Archive for Second Avenue Subway
In the aftermath of yesterday’s explosion in the 72nd St. station cavern, the MTA has suspended work at the site pending an investigation. Neighbors and politicians, long wary of the disruptive project, are clamoring for answers, and MTA head Joe Lhota hopes to give them some. He said in a statement released late last night:
“What happened at the Second Avenue Subway construction site today is completely unacceptable. The MTA is investigating what went wrong and will not resume work at the 72nd Street site until we receive a full explanation for what happened and a plan to make sure it does not happen again. While I am thankful that no one was injured today, I fully understand why neighbors of the construction site are upset. I am, too. The safety of the community is the MTA’s utmost priority. We will continue working with the community to ensure their concerns are heard and acted upon.”
Meanwhile, as information begins to trickle out, there are some causes for concern. Despite the overall safety of this project — it’s orders of magnitude safer than it was 100 years ago — the contractors may not be doing enough to fully ensure the protection of these active work zones. One source said to amNew York’s Marc Beja that the deck on the street was “not able to withstand the force of the blast because it was not anchored in.” I’m sure we’ll hear more stories like this in the coming weeks.
Updated (3:25 p.m.): According to eyewitness reports and alerts from the city’s emergency management office, Fire Department and EMS workers are on the scene at 72nd St. at 2nd Avenue where a explosion in the Second Ave. Subway station cavern at that site went awry. Bystanders say a blast sent rocky debris flying and may have damaged sidewalks. There were somehow no reported injuries, but East 72n St. is now closed from 1st to 3rd Avenues. The Times had the following report while The Daily News had some very dramatic photos:
An intentional underground explosion on the Second Avenue subway project at 72nd Street broke windows above ground Tuesday afternoon, the authorities said. There were no reported injuries. “We were doing a controlled blast,” said Adam Lisberg, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, “when clearly something went awry and an explosion was felt at street level.” The blast occurred around 12:45 p.m.
Michael Horodniceanu, president of the M.T.A.’s capital construction division, said that workers had been blasting to clear an escalator wellway from the street to the subway, but that “we do not know why” the blast caused damage up on street level.
Windows were cracked on several floors of the building at the southwest corner of Second and 72nd that houses the Kolb art gallery, including in the gallery itself. Inside it, people could be seen inside cleaning up what looked like debris.
Reporting from the scene, amNew York’s Marc Beja had a bit more:
@marc_beja: Explosion caused no utility damage, minimal structural damage. Mostly busted windows. Blast was to make elevator shaft
— Second Ave. Sagas (@SecondAveSagas) August 21, 2012
Apparently, this is not the first time a blast at 72nd St. did not go as planned as the MTA says something similar happened earlier this summer. The MTA, meanwhile, has said construction at 72nd St. has been halted while an investigation into the cause of the accident is underway. Despite some grandstanding by prominent political commentators, this is one of the few serious disruptions to impact a rather complicated problem, and officials seem to be taking it quite seriously.
I’ll try to update as more news comes in. If anyone has any images from the scene, drop me a note.
A few days ago, I found myself in the 63rd St. station at Lexington Ave. I don’t often end up there and hadn’t swung by to check in on the Second Ave. Subway construction in a while. With trains rumbling through a station stripped bare of its finishes, it’s quite a sight to see. Gone are the red faux-walls that hid the two-track platforms. Gone are the dropped ceilings that hid the arch of the tube. It is a subway station in progress.
I’d imagine a lot of riders are mystified as to what’s going on there. It was never immediately evident that the northern side of that station hid another set of functional tracks, but with the arrival of Phase 1 of the Second Ave. Subway, that station will have a radically different look. Q and F trains will stop across the platform from each other, and the platform levels at least will have a new look. The deep bore, as well, gives us a sense of the depths of the other SAS stations as well.
If subway work is your thing, stop by that station. With the bored walls out for all to see and gaps in the blue fence providing glimpses into the unused platforms, it’s the closest straphangers can get to a station in progress.
When last we checked in on the Second Ave. real estate scene earlier this year, the residential market seemed to promise a good time to rent or buy for those who could wait out the construction. With rates dropping along the subway’s path, buyers who could hold onto their property would surely realize profits by late 2016, and renters, meanwhile, could find a cheap place to live for a few years, albeit one in the middle of a construction zone. But what of commercial real estate?
Today, Alessia Pirolo of The Wall Street Journal examined some recent commercial transactions along Second Avenue and find a few hearty souls willing to take advantage of low rates. According to Pirolo, retail rental rates have dropped by as much as 40 percent since construction started and some store owners are willing to gamble for the next four and a half years. “The rent was very attractive,” one owner said. “When we signed the lease, the construction was taken into consideration.”
