Home Second Avenue Subway Rising costs shelve third Second Ave. Subway track at 72nd

Rising costs shelve third Second Ave. Subway track at 72nd

by Benjamin Kabak

The two-track station at 72nd St. will be significantly narrower than the originally-planned three-track stop. (Source: MTA Capital Construction)

When I started Second Ave. Sagas in November of 2006, I had planned to focus on the Second Ave. Subway and its progress. But the day-to-day construction of a new subway line doesn’t make for compelling blogging on a daily basis, and the MTA just has so much to offer. So Second Ave. Sagas has evolved to become a site about the MTA, its subways and public transportation in and around New York in general.

Today, though, we’re going to revisit those Second Ave. Subway roots. As the MTA struggles to meet budget projections by deferring planned capital improvements and cutting various services, the Second Ave. Subway is facing the same fiscal problems. Already over budget and behind schedule, the Second Ave. Subway is now facing the dreaded project modification axe as well.

In a presentation last week to Community Board 8 (available here as a PDF), the MTA announced plans to scale back the planned station stop at 72nd St. from three tracks to two. According to MTA documents, these cuts are a product of — what else? — rising costs. By eliminating one of the tracks, the MTA will reduce construction expenditures by lessening the amount of material excavated, the number of truck trips needed for the job, the amount of material needed for the station and the number of and dollar amount of the deep subsurface easements in the area around 72nd St. Yes, there will be a quiz.

Now, as critics of the current Second Ave. Subway plan have often noted, this new subway line is sorely lacking in express service, and while monetary concerts preclude a four-track system — something we’re bound to regret in, oh, twenty years or so — the third track at 72nd St. would have made orchestrating the Q’s merge from the Broadway line onto the T’s Second Ave. line easier. As the original environmental impact statement said in 2004:

[The 72nd St. station] would accommodate a three-track station and the transition to the existing Broadway Line, which would allow for a smooth merge between the two services (Second Avenue and Broadway) and permit turning back some Broadway services under special operating conditions, such as the closure of the Manhattan Bridge tracks, which result in additional trains on the Broadway Line.

Over on Subchat, the debate over the fate of this track extends through many messages with some folks believing that it was a luxury that could go with money tight and others believing that we’ll come to miss it. I believe that the lack of a third track may, at times, hold up merges from Broadway onto the Second Ave. line. It will cause passengers transferring from a T to a Q at 72nd St. to wait for the next train instead of finding one waiting across the platform, but that’s getting way too far ahead of ourselves as the sections south of 72nd St. on Second Ave. are simply plans on paper with no funding behind them right now.

In the end, many people will see this move as a precursor to the eventual collapse of this project yet again. I don’t see that happening though. The MTA, the city, the state and the feds have spent too much money on this version of the Second Ave. Subway for it to fall apart again. We may only get three stops for now; we may get more. But sometime around 2015 subways will run up Second Ave. The city needs it too much.

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Mok June 25, 2008 - 2:57 am

It is definitely the end of the line. Phase one will be the only phase we’ll see for the foreseeable future. When the museum lectures started about SAS, I was completely flabbergasted by a two-track line. Nobody plans for failure right? That’s what I thought until I heard that one. No express is one thing, but when one train breaks down, the whole line breaks. I used to commute to Penn from Shirley out on the Montauk line of the LIRR. For the most part, when you get out to around Babylon, the system shifts to a two-track line. Any time we had a breakdown, it was a torturous wait. Even when the break was way down the line. Not to have a layover track is a huge mistake for any commuter service, but when it’s being planned this way for such high traffic (now! how about years from now!) service, it is a total second avenue castration. This project needs to be completely rethought. It needs the involvement of every agency and business owners group so it can get done. This won’t happen because there is no unified “city” among these departments. That’s how it got done in the beginning, and that’s how they did it for the extensions. That work was quick, efficient, and planned. Think about how it’s possible for the 60-100 year old designs for a transportation system to support the traffic of today? I am totally with the ideas of car taxes supporting transit development. I just can’t help thinking there’s no inspiration in the planning. Can’t just plan for now, gotta plan for 50 years away. You say the city needs it too much – the city needed it in the 70’s and we’re still waiting. I’m thankful they’re at least still moving on Water Tunnel 3 or we’d all be talking in a couple of years of where we used to live…

Ed June 25, 2008 - 3:22 am

I think they should build a two stop, single track line between two streets on the Upper East Side, with no connections to anywhere. That’s whats coming so they might as well announce it. It will be Manhattan’s version of the “G”.

