Home Second Avenue Subway More expensive Phase I of SAS may not open until 2017

More expensive Phase I of SAS may not open until 2017

by Benjamin Kabak

120px-NYCS-bull-trans-T.svg The MTA started running a series of SubTalk ads last October designed to promote the Second Ave. Subway. “Starting in 2015,” these ads read, “the new Second Avenue Subway will help relieve overcrowding on the Lexington Avenue lines. Overdue, but excellent news.”

That was a very bold statement to put onto paper, as as we learned in April, the MTA wasn’t going to be able to fulfill that promise. A little less than three months ago, the Daily News reported on an internal preliminary MTA study proclaiming a delayed 2016 opening for the Second Ave. Subway. Today, the news gets a little worse, as the preliminary study turns finals and concludes that the new subway line may not be ready until the middle of 2017. It will also cost approximately $100 million more than last expected.

Pete Donohue of the Daily News has more on this dismaying, but not unexpected, turn of events:

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority has finished an in-depth analysis of the work schedule, budget and potential hurdles for the long-awaited addition to the system, sources told the News. The conclusion: the official completion date for phase one of the project should be pushed from June 2015 to December 2016, with possible future delays placing the opening in the summer of 2017, the sources said…

The original schedule for the first phase projected a 2012 completion date but MTA officials have pushed the date back several times over the years – most recently in March 2008. Officials then cited higher than expected construction costs, which required design and planning changes. Officials also have said the earlier projections were overly optimistic…

The Second Ave. budget is revised upwards slightly to $4.4 billion from about $4.3 billion.

So since this project began, the completion date for Phase I, featuring just three subway stations and a segment of tunnel just 30 blocks long, has been pushed back by five years. The new line won’t open until nearly a full decade after the groundbreaking.

For now, work will continue on Phase I because the Federal Transit Administration is footing a significant portion of the bill, and the Feds want results. Beyond that, it’s all up in the air. Phase II should be relatively easy because some of the tunnel is already in place from previous failed Second Ave. subway efforts. It will be decades though before the Second Ave. Subway reaches south of 63rd St. The Q will just be making its lonely ride north of 57th St. along Second Ave. by itself with nary a T train in sight.

The Daily News article — which also notes a 17-month delay to Sept. 2016 for the opening of the East Side Access tunnel — features a poll that speaks volumes of public faith in the MTA. “When do you predict the line will ever be completed?” the paper asks. Just one percent of respondents chose “I believe what the MTA tells me, so 2016” while 28 percent went with “At least 5 years longer than whatever the MTA says.” A whopping 71 percent though chose “when pigs fly” as the completion date for Phase I of the Second Ave. Subway.

Someday, we may get the drive to expand the subways. Someday, politicians and power brokers will realize the importance of additional capacity. For now, as the price creeps up, as the opening day recedes into the distant future, as the marginal returns for this subway diminish, we’ll just have to wait for the Second Ave. Subway, an 80-year promise for New York City, unfulfilled forever.

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Kai July 21, 2009 - 4:23 pm

What about the 7-Line Extension? That’s still sort of on time, right?

Barry January 15, 2010 - 3:20 pm

Anyone who believes there will ever be a 2nd ave subway line is nuts. The MTA is not able now or ever to handle a project this huge. The only way the second ave line is ever going to be built is for the citizens of NYC or the federal government to pay for it. The MTA cannot handle it’s spending now to ask this same agency to add a complete subway line is impossible for them. The builders of New York City subways lines dead a long time ago. They took more than just knowledge when they pasted they took the guts of this city with them.

Josh Karpoff July 21, 2009 - 5:19 pm

Maybe we should have a bake sale to raise money for the 2nd Ave. Subway?

Set up outside the stations on the crowded Lex 4-5-6, as a sort of transit activism street theater with tables and such. Use it to point out that because of the dickering in Albany, commuters on the Lex get to pack themselves in like sardines.

When you haggle too much over price up front on a construction project, you piss off the contractors who then nickle and dime you to death with change orders. Change orders take forever to go through, which delays the projects, which then necessitates more change orders.

If they were realistic with the cost, padded their cost and date numbers out with a 25% extra, just in case, they’d be a lot better off. With NY bureaucracies, ambitious schedules will actually land you further behind than if you just owned up to how long it should really take to begin with.

Working Class July 21, 2009 - 5:32 pm

The SAS will never get past phase 1 in my opinion.

Ed July 21, 2009 - 5:49 pm

I think Phase I also in trouble – Feds only covering 33% of it – how is the MTA going to pay for the rest?

Benjamin Kabak July 21, 2009 - 5:53 pm

Through previous bond issues and other federal contributions. The FTA is only paying for 33 percent of it, but they have other federal money for it as well.

Ed July 21, 2009 - 6:20 pm

I dont read the statements that way Benjamin – they are not totally clear on this – but I dont see material Fed contributions on top on the 33% – I could be wrong, but am concerned

Think twice July 21, 2009 - 9:07 pm

All this for a two track line with no express service. No way to bypass stalled trains or construction work and it’ll be maxed out with commuters a lot sooner.

You’d assume that with our technology—compared to what William Parsons had to rely on in 1904—that we’d be building an eight track trunk line with a 100 years worth of anticipated growth in mind.

Here’s hoping we’ll see a 2nd Avenue BRT route as a stop gap.

Kai July 22, 2009 - 12:48 pm

In all fairness though, two tracks works just fine in the rest of the world, including Tokyo and Moscow.

