Archive for Second Avenue Subway

Tap, tap, tap. Is this thing on? The last few weeks have been exceedingly busy, and regular updates should resume shortly. In the meantime, it’s W Train Monday.

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As the Second Ave. Subway slowly crawls to an opening — not on time unless the MTA picks up the pace of testing by a considerable amount, the agency’s Independent Engineering Consultant said two weeks ago — Monday’s commute brings with it a milestone of sorts as a new old train line resumes operations between Queens and Manhattan. The endearingly kitschy signs have been hanging up in N, Q and R trains, and the signage throughout the system has been updated for the impending return of the W train.

As train rebirths go, this one could be more exciting, and the early November return for the W is a nature of the way MTA crews put in for shifts months ahead of time. Although the Second Ave. Subway may open in early 2017 instead of late 2016, the new Transit shifts start tomorrow, and any delay in restoring W service would have resulted in trains that needed to run but no crews to operate them. The W, meanwhile, comes back before the Q is rerouted to the Upper East Side to ensure Astoria has nearly the same level of service as it currently enjoys with the Q and N trains. We’ll come back to the “nearly” element shortly.

For the rail-watchers among us, MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz tweeted out the details of the W train’s first runs on Monday:

For those interested in the day-to-day operations of a subway train that hasn’t graced the rails since 2010, the details are less glamorous. The W trains will operate on weekdays only between approximately 7 a.m. and 11 p.m., making all local stops between Astoria-Ditmars Boulevard and Whitehall St. (with one or two unannounced trains operating into Brooklyn to reach the Coney Island Yards). The N will now be express in Manhattan during weekdays but with a stop at 49th St. as all Q trains make express stops along Broadway, terminating at 57th-Broadway until the Second Ave. subway opens. The R train, meanwhile, will get a nice service boost as late-night service will be extended from 36th St. in Brooklyn to Whiltehall St.

This is a whole lot of shuffling around the edges for the big moment within the next few months when the Q begins to run to 96th St. and 2nd Ave., but it will cost Astoria a few trains per day. The MTA assures me that Queens’ peak-hour service will not be reduced, but the off-peak frequency will be slightly lower. This move comes at a time when the MTA has been encouraging more off-peak ridership and is driven by the fact that W trains lay up in Manhattan or Brooklyn, a lengthy ride away from the northern terminus in Astoria.

DNAInfo’s Jeanmarie Evelly reported on the service reduction last week. The scheduling shift means approximately 20 fewer trains per day to and from Astoria:

Frequency of service during rush hours will remain the same, with N/W trains from Astoria into Manhattan running every 4.3 minutes — about 14 trains an hour, the maximum the line can handle — between 8 and 10 a.m., the same as current N/Q service.

In the evenings, N/W trains from Manhattan into Astoria will run about every 4.3 minutes between 5 and 6 p.m. and every 4.5 minutes between 6 and 7 p.m., the same as N/Q trains run now, according to the MTA. Trains will run less frequently from Astoria into Manhattan from 5 to 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. to midnight, and from Manhattan into Astoria from 6 to 8 a.m. and between 11 p.m. to midnight, the timetables show.

The MTA says it will track ridership numbers on the N/Q/W lines in the coming months and make schedule changes if needed.

This is an unfortunate reality of infrastructure decisions made over 100 years ago, but it also highlights how the MTA has often been less than honest about the nature of the service changes. The agency had repeated assuaged Astoria residents service would not be cut, but it’s clear that the area will see fewer trains (and longer waits) during off-hour periods of low ridership. How the area responds — and the limitations of the MTA’s available rolling stock — will dictate what happens next.

Meanwhile, as the W begins its resurrection ride in a few hours, the Second Ave. Subway moves ever so slowly to becoming a reality.

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A poster spotted on the Q train tout the Broadway revival of the W, set to debut on November 7. (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)

A poster spotted on the Q train tout the Broadway revival of the W, set to debut on November 7. (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)


My updates here have been sparse lately as work has taken centerstage over the past few weeks. Thanks for bearing with me. I know it’s a busy time for the Second Ave. Subway with an opening tentatively scheduled within the next 68 days so let’s see where things stand.

Despite repeated concerns from the MTA’s independent engineering consultant that the Second Ave. Subway may not open on time in December, the agency is doubling down on its commitment to launch this long-awaited line before 2016 is over. Still, a recent crosstown trip on the M86 showed me that a lot of work remains to be completed as fall heads toward winter, but with the W train’s return on the horizon, New York City is slowly and inexorably moving toward the debut of the city’s greatest urban legend.

First up, as you can see from atop this post, the MTA is priming the pump for the W train. I spotted that poster on a Q train, and many of my Twitter followers have sent in images of the W’s return. The signage describing service patterns, as you can see, remains as incomprehensible to the untrained eye as ever.

The train, which serves as a part-time Broadway local with service to Astoria was lost to the 2010 service cuts, and with the Q destined for 2nd Ave. and 96th St., the W will pick up the load. In addition to the return of the W, the R train will service Whitehall Station during the late-night hours. The new service patterns begin in two weeks as all Q trains will terminate at 57th St.-7th Ave. until the Second Ave. Subway opens.

And what of construction? No end of an MTA project would be complete without construction mishaps, the Second Ave. Subway is obliging us in that regard as well. As Dan Rivoli of the Daily News reported over the weekend, some segments of the new tunnels were too small and workers had to shave down parts of the curves in order to fit 75-foot-long subway cars. MTA officials assured the public that the work has been complete and tests continue (though it’s unclear how this engineering mishap occurred in the first place).