One of the big problems with mass transit in the US is because of funding constraints, services are provided in a half-assed way that means they pretty much only exist on paper. Rail lines, when they exist, that stop miles from anyplace most people will want to go, buses that operate more than fifteen minutes apart and move at a crawl, and everything so subject to delays that you can’t rely on the service, meaning you pretty much can’t need to get anyplace quickly to use it. The result is money spent on a mass transit service with low ridership, because its provided in a way thats practically impossible for people to use. There is a point where things shouldn’t be built if they can’t be built properly.

Its pretty clear where the 2nd Avenue Subway is heading, and after three baits and switches (the public approves funds to build the thing, only to have the funds disappear), why should the public trust that any state or city government program or project will actually provide the promised service?

Alon Levy June 25, 2008 - 4:32 am

That work was quick, efficient, and planned.

And it still took forty years. The city first floated the idea for a subway around the same time the Underground opened, in the mid-1860s. The subway started running in 1904.

ajedrez August 24, 2011 - 5:14 pm

But they didn’t physically start building it until the 1890s, if I’m not mistaken. They first started drilling for the SAS in the 1970s.

Think twice June 25, 2008 - 8:26 am

Here’s the thing about the 2nd Avenue Subway.

As long as the MTA is heading this project, it’ll be decades before the 2nd Ave Subway reaches 96th Street. It took them 30 years to finish the 63rd Street Tunnel and 20 years to finish fixing the Manhattan Bridge.

An excerpt from a 1992 U.S. Department of Transportation document called “Developing a Long-Range Transportation Plan” courtesy of http://www.nycsubway.org.

The main reason why the 70 year planning history of the Second Avenue line has never yielded a working subway is because its high capital cost and lengthy construction period always seem to place it just beyond our functional reach, so postponements become inevitable. The best way to avoid this in the future might be to adopt an “incremental” approach to its construction that would yield relatively early transportation benefits for each additional stage of investment…

The document went on to suggest using trolleys as a stop gap, but nowadays Bus Rapid Transit would be more cost effective.

…Such a scenario might take a long time to play out completely. Possibly even as long as another 70 years. But during this period, new increments of service would be coming into operation. And we would retain the option to stop at any point (for a few years or forever) without losing the benefits of the investments already made.

Even after 16 years, this is the most candid and realistic outlook on subway construction in NYC. As Alon mentioned above, since the opening of London’s Metropolitan Railway, NYC allowed trolleys and els to be built as stop gaps until the city had political will and finances to build the IRT.

Think twice June 25, 2008 - 8:36 am

BTW, the 100′ wide tunnel could seemingly accommodate four tracks if the platforms were narrowed. Heck if that same tunnel were 30′ deeper it could accommodate two decks of four tracks like the West 4th Street configuration on the 6th Avenue Line.

D Train June 26, 2008 - 11:12 am

Well, this is no surprise to me. After the rumblings last month of budget problems, I had a inkling the MTA was perhaps planning to do something to the SAS.

However, by cutting the 3rd, track this just ads to my theory that the MTA’s actual fail-safe plan is abandon phases 2-4 and use Phase 1 as a permanent extension of the Q with no additional lines.

I think the eventual fate of the SAS, will be a 5 stop extension of the Q to the UES. That solves most of the vocal problems of not enough subway service from the active voting constituents in that part of town. Really, it was mostly the UES that was complaining about lack of service. Extending the Q only solves that it a much cheaper way.

