Home Second Avenue Subway Second Ave. Subway delayed another year to 2016

Second Ave. Subway delayed another year to 2016

by Benjamin Kabak

When I started writing Second Ave. Sagas in November of 2006, the Second Ave. Subway was due to open in New York City seven years later in 2013. It’s now 2009, and after a freshly announced delay, we’re still seven years away from the opening of Phase I of the Second Ave. Subway. It’s becoming the world’s most expensive treadmill.

The bad news broke at around 10 p.m. on Friday night. That is, by the way, a very good time to break bad news. No one’s really paying much attention to the news, and by the time Monday rolls around, only the most dedicated of transit bloggers are going to notice.

Anyway, fourteen months after the MTA let slip a two-year delay, the transit authority has again pushed back the opening day for the Second Ave. Subway. This time, the line will maybe open in 2016, and this time, the feds are growing a little wary of a project propped up by billions of federal dollars and going nowhere fast.

Pete Donohue has the story:

The first segment of the Second Ave. subway may not be finished until 2016 – four years later than the original schedule, the Daily News has learned. The MTA, which has pushed back the completion date several times over the last decade, recently predicted additional construction and design delays totaling 18 months, an internal document drafted in February reveals.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s handling of some aspects of its major construction projects has frustrated the Federal Transit Administration, The News has learned. After extending the Second Ave. subway schedule in March 2008, citing higher than anticipated construction costs, the MTA was required to give the feds a recovery plan with options to make up some lost time and fill budget gaps.

The feds have “provided the MTA with a time period that is more than reasonable” regional administrator Brigid Hynes-Cherin wrote to the MTA in November. “Unfortunately, the MTA appears to have been caught up in a never-ending process of evaluating and reevaluating each program. The time for evaluation has taken far too long, and the time for presenting a recovery plan is now long overdue.”

Specifically, Hynes-Cherin targeted some internal bureaucratic issues with the MTA. According to Donohue, she wrote about “lack of leadership” and the “excessive amount of time” it took the agency to fill the vacant presidency at MTA Capital Construction after Mysore Nagaraja left that post in Jan. 2008. (This is not the first time the feds have complained about this issue, by the way.)

The MTA in conjunction with the FTA will now conduct a review of what Donohue called project schedules and management strategies. Officials though are still concerned about the money. “One of the greatest threats to the budget and schedule for the Second Ave. subway, and all of the MTA’s projects, remains ongoing uncertainty of funding for the vital upcoming capital program,” MTA spokesman Jeremy Soffin said to The Daily News.

This news is of course no surprise to New Yorkers who have waited nearly 80 years for a Second Ave. subway. What’s another one or two, they may ask. But in reality, this is just another story in a recent slew of developments foreshadowing the demise of the long-awaited route, and I fear for the future of this project. They have to complete at least Phase I this time, right? The Feds can’t just give up the ghost that easily.

Anyway, as this story plays itself out, I wonder if the MTA is going to fix those SubTalk ads that appear in cars across the system. Overcrowding along the Lexington Ave. line won’t be alleviated until 2016 at the earliest.

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Scott E April 27, 2009 - 8:35 am

“Overcrowding along the Lexington Ave. line won’t be alleviated until 2016 at the earliest.”
Sure it will, but fare hikes and unsafe conditions, not the Second Avenue line, will be the reason for fewer passengers on the 4-5-6.
As I alluded to in a comment on Friday’s blog post, all of these staffing cuts for employees and contractors who aren’t “critical to meeting scheduled service” would lead to a slowdown of these capital projects. This should be a shock to no one.

rhywun April 27, 2009 - 8:58 am

The corruption associated with this project must be staggering.

Scott E April 27, 2009 - 10:10 am

How do you figure? I won’t deny that there are issues regarding funding, community outreach/acceptance, and redesigns – all which lead to delays; but I haven’t seen anything to suggest corruption.

Rhywun April 27, 2009 - 10:29 am

Process of elimination + past history.

Batty April 27, 2009 - 9:16 am

Once again there are obvious issues within the MTA that cause them to bleed money. Would you dive more into that – posts tend to gloss over the MTA’s faults and what they could do better.

