projected to feature $5 billion for expansion projects, like the Second Ave. subway and the Long Island Rail Road link to Grand Central Terminal that is now being built. Further, Prendergast anticipated the plan would provide anywhere from $2 billion to $5 billion for rider enhancements, including countdown clocks on lettered subway lines and a swipe-less replacement of the MetroCard fare-payment system.
But what of the money? Prendergast and other MTA officials discussed this funding gap as well. The agency wants at least $27 billion, and although Albany could permit the MTA to issue more debt, sending the agency further into the red won’t help improve operations or financial security. “We can’t keep adding to our debt load. [It is] a formula for failure,” Prendergast noted. “The bottom line is, the capital program needs an infusion of new, sustainable funding, and we need your support in that regard.”
How that support manifests itself is up for debate. I’ve been expecting a tolling/congestion pricing plan to make a comeback simply because the state has few other avenues for revenue that could be directly tied into transit improvements while improving traffic flow throughout heavily congested areas of the city. MTA officials have also discussed contributions from the real estate interests that have piled up dollars throughout the city, and the MTA Reinvention Commission is, hopefully, looking at the issue as well.
The funding will remain a concern throughout the next few months, but I’m relieved to see the MTA focusing on moving the ball forward. They have momentum as new projects come online over the next few months and years and should maintain and build on that expertise. SAS Phase 2 is a must-have, and the sooner it starts the better. How we opt to pay for it will be very telling indeed.
For the last few years, there’s been an ongoing “will they or won’t they” watch concerning future phases of the Second Ave. Subway. With Phase 1 funded and set to open at the end of 2016, the MTA could have been preparing to get started on Phase 2 — the northern extension to 125th St. — but with finances shaky and labor contracts outstanding, the agency had kept its plans close to the vest. Well, the future for the Second Ave. Subway is no longer a secret as MTA CEO and Chairman Tom Prendergast stated today that substantial funding for Phase 2 will be included in the 2015-2019 five-year capital plan.
While fielding questions during an Assembly hearing, Prendergast announced that the MTA will ask for $1.5 billion for Phase 2 construction. This total is approximately one-third the estimated cost, and the expectation is that the feds will kick in additional money with the rest to be determined. Phase 2 is a key part of this project as it connects the northern extension of the Q train to the Lexington Ave. line and Metro-North station at 125th St. and can help alleviate a lot of the pressure on the 4, 5 and 6 trains. I’ll have more on this later, but this is a welcome development and very, very good news.
In the waning days of the Bloomberg Administration, the ambitious plan to rezone Midtown East died an expected death. The lame-duck mayor wanted to push through his vision for a modern, revitalized and taller Midtown, but the City Council and various stakeholders were more interested in both not rushing and waiting out the next administration. Now, the Midtown East rezoning plan is back on the table, and with it, the call for transit improvements have returned as well.
The rezoning plan itself returned on a Friday a few weeks ago with little fanfare, mostly due to the timeline. Mayor Bill de Blasio has elongated the timeline, and while some work around Grand Central can begin soon, the full rezoning effort likely won’t wrap until mid-2016. Whether it needs to take that long is a question ripe for debate, but this is certainly the polar opposite of Bloomberg’s attempt to push through rezoning in three months.
The MTA, meanwhile, wants to be front and center during the discussion, and the longer timeline should benefit them. Andy Hawkins of Crain’s New York explored the agency’s view in a piece this week. He writes:
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is eyeing big changes to subway stations within the footprint of the proposed midtown east rezoning, and will need a trainload of cash to make it happen…MTA Chairman and CEO Thomas Prendergast said improvements would be needed at Grand Central Terminal, including the Lexington Avenue line and the shuttle to Times Square, and the E and F train station at 53rd Street and 5th Avenue, in order to accommodate more office workers that will come after the rezoning.
At Grand Central, new staircases linking the mezzanine where the turnstiles are to the ground-level station are under consideration, as well as improved pedestrian paths and sight lines to get straphangers from the platform to the mezzanine more quickly, an MTA spokesman said. Currently the station’s signal system allows for 29 trains to pass through every hour, but because of congestion typically only 26 to 27 trains make it through. Relieving that congestion would allow 4,000 to 6,000 more passengers per hour to move through the station.
In the past, Mr. Prendergast said, the development process has forced the MTA to be reactive to new construction, making transit upgrades only after large buildings have been built. “We didn’t do as good a job—we collectively, the city and the MTA—of making sure we identified those and dealt with them,” he said. But midtown east has been different. The MTA has had “a fairly long dialogue” with the City Planning Commission and the Department of Transportation about its funding needs for the rezoning. Those needs will likely be reflected in the MTA’s next capital budget, which is due in September.
When Midtown East first entered our collective consciousness, the MTA estimated its needs at around $465 million. It will update those numbers in the fall, and odds are the price tags have increased. Some of the funding could come from the planned sale of the MTA’s headquarters at 347 Madison Ave. and the transfer of the air rights exist above that rather diminutive building.
Still missing from the MTA’s wishlist for Midtown East though are future phases of the Second Ave. Subway. It’s not the easiest sell because these phases are years away from construction, let alone completion, but it’s possible to argue that nothing is more important to a successful rezoning effort, especially east of Grand Central, than a full-length Second Ave. Subway. Despite these planned renovations along the East Side IRT, the 4, 5 and 6 can’t really handle that many more daily riders, and the Lexington Ave. line doesn’t do the same job of redistributing commuters along the East Side as the Broadway and 6th, 7th and 8th Ave. lines do through Midtown West.
I’m not going to hold my breath here. The MTA is angling for incremental improvements to existing infrastructure — which it needs — but the future for SAS seems up in the air. I’ve heard rumblings that the MTA will soon look to refresh the Environmental Impact Statement for Phase 2, but Midtown East implicates Phases 3 and 4. Will we see those in our lifetimes? Your guess is as good as mine.