Ed June 26, 2008 - 12:12 pm

Just extending the Q is an interesting idea, but the problem is that the Q doesn’t go to the financial district. Its last stop in Manhattan is Canal Street.

The problem with the 4,5, and 6 is twofold. First, it is the only train that goes north of 59th Street on the East Side. The second problem is that it is the only East Side train period that goes to the financial district, at least on an express line. The other trains that go to the financial district go down the West Side or come in from Brooklyn and Queens via the LES. Even if you are coming from Midtown, you can use alternate trains than the 4 or 5, but you will always wind up changing to the 4 or 5 anyway at City Hall, or going all the way to the West Side to transfer to the 1,2,3,A,C, or E.

Just running the Q up the UES means residents would still have to either change to the 2 or 3 at Times Square, or the 4 or 5 at Union Square, to get the financial district, and those lines would still be overcrowded.

With a stop at Hanover Square, the 2nd Avenue Subway would have solved this problem. One possibility would be to extend the Q up the UES, and then run the Q express down the R route, with having it go from Canal to City Hall then to either Cortland or Whitehall, keeping Rector as a local stop only. This could possibly mess up service in Brooklyn, but it would be a cheap way to simulate what the 2nd Avenue Subway was supposed to do, especially as the 2nd Avenue Suway was less useful in the neighborhoods south of Midtown since it was running express only and no mid-East Village stop was planned.

Marc Shepherd June 26, 2008 - 12:13 pm

There are some misunderstandings in these comments.

In our lifetimes, the SAS has always been a two-track subway. Even the abortive 1960s plan was two tracks. In the current design, the only place that would have had the third track was the 72nd Street station itself (and its approaches)—nowhere else. Hence, the 3rd track would have provided no relief if there were a breakdown along the line, unless that breakdown just happened to occur right at 72nd Street.

As noted, the 3rd track at 72nd Street would have provided some operating flexibility, but it has nothing whatsoever to do with the viability of the rest of the project. If anything, it improves the prospects, since it hastens the completion of Phase I, and no one will fund anything else till that is done.

CenSin December 7, 2008 - 2:45 am

You do know that this change will have a practically permanent effect on the entire line, no? For just millions more, a useful feature would be available for decades or even centuries. I take the subway trains daily, and I know how agonizing it is to have to wait for another train to merge up ahead. It may be brief most of the time, but some rotten train dispatchers will hold up a train in deference to another even if it had the chance to skip along with no delays.

MTA officially shelves SAS third track :: Second Ave. Sagas | A New York City Subway Blog March 26, 2009 - 11:31 am

[…] I reported on a proposed MTA plan to save money on the Second Ave. Subway construction costs by cutting the planned third track at 72nd St. While the track had been drawn up to allow other trains to bypass stalled cars, the MTA has […]

Musings on the lack of SAS express tracks :: Second Ave. Sagas | A New York City Subway Blog October 16, 2009 - 1:20 pm

[…] line with express service. Only at 72nd St. would there be a third track, and that track, subsequently shelved due to rising costs, was included to orchestrate the Q’s merge from the Broadway line onto the T’s Second Ave. line […]

The Perils of Long Term Planning : Aaron J. Knoll February 16, 2010 - 2:48 pm

[…] IRT construction 100 years ago and apply to the new 7 line construction today? Or the decision to not build express tracks on the 2nd Avenue subway? Originally, the plans were for a stop to be constructed at 41st Street […]

TrainMon April 1, 2011 - 5:02 pm

” . . . I know how agonizing it is to have to wait for another train to merge up ahead.”

You’ve haven’t experienced the “agony” of merging until you’ve ridden the MBTA’s Green Line between Kenmore and North Station!

Jason B. April 2, 2011 - 12:33 am

Amen to that. That cluster is a nightmare, especially at Government Center waiting for the right branch to show up only not to anytime soon because they’re all jammed trying to turn around there.


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