Streetsblog » Today’s Headlines April 27, 2009 - 9:17 am

[…] 2nd Ave Subway Completion Pushed Back Another Year (NY1, News, 2nd Ave Sagas) […]

Andy April 27, 2009 - 11:09 am

Large American urban centers can no long handle huge construction projects. Too many issues – ranging from costs, to logistical, to politics, to economic cycles, to labor costs.

The failure here was that politicians love huge projects – their egos demand it (plus it greases the wheels – garners union support, great photo ops etc) – instead the right plan here was and continues to be in NYC – bus rapid transit. You could have one running the FULL length of second avenue up in 18 months for $1B for the whole line, tops. It’s not sexy, but it’s the right thing to do from an ROI perspective

Rhywun April 27, 2009 - 11:49 am

Er, no. The right idea in the densest neighborhood in the “richest nation on earth” is and remains a subway. The fact that America seems incapable of building one anymore says nothing about what’s right for this location.

Andy April 27, 2009 - 1:11 pm

Disagree – it’s not the right idea – it’s a good idea but results in a crappy return on investment relative to other ideas – like bus transit – which have proven returns that are better than trying to dig a hole at $1B per mile in the “densest” neighborhood over a period of 10 yrs

Think twice April 27, 2009 - 11:22 pm

What East Side needs is an immediate stop-gap solution. And a Bus Rapid Transit lane is effectively reserving the space for a future light-rail right-of-way.

The original IRT was built only after 41 years of stop-gap measures, from horse-drawn omnibuses to elevated steam trains, until there was enough money and political will to build a full length subway. Fortuitously, those “legacy” transit systems that the subway ran under, provided New Yorkers with far more options for mass transit than we have today.

A Bus Rapid Transit, with routes later upgraded to light rail, can create a future legacy system to help New Yorkers maintain our car-independent lifestyle.

viggie January 13, 2010 - 2:35 am

Buses suck. they pollute, they are noisy, use fossil fuel mostly, Get stuck in traffic, get fouled up in snow, are not efficient, carry too few riders. Bring back the Second Ave.Elevated. The morons should have never torn it down. But since that won’t happen better off with Light Rail in Trolley only lanes. Put the tracks one car width away from each curb. Or in the road center with safety islands. OMG……did we have that 100 years ago. And didn’t that little twerp La Guardia pledge to get rid of quite, clean, non polluting streetcars for noisy smelly buses. YUP. Wonder how much money GM lined his pockets with ? But if you really have buses on the brain, the screw the city law about no wires and use Trolley Buses. The biggest city in the world and they can’t do crap. Way to go Bloomburg…anybody tell him that if commerce can’t move the city will die.

Josh K April 27, 2009 - 12:03 pm

“Consulting: If you’re not a part of the solution,there’s good money to be made in prolonging the problem.” –De-motivational Poster

As an engineer working for another NY State agency, I have to wonder what part of these delays are due to the MTA outsourcing its design process to private consulting firms. When the various parts of the system were all originally built, they were designed by in-house engineers and technicians. In-house engineering staffs are more responsive to the needs of the organization they work for and are more likely to feel a sense of obligation to their co-workers to do the job right.

The attraction of outsourced engineering is that when the project is completed, the organization doesn’t have a large engineering staff sitting around. However, this has several downsides: lost accumulated knowledge, a less responsive design process, benefits in dragging out the project and the need to earn an increasing profit.

Consulting engineers are less responsive to the needs and issues of the client than in-house engineers because of their limited term. An in-house staff who not only designs major projects, but also builds a relationship with those that use the final product, and thus has a better idea of the end needs of the user. Private sector engineers tend to move from one firm to another quite frequently, while public sector engineers are more likely to spend most of their careers in one agency, specializing in the engineering needs of that agency.

Private sector consulting firms exist to make a profit. As part of the capitalist market, they need to increase their profit to stay ahead of their competition. This means driving down wages (frequently accomplished by firing experienced staff and replacing them with cheaper, younger staff), increasing the scope of the project, thus entitling the firm to a fee modification and by finding ways to cut corners. This isn’t to say that the engineers at these firms are cutting corners on safety, but rather cutting corners on design review, which means missed design omissions.