As residents say they’ll support any local business willing to open amidst SAS construction, owners know that toughing it out for four years could pay dividends as the subway will bring a huge boost in foot traffic and business. Landlords, said one broker, could expect a bump of at least 20 percent from the pre-construction peak. “Private money always follows public money,” Jason Pruger of Newmark said. “Look at the High Line.”
Earlier today, I found myself at the 63rd St. F station for the first time in a while, and it was a sight to behold. The faux-wall and red tiling are nearly all gone from the platform level, and a blue construction wall marks the station as a work zone. The fake dropped ceiling is gone, and the original two-track cavern shape is clearly visible. I snapped a shot that seems indicative of the wait that remains before the Second Ave. Subway runs through that station, but work is clearly moving forward.
This weekend, The New York Times sent a photographer and a writer from the magazine into the Second Ave. Subway, albeit a few blocks north. Kim Tingley wrote about the sandhogs building the 72nd St. station cavern as Richard Barnes snapped a series of breathtaking photos that show the scope and ambition in the project. The 10 shots in the slideshow left me wanting more.
The photos, though, weren’t the only thing of which I wanted more. Tingley’s piece was a short bit on the workers risking their lives to build the subway 80 years in the making, and she did mention the costs — $86 million 80 years ago for a full line, $4.5 billion for a 33-block extension today. That by itself is worth a story. Why does this construction — which doesn’t cross a river and adds only a few new stations — cost so much? We’ve heard reasons ranging from environmental impact mitigation to the depths of stations to work rules and safety requirements. At some point, though, a publication with the resources and space of The Times should level a serious gaze on infrastructure costs. The photos — especially No. 3 and No. 6 — are fantastic, but the story runs just as deep as the station caverns.
A few weeks ago, Rep. Carolyn Maloney issued a pair of press releases touting the release of the final rounds of federal funds for Phase I of the Second Ave. Subway construction. The House Transportation, Housing & Urban Development appropriation included over $123 million for the project, and the FTA released $197 million as well. These were, as Maloney noted, the final pieces of the federal funding puzzle.
In a press release, Maloney, who touted job growth and transit expansion, issued her perfunctory statement. “I am gratified that the Second Avenue Subway and East Side Access, the two largest mass transit initiatives under construction anywhere in the country, are receiving merit-based, bipartisan support from the House of Representatives,” she said of the House grant. “I am particularly proud that this appropriation would be the final installment of the federal government’s commitment to the first phase of the project that I have worked my entire congressional career to achieve.”
So now that Phase I funding is in the books, Maloney can reaffirm her career-long commitment to the project by shifting her focus. She could become a leading voice for Phase II investment. While still project to cost a few billion dollars, the northern section of SAS includes tunnels that are already in place. Pre-built infrastructure should not lie fallow, and although the MTA has yet to make a push for Phase II, some assistance from Washington will only help to inch this never-ending project a little closer to completion.
With word that the East Side Access would likely be delayed until mid-2019 and cost a billion more than last announced, New Yorkers expecting part of a new subway line on the East Side were growing skittish. Would Phase 1 of the Second Ave. subway truly wrap on time or would the MTA have to, once again, delay this project?
Yesterday, MTA head Joseph Lhota addressed the issue head-on. “Things are proceeding in the Second Avenue subway as we projected it a year or so ago,” he said to reporters. “I’m very comfortable that we will be proceeding as planned.” In other words, revenue service is still projected for December 2016, and the project is currently tracking on this pace.
Of course, long-time watchers now that even with this new on-time date, SAS is still years behind schedule, and today on City Room, Clyde Haberman penned a sadly hilarious (or hilariously sad) look at how all NYC transit projects are delayed. From bridge replacements to new tunnels, from subway lines to transit centers and depots, nothing follows the original schedule. The MTA has once again vowed to improve their on-time delivery rate, but history is not on the agency’s side.
As construction proceeds underneath Second Avenue, we tend to think of progress on a grand scale. We celebrate when the tunnel boring machine reaches its end. We bemoan air quality and noise. We await muck houses and dump trucks. We often overlook the people who are underground everyday building this subway.
This week, The Village Voice takes a journey into the Second Ave. Subway, but it’s not your typical journey. While we may marvel at scope and size of the project, the Voice is more interested in the human side of what’s happening. This week, Sean Manning >profiles the Sandhogs, the members of Local 147 who are digging the tunnels that will one day play host to the Second Ave. Subway.