Alon Levy July 22, 2009 - 7:29 pm

The main cost in construction is labor, not technology. That’s why you see it increase faster than the general inflation rate. That’s also why you see those ridiculously low cost figures in developing countries – in absolute terms subway construction in Shanghai and Delhi may be cheap, but relative to income it’s very expensive.

kvnbklyn July 21, 2009 - 10:49 pm

The real problem with this story is that it’s couched in the terms of “oh, that crazy mta – they’ll never finish that second avenue subway” with zero outrage that the construction schedule has DOUBLED since the project first began in earnest. Even our so-called advocate, Gene Russianoff, gives a lame-ass “oh, big projects take time” excuse. There’s NO reason why this project couldn’t be finished in the originally scheduled time, except for the following: 1. NY state government is a joke and only serves to redistribute money to those who are politically connected; 2. the MTA is a joke and is staffed by those who couldn’t tell their a**es from their elbows; and 3. the media and public advocates are jokes because they couldn’t form a critical opinion or analysis if their lives depended on it.

And then of course there are the idiots who complain against inflation-based fare increases. If they really cared about the state of the MTA – and other state agencies – they would have overwhelmingly supported Bloomberg’s push for non-partisan elections so we would actually have representatives selected by the people, not corrupt Democratic party apparatchiks.

Josh Karpoff July 22, 2009 - 9:09 am

There’s no such thing as non-partisan. You can do elections with no party affiliation, like school boards in the suburbs do, but those people are still politically connected to the same electoral machines that screw things up.

What I think is at the root of the MTA CC’s problems is their reliance on outsourced engineers and project managers AND the funding problems with the Legislature in Albany. Outsourcing has killed public construction projects. I’m a contract employee to a state agency, doing engineering design work and everyday I see how outsourcing has wrecked any semblance of schedule and budget.

Private sector engineers know how to design for private sector jobs. These are one off projects that don’t need much follow up over the years. Public sector engineering, no matter what the politically connected say, is a totally different type of work.

The primary difference between public and private sector projects is that for private projects you qualify to bid and on public projects you bid to qualify. This means that the contractors on the public jobs aren’t necessarily even qualified to carry out the task. They try to cheap out on everything in order to keep their profit margins up and they try to generate change orders at every turn. To limit these problems, the level of detail needed in public sector designs is exponentially greater than that required on private sector projects. Everything must me thought through in the most intricate level of detail, carefully worded to eliminate wiggle room, coordinated across multiple trades and contracts.

The outsourced firms might put their best designers on the project during the design phase, but these are for profit companies. So when construction phase rolls around, the skilled designers have gone on to other projects, where they can be billed for the maximum number of hours possible, and more junior staff ends up providing design oversight on the actual construction of the project. These junior people, through no fault of their own, might not be fully aware of the design intent in every little detail of the project. So when a problem arises, their actions might ripple through the project with unforeseen consequences.

The solution is, with adequate funding for construction, in-house design staffs large enough to deal with these projects, who stay throughout the project and then afterward when problems arise ten years later, or expansions need to be built.

Nathanael July 28, 2009 - 5:14 am

I honestly don’t see any reason the SAS shouldn’t be finished by 2013. They start the TBMs by the end of this year, they run for 30 weeks, it still leaves three years to mine the stations, build the stations and tracks, test the signals, and open.

This first part, cut-and-cover construction with retaining walls and utility relocation, was *always* the part with the most uncertain schedule. Why should the rest of it, which is much more straightforward, be delayed in the same manner?

Ron July 21, 2009 - 11:17 pm

I thought the capital construction company was supposed to make things run smoother, faster, and more cost efficient. 2nd Avenue, East Side Access, South Ferry, Fulton Street… All of these projects have been ruined by them. I think it’s time to investigate these guys. Can anyone name one project they did that came in on time OR on budget?

Since digging started on second avenue in 1972, Washington has built nearly their entire metro system. Why can’t we manage to even get some extra stops? I can’t wait for their silver line to open before even one stop on 2nd Avenue.

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Mitch45 July 22, 2009 - 5:32 am

At the Boro Hall station on the west side IRT, there is an escalator connecting the uptown (lower) platform and the mezzanine. About five or six years ago, the MTA decided to rehab it, as it was always breaking down.

It took almost TWO YEARS for that work to be done. And the rehabbed escalator is still out of service about a quarter of the time.

If the MTA takes two years to rehab one escalator, how can anyone expect it to complete a big project like the Stubway within our lifetimes?

My guess is that Phase I will never be finished. The money will dry up, the work will be stopped, explanations issued. There will be a great hue and cry, lawsuits will be filed, the papers will demand that the MTA disbanded, and so on. And we’ll still be packing ourselves into the Lex line for decades to come, as will our children and perhaps grandchildren too.

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drosejr July 22, 2009 - 9:27 am

I’ve noticed that every time that a new in-service date is announced for this project, it is always seven years into the future. It seems like the contractors aren’t making any progress on building this line, despite all of the disruption that 2nd Avenue is going through. We should start giving incentives, and enforcing penalties, if these projects can’t get built on schedule. Then again, the MTA would probably just paying themselves for delays they cause.

Larry Littlefield July 22, 2009 - 9:48 am

There is no excuse. They are setting the stage for canceling the SAS, which means younger generations will be paying interest on bonds without getting what older generations promised. Older generations spent the money on themselves.

“As the price creeps up,”

In a fair world, the price would be coming down drastically. The construction unions gouge in construction booms, and so do the contractors, but that boom is over.

The unions agreed to some give backs on private projects already, which is only fair because when they go shopping they are demanding lower wages and prices from the people they buy from, which is what is happening. I read the bid on the Culver line came in at half price.

They should be made to do it for $2 billion in three years. What is the basis of the estimate? That there will be more construction that the monopolists are prepared to handle? What about all those unemployed construction workers and managers in the rest of the country? They could finish up one of the abandoned condos, move in, and get to work on the SAS.

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