The actual completion of a project is the end of a revenue stream for a private firm. They have to go out and find new jobs. If the job is dragged out for years more, even if they aren’t making the large income they made during the design phase, they are still receiving a steady income from construction phase services that help to maintain the bottom line. This is less an issue for in-house staff, as they will still have a job, as a new project will come along, even if it isn’t as big.

My final point is about accumulated knowledge. Engineering, more than anything else, is about the implementation of the accumulated knowledge of the organization to solve a problem. When the engineering staff disappears at the end of the project, the knowledge gained through the course of the project is lost. This makes future maintenance and rehabilitation a problem. It also means that the accumulated lessons from previous projects aren’t applied to the new ones, thus reinventing the wheel each go around.

While I know the MTA has in-house engineering staff in Capital Construction, they are largely relegated to being project managers, instead of actual designers and engineers. It is very difficult to be a good project manager if you have little design experience yourself. Public agencies need to end this reliance on private consultants and work toward a return to in-house staff, for the more responsible spending of public funds and the timely completion of major projects.

peter knox April 27, 2009 - 12:51 pm

So what is the price tag now for this stubway? Because it is clear that the SAS as originally conceived will never be built. When are we ever going to hear a realistic number for the cost of this unconscionable waste of money and resources? Fares will be going up for the second time since this project began; a range of taxes will be imposed on all New Yorkers. And for what? In large part to fund this money-sucking black hole at the center of the capital budget. The MTA can’t even maintain the system they have, so what is their answer? Expand. It is madness. We have now passed the two year anniversary of the SAS construction. They are still moving utilities and building walls, etc. But not one inch of one tunnel has been built, and not one inch of one station has been built. Who really believes they can construct four giant stations and over a mile of track in the next seven years? And the misery goes on for all the businesses along Second Avenue, and for all the taxpayers in New York. When will somebody show courageous, practical leadership and scrap this criminally ill-conceived and ill-managed project. Wake up, New York!

someone April 29, 2009 - 12:02 am

typical of the mta

herenthere April 27, 2009 - 3:42 pm

“The feds have “provided the MTA with a time period that is more than reasonable””

I agree. Maybe we just need to give all the workers more coffee.

Blog Fast Food » Blog Archive » Second Ave. Subway delayed another year to 2016 :: Second Ave … April 27, 2009 - 5:27 pm

[…] When I started writing Second Ave. Sagas in November of 2006, the Second Ave. Subway was due to open in New York City seven years later in 2013. It’s now 2009, and after a freshly announced delay, we’re still seven years away from the … Go to Source […]

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Ben May 11, 2009 - 11:22 pm

The Second Avenue Subway construction site churns most days and most nights in front of where I live between 91st and 92nd. My knowledge of the project is limited to what I see, what I pick up on the internet, public meetings, and conversations in passing with neighborhood folk. Some of the construction workers at this point in time are neighborhood folk.

It’s been clear from the start that the first phase of the project was being mishandled in so many ways it’s difficult to know who, what, where and how. Just that it is. The first year of construction was lethargic with a skeleton crew trudging up and down, acting more in symbolic gestures than in actual work getting done. At some point the pretending ended and work picked up with the arrival of dozens of workers and many more pieces of equipment.

It seems though that the philosophy of the first few years of work is misguided. Which has been to have a major construction site in full operation while Second Avenue remains open to traffic. The promise that the planners made was that traffic would not be impeded, that 4 lanes would always remain open. Rarely are 4 lanes open. Often there’s only one lane or two, and traffic is backed up for as far as one can see. This is the way it has to be. There’s a lot of big equipment and complex work going on. I think the city and the MTA wanted to have their cake and eat it, too. The complex plan to keep second avenue between 91st and 96th street open to traffic simultaneous with the construction is adding years to the project. Time of course, means money. And complexity means greater delays. It would have been wiser, I think, to route traffic for this quarter mile onto part of First Avenue, making it two way during the period of construction, and quickly do the work that has to be done on Second Avenue to reroute the utilities and build the Launch Box.

