There’s just something about the Second Ave. subway that begs an recession. Months after the city originally proposed the oft-delayed line, the Great Depression hit. When construction resumed again in the mid-1970s, all was moving along slowly until the city teetered on the brink of financial collapse in 1975, and the MTA ran out of money for the project.
Here we are in 2009, again in the midst of a deep recession and again the city and its transit authority is attempting to build the Second Ave. subway. For a few years in the early ’00s, things seemed to be sailing along. The Federal Government was guaranteeing the vast majority of the funding for the project, and an rosy economy seemed to ensure that at least some of the project — Phase I from 57th St. and 7th Ave. to 96th St. and 2nd Ave. — would see the proverbial light of deal. But with the opening date already postponed from 2012 to 2015, economic storm clouds are once again gathering.
In an article in Crain’s that explores how business along Second Ave. is suffering due to the ongoing construction, Kira Bindrim hints at some fiscal troubles ahead for the seemingly cursed subway line. She writes:
The city is preparing to break ground on the stretch from East 68th to East 73rd streets. Construction is currently moving in three-month intervals on alternate sides of the avenue, and Phase I is slated to be finished in 2015. But three months has become six months in some locations, and work between East 83rd and East 86th streets could be stalled by lawsuits over displaced residents. The MTA has funding for contracts through year-end, but additional money must come from its next capital plan. Prospects for that budget are grim.
Indeed, economic crises have derailed the line’s building twice, in 1929 and in the 1970s. The completion date for the $3.8 billion Phase I has been postponed two years. “I’m afraid they’re going to run out of cash,” Mr. Pecora says. “We might be faced with just a hole in the road.”
In reality, based on what we’ve learned in the past, this dire report isn’t quite true. With the Feds kicking in so much money for this project, Phase I will, at some point, become a reality. Considering that a tunnel running north of 96th St. already exists, there’s a good chance that Phase II — the extension north to 125th St. — will see the light of the day sometime over the next fifteen years.
Beyond that, though, it’s anyone’s guess. The economy will rebound, and President Obama should promote a stimulus plan now that includes significant investments in mass transit and public transportation. That, as Streetsblog noted last week, hasn’t been so quick in the making. Maybe one day, New York will finally enjoy a Second Ave. subway running the length of Manhattan, but for now, with history as our guide, everyone is holding their collective breaths.
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Postscript: The Crain’s article linked above covers some familiar ground. For nearly 18 months now, business owners have complained about the disruptions along Second Ave. That is simply the cost of progress, and while the government and the MTA should do what they can to mitigate the disruptions, if New York is to progress as a city, we need to build subway lines. As The Overhead Wire noted last week, in the London area, land values around planned future Tube stops has risen significantly, and when all is said and done, the SAS will have a material benefit on the East Side housing market. The disruptions today are the cost of a better future tomorrow.