Home Second Avenue Subway Feds see possible $5.7B SAS completed in 2018

Feds see possible $5.7B SAS completed in 2018

by Benjamin Kabak


While on Monday the MTA warned that the Second Ave. Subway may not be open until 2017, the Federal Transit Authority is far more pessimistic. In fact, the Feds’ worst-case scenario has Phase I of the new subway line wrapping up in mid-2018 and for a cost of over $5.7 billion, a potential 30 percent increase over the MTA’s current budget projections.

Yesterday morning, the MTA Board’s capital construction committee met to discuss the state of the authority’s current big-ticket items. Foremost on the agenda was the oft-delayed Second Ave. Subway, and the news was not good. In a presentation of a yearlong study focusing on the Second Ave. Subway, the MTA had determined that the project has been mismanaged and under-projected. In a similar study, the FTA believed that the MTA’s adjusted projections could be far too optimistic.

The graph above — click here to enlarge — tell the story. Heather Haddon of amNew York first sent it to me when I e-mailed her about her story. Michael Grynbaum and The Times has made the full eight-page presentation avaliable on Scribd.

The story is simple: The MTA has been unable to meet any of its self-imposed deadlines, and it now faces the prospects of massive cost overruns and a six-year delay in delivering Phase I of the Second Ave. Subway. Original plans called for the entire line to be constructed by 2020. That is but a pipe dream right now.

The FTA numbers are alarming. The MTA is budgeting for an expected cost of $4.451 billion with a high end of $4.775 billion. The FTA believes a low budget estimate to be $4.978 billion with an August 2017 completion date. The federal government’s high end is $5.728 billion — over $1 billion more than the current MTA estimate — with a June 2018 opening date.

Michael Horodniceanu, the president of MTA Capital Construction, grew defensive during Wednesday’s meeting. He claimed that the federal government had “made different assumptions,” but as you can see, these high FTA estimates as presented by the MTA were already scrubbed of the potential rolling stock costs. He also claims, as Pete Donohue reported, that “the latest delay is partly because the MTA broke up large construction tasks into smaller projects to foster more competition among contractors and lower authority expenses.”

In addressing the board, Horodniceanu made a few bold promises he probably can’t keep. “Our original schedules were extremely optimistic,” he said, later adding, “We will deliver. You can hold me accountable to our numbers.”

In June, Horodniceanu made a similar claim with regards to the Fulton St. Hub. It will, he said of that long-delayed project, be open by 2014, seven years beyond its original schedule but in line with the MTA’s estimates in 2009.

Meanwhile, the vultures are circling. Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer wants an investigation into the delays. “I call on the MTA Inspector General to open an immediate investigation of what has caused this latest delay,” he said in a statement. “The people and businesses of our city deserve not an endless list of excuses and rising costs, but an actual subway that will reduce crowding on the Lexington Avenue lines and provide service to East Side residents who have not had trains for decades.”

As time moves on, though, Stringer’s words will be forgotten. The Second Ave. Subway, funded and under construction for not the first time in its tortured history, marches further into the future. As we turn calendar pages, these completion dates come not closer but ever more distant. When will this subway arrive? When will someone take responsibility for this monumental disaster, a boondoggle on the Upper East Side?

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Ben G. July 23, 2009 - 3:17 am

I’ve written here on two other occasions about the pace of work. For the first year the project was a-dalliance. Afterward it seemed to become serious and workman-like. Now, it’s become wreckless. From where I dwell on 2nd Avenue between 91st and 92nd, it appears the wrath of the political and budget gods has fallen on the men and women digging the holes. Workers and pedestrians are shoulder to shoulder. The machines lumber, zip and lurch within inches of the ordinary citizens. The once sleepy construction site is operating at breakneck pace. When before one or two city traffic employees were sitting, watching the construction, there are now half a dozen, sometimes more, actively, frantically guiding traffic and pedestrians. They are very much needed. So are greater pedestrian safeguards. Public safety has deteriorated at the crosswalks. I don’t know how this project is organized or staffed. If I were running this project, I’d have one person whose sole responsibility is pedestrian safety — and give the person some kind of authority to actually make it happen — taking into account pedestrian flow, separation of pedestrians from traffic and construction, etc. In the last few weeks, there is near anarchy at the intersections. Pedestrians, city vehicular traffic and construction workers and machines intermingle, sometimes all are moving through the same intersection when a traffic light changes. A catastrophe in the making.

As for the project itself, I’ve believed for a very long time that the going forward assumptions were wrong to start with. Such as the ability to operate four lanes of traffic simultaneous with rerouting the utilities and building the launch box. The MTA has not been honest with the public, maybe even itself, about what it would take to build this thing. If it got erroneous information from its contractors, it is still responsible for appropriate review and oversight.

It’s probably time to change management of the project — get a modern day Robert Moses to make this thing happen. With the project this far along, it takes someone with vision and guts to take the reins and make difficult and controversial decisions. If I’m right that the fundamental basic assumptions were not accurate — let’s start with budget and timeline, but it goes way beyond that, then the current bunch of people may not be able to admit for political and other reasons that the errors that they made that got the project into this state must be addressed and corrected. It’s also possible that the same crew is not capable of doing any better than it has already.

Any kind of personnel change usually entails some kind of learning curve, and for a period of time the project would not see direct benefits. It’s very difficult to make design and engineering changes in the midst of a project, but it may take just that — since the early assumptions have so quickly proven inadequate.

There are probably very few people in the world with the political and engineering moxie to get this project going in the right way. If such a person does not materialize, for whatever reason, then assembling a professional risk management team to constantly monitor all aspects of the project, which the MTA claims to have done, is an important element. To make it effective, it has to be completely independent of all other aspects of the project — classically the best Quality Assurance departments are completely independent of those they are monitoring. Ideally, on a project as important as the Second Avenue Subway, the head of Risk, or whatever the MTA is calling it, should report to the CEO of the MTA.

Marc Shepherd July 23, 2009 - 11:27 am

I haven’t seen any reports of public safety issues at the construction site. This is the sort of thing that, if it were true, the Post and Daily News would pounce on. I am not sure, with all due respect, whether you have the background or qualifications to make this charge.

It’s probably time to change management of the project — get a modern day Robert Moses to make this thing happen.

Robert Moses was a man of rare gifts. That talent doesn’t come along very often.

Kai July 23, 2009 - 5:59 pm

If only Moses hadn’t considered transit as the past the much as he did. Think of what we’d have now!

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