The fallicay is that the MTA has been pretending that the construction could be done without disruption to the neighborhood. It is highly disruptive. Since it is highly disruptive, it seems to me it would have been wiser to admit that it would be disruptive and develop an engineering plan to get the work done as quickly as practicable.

I’ve worked on complex engineering projects, and what I do not see in any of the discussion in the public realm on the Second Avenue Subway is a discussion of risk. In particular schedule risk.

The dates being discussed seemed strange to me from the start. At one public meeting before the construction started, a start date for the project and and an end date for the project were announced. When people asked about the intermediate dates, such as when work would start on 72nd Street, for example, it turned out there were no real hard intermediate dates calculated. It was all to be determined in the future. To someone with experience, this meant to me that the schedule was not really an engineering schedule, it served political and business purposes, but was not be the real schedule for building the project.

So in my mind there’s been an unreality of what this project really takes to make happen. Money and time continue to be thrown into it, perhaps not efficiently, but if enough keeps coming this way, one day there will be a Second Avenue Subway.

Ivan Rodriguez May 19, 2009 - 10:04 pm

The Second Avenue elevated should never have been demolished until the MTA was sure they would open an underground subway! (It’s like quitting your job without having a new one)! The the other boroughs have elevated trains, why can’t Manhattan! Manhattan is no better than the other boroughs!!!!

Person June 29, 2009 - 12:17 pm

in 2007-08 I saw half an elevated rail line plus a subway going from central Shenzhen,China out to the Suburbs in 10 months. To be fully completed by 2011 the elevated line by 2009. The Buji neighborhood seemed to seriously change every two months with a high rise apartment buildings, new businesses and other new infrastructural amenities being added every 2 months. If I went back this year I probably would not recognize the place.

Light rails are not for Manhattan. They may be good for Queens or parts of the Bronx and Staten Island.

Singapore has a subway/el system that goes throughout the country finished in the last 25 years. Bangkok, Shanghai, Delhi even less time…..and they still have plans to expand.

I think the MTA should stop the fancy renovation and just clean the subway and make it wheelchair acsessable. The NYC Subway is not a shiny monotonous Asian subway. It is Old and has character, let it be what it is. Just replace tiles, clean the concrete platforms of the gum and gook and polish them. Get rid of the stalagmites and stalactites. Improve lighting, Fix what needs to be fixed.
All these granite tiles and fancy station entrances is a waste and it deteriorates within a few years. Look how nasty 34th street herald sq is.

The excess in renovation should be redirected to expansion in the boroughs and the 2av Subway. i would expect a more expensive fare to go towards better service and a larger efficient system, not the ending of service on the M train.

Person June 29, 2009 - 12:39 pm

I did not mention that A subway trip in Delhi is about 20 cents. New clean comfortable and automated.

susan jones July 15, 2009 - 1:31 pm

Apparently no one blogging on this site actually lives on 2nd Avenue. The crowded (yes, and dangerous) conditions on the No.6 train are priority. As well they should be. Boarding a Lexington Avenue train headed downtown is tantamount to a pedestrian naively entering the den of a polar bear in the Prospect Park Zoo. But isn’t this part of the draw? An opportunity to tap your toe to The Walk On The Wild Side?
Not really, not anymore. The dapper dons who really pull the strings in this town are no more catering to the pioneers of the last decade and a-half (the post-frat/euro-trash commodity) than they are to the neighborhood’s remainders- I’m really not sure if anyone is actually vested. What at times may seem uncertain is this: as long as federal funding continues to finance and refill every skanky hole that Skanska/Shiavone claws out of Second Avenue between 96th and 91st Streets, eventually Rainbow, local locksmiths and the like will be replaced by Banana Republics with underground access. But this is no banana republic; it’s just the high art of bait ‘n switch played out under the auspices of Eminent Domain.

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[…] a 2015 completion date for SAS Phase 1, and in 2009, the authority had to push that date back again to 2016. Today, the authority continues to insist that the project will open in December 2016 even though […]


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