“There is no change to the anticipated date Second Avenue will be open. Tests are conducted as part of the overall process to get the tunnel ready and are done precisely so that we know what adjustments may be needed. Training runs are now being made regularly with 75-foot cars,” MTA spokesperson Beth DeFalco said to the News.

And finally, as the MTA comes face to face with the reality of a December opening date, the agency is willing to admit on the record what the whispers have said for a few months: The Second Ave. Subway may “open” “on time” by having trains skip the 72nd St. station. Emma Fitzsimmons, in a profile of the subway line for The Times, had more:

The authority’s credibility is on the line — not just to meet the deadline, but also to deliver a high-quality project. The city’s first new subway station in a quarter-century opened last year at Hudson Yards on the Far West Side of Manhattan. Several months later, major leaks appeared.

Mr. Prendergast has not ruled out opening the new line, but temporarily bypassing 72nd Street if that station is not yet ready. After a board meeting last month, he said trains had temporarily bypassed stations after the bombing in Chelsea on Sept. 17. Mr. Prendergast said last week that it was too early to discuss skipping stations and that he was focused on making sure they were all ready on time. “We haven’t given up on anything at this point,” he said.

For the MTA, such an arrangement would be a departure from the norm as MTA Capital Construction must certify an entire project complete for New York City Transit to begin operations. If the feds, however, are willing to permit service to some stations as crews complete 72nd St., it’s possible that the Q will make three of its four stops for the first few months. With Gov. Cuomo a driving force behind the push for a December opening date, even the culture an an institution as slow to change at the MTA could shift to permit some early subway rides to 96th St., 86th St. and 63rd St. without service to 72nd St.

The countdown continues apace.

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Via the tireless Max Diamond (better known to the internet as DJ Hammers) comes proof that yes, Virginia, there is a Second Ave. Subway. The eagle-eyed videographer spotted a series of test trains running north past the 63rd St. station on Lexington, a future transfer point between the Second Avenue’s Q train and the F train. Take a peek:

The test trains are a key element in prepping the line for its eventually opening as they run to ensure proper clearances in stations and tunnels (including gaps between the train and platform, as we saw at South Ferry in 2009), a functional signal system and a power stress test, as one worker noted on Instagram. This is certainly good news for those New Yorkers, like my dad, who have long since stated that they won’t believe the Second Ave. Subway exists until they actually ride a train, but it’s not clear if this good news for the MTA’s slowly shrinking timeline. As recently as two weeks ago, the agency’s own consultants noted that the pace of testing is still lagging behind the line’s planned opening prior to the end of 2016.

For now, though, trains are starting to roll without passengers. It’s a first step toward finalizing the first segment of a subway line over 80 years in the making.

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The latest glimpses inside the 2nd Ave. Subway show test trains running from 96th St. (via MTA)

The latest glimpses inside the 2nd Ave. Subway show test trains running from 96th St. (via MTA)

MTA officials continue to promise a late December opening for Phase 1 of the Second Ave. Subway even in the face of mounting concerns that one station is not complete and systems tests are lagging. According to the latest MTA Board materials and a report yesterday by the agency’s independent engineering consultant, if MTA Capital Construction does not nearly double the pace of testing over the next six weeks, the project’s on-time opening could be in doubt.

“The test program is not meeting the completion rate required to finish the testing of all key systems needed for a for a start of revenue service in December,” Kent Haggas, an engineer who has been following the project for months, said. “We have about 300 [tests] left to go and about 12 weeks to make it. It’s our number one concern.”

For the MTA, these tests, and their slow pace, echoes back to the delays in opening the 7 line extension. MTA materials note that the tests involve fire safety and HVAC and vent systems as well as elevators and escalators up and down 2nd Ave. Additionally, certain escalators and elevators have yet to be installed at 72nd St., but the MTA says these elements of the project will not affect the revenue service date. Haggas, in his report however, noted that “the finish of elevators and escalators and their integration into the station fire alarm system by the end of December remains a concern.”

As this project nears its completion and contractors enter the finishing stages of work, it seems likely that work may bleed into the early part of 2017. So long as the agency doesn’t run into unforeseen problems at this point, even if it misses the revenue service date of December 31, an opening within the early part of the first quarter of next year seems likely. That said, the MTA is facing a lot of pressure externally and internally to deliver this project on time.

Lately, as the MTA has returned street and sidewalk space to the neighborhood around 96th St., many people have asked if they could open part of the project and skip 72nd St. if that station remains the sticking point to a December opening. As now, MTACC has to certify all of Phase 1 complete before handing over control and operations to New York City Transit. With the 7 line, that handoff occurred essentially just before the opening press conference, and it’s an all-or-nothing handoff. If a part of the project — one discrete station — remains incomplete, the entire project is incomplete.

So we’ll wait. The W train, as we learned last week, returns on November 7, the next new crew rotation before the Second Ave. Subway is supposed to open. Will this new subway line, nearly 90 years in the making following this year or early next? We still don’t know, and December 31 is now just 95 days away.

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Come December (or so), the W train will return to the subway map. (Via MTA)

Will the Q reach the Upper East Side before 2016 ends?

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.

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Change orders are just one of the reasons the Second Ave. Subway may miss its December opening date. (Via MTA)

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.

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The 63rd St. Station, since here in May, could see Q train service as early as December. (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)

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.

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Come December (or so), the W train will return to the subway map. (Via MTA)

Come December (or so), the W train will return to the subway map. (Via MTA)

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:

NorthboundQ

SouthboundQ

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.

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Planning and preliminary construction for Phase 2 of the Second Ave. Subway, shown here in blue, will be a part of the MTA’s 2015-2019 capital plan.

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.

Construction on the Second Ave. Subway’s 72nd St. station, shown here in a rendering, may delay the project’s opening date. (Via MTA)

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?

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