Manning’s piece traces the lives and times of these workers. Many are former military men looking to make a living back home. Take a gander at this excerpt and sneak a peek at the video above. There’s a photo slideshow as well:
That’s another parallel between soldier and sandhog life, one that particularly appeals to Buzzell: the hierarchy. Just as in the military, the sandhogs follow a strict chain of command. At the bottom is the gang, typically composed of six men. Each gang is led by a foreman, who reports to a walking boss, who in turn reports to a superintendent. Unlike the military, though, sandhog rank can change from project to project. Depending on recent performance as well as on what men and positions are available, a walking boss on one job might be a gang member on another and vice versa. Also, there is no pay grade: Except for the project superintendent, all sandhogs take home the same $45 an hour. Counting the money directed into union-benefit funds, the rate is closer to $100 an hour. In a busy year, a sandhog can make more than $100,000. (Financial compensation is one thing the sandhogs and the military most assuredly do not have in common. In 2012, basic pay for an Army private first class with less than two years of experience is $21,089.)
While the sandhogs are among the highest-earning laborers in the country, they give the lie to any public perception of union sloth, of work being needlessly, greedily dragged out. “The faster we get the job done,” says 51-year-old, 30-year-veteran Scott Chesman, “the more work the city is likely to give us.” Plus, on a job like pouring concrete, speed is imperative.
For the Second Avenue tunnels, the concrete was trucked in from Queens and delivered underground through a six-inch diameter pipe called a slick line. The slick line is screwed together in 10-foot segments, each costing $400. On this project, the slick line stretched as long as 1,500 feet. If the concrete is not applied to the tunnel quickly enough, or if the balance of retarder and accelerator in the mix isn’t precise, or if one of the trucks gets stuck in traffic, the concrete in the slick line begins to set up. When this happens, with $60,000 worth of slick line at stake, the trucks have to stop pumping, and the slick line has to be flushed, what’s called “shooting the rabbit.” That’s as much as a quarter-mile of concrete expelled into a pile that must be shoveled into muck bags—roughly 40 pounds per bag once hardened—and then wheelbarrowed and heaved by hand, bag by bag, into a dumpster. Lunch and urination are infrequent. (Even when working fast, the work is slow-going. Because of the six hours it takes the concrete to fully set and the time necessary to break down and move and reassemble the multi-ton steel arch form, progress is limited to at most 120 feet per day.)
It’s easy to lose site of the individuality of the construction work. The unions are often nameless and faceless entities that insist on work rules too onerous for our times. They are a politically powerful force but are also one of the reasons why construction work in New York City is so expensive. The city relies upon them for progress but may also be hindered by their demands as well.
The tragic accident last week at the site of the 7 line extension served as a reminder of the human element involved in that project and other tunnel work. Back in the early 20th Century, many New Yorkers lost their lives digging out the first subway, and our society today does not take the time to remember those workers. Today, safety is paramount, and accidents are few and far between. Yet, people are in there everyday, wading through dank tunnels working to extend our transit system. This is but a small snapshot of who they are and what they’re doing.
The Upper East Side is all aflutter this week on the heels of a report released by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration concerning carcinogen levels underneath Second Ave. As The Post first reported yesterday, OSHA found found higher-than-acceptable levels of silica in the Second Ave. Subway work area, 70 feet beneath street level, and fined three contracts a total of $8500 for “serious” health violations. The full report is available here.
Of course, with this news, Upper East Siders already complaining of Subway Cough and skeptical of the construction efforts, launched a new round of complaints. “My office is two doors down, and I don’t really trust the people who give out the information in terms of the safety of people who live here,” said Robert Allen said to NBC New York’s Andrew Siff. News cutaways during primetime shows on TV last night highlighted residents expressing similar sentiments.
The MTA, meanwhile, defended its claims that the air above ground is safe and noted that silica couldn’t be reaching the avenue anyway. “The levels of silica underground noted in these preliminary findings under no circumstance impacts air quality at street level,” Kevin Ortiz, agency spokesman, told The Post. “Silica does not float in the air but rather drops to the ground, so it is essentially impossible for it to impact the air quality at the street level 100 feet above.”
The Wall Street Journal and The Daily produced the above video on the Second Ave. Subway, and although it’s mostly just an overview of the project, the scenes are, as always, awe-inspiring. The reporters call it the most complex construction project in New York City, and that’s not far from the truth.
Meanwhile, the other Ben with a Second Ave. Subway-related site took a walk through the Contract One tubes recently and came back with some dramatic still photos from the construction site. It’s quite something to see how the work has progress since the TBM launched in May of 2010 and since my last visit in March of 2011. Just four years and 8.5 months of construction left, if all goes according to schedule.