Home Second Avenue Subway Three years later, a prolonged SAS schedule

Three years later, a prolonged SAS schedule

by Benjamin Kabak


The current contract plan for the Second Ave. Subway. (Via the MTA’s Sept. 24 presentation to CB 8. Click to enlarge.)

Over the weekend, a few SAS commenters got into a long discussion about the pace of work — or lack thereof — along Second Ave. People who are in the neighborhood on a daily basis see little day-to-day progress while those who come through the Upper East Side see that something has happened but aren’t quite sure what.

Meanwhile, as time ticks on, the MTA’s plans for a tunnel boring machine launch fall further behind schedule. At one point, the TBM work was set to wrap up by Christmas of 2009. Later on, the TBM should have launched in July. Now, with unstable buildings and negligent landlords plaguing construction, utility relocation work is progressing south of the launch box area, but the tunnel boring machine and the excavations that require blasting are in limbo.

OldScheduleLargeA few weeks ago, at a Community Board 8 meeting, the MTA unveiled a new schedule of contracts for the Second Ave. Subway. Ben at The Launch Box wrote upsome observations and analysis of this new document, and I’ve posted it above. Click the thumbnail at right for a comparison to a schedule released three years ago on July 11, 2006.

If we didn’t know about the myriad delays that have plagued the Second Ave. Subway, it would be shocking to see a timeline of this project pushed back four years over the span of 36 months. With contract lengths receding ever on into the future, it is of little wonder that people in the neighborhood think nothing is getting done.

Off the bat, we can see that the TBM launch box duration is a major source of delay. Originally slated to take 37 months, that aspect of the project is now scheduled for 51 months. It didn’t get started on time and won’t wrap up until June 2011. The station work too is set for a longer timeline. In 2006, the MTA budgeted 54 months for the 96th St. station work, 25 months for a retrofitting of the current 63rd St. stop on the F and 49 months each for the stations planned for 72nd St. and 86th St. The systems work and test runs were to take 53 months.

Those timelines have been blown out of the water. The 96th St. station is set to take 72 months to build; the 63rd St. stop will be under construction for 30 months; the actual work on the 86th St. stop will take 60 months; and the 72nd St. stop will be completed in 62 months. Systems work will last for 67 months, and Transit plans to run non-revenue tests for three months before an estimated December 2016 completion date. At the Launch Box, Ben notes that overall construction time has increased from seven years and one month to nine years eight months.

So what then are the causes? Soon, the MTA Inspector General will release a report that promises to be critical of the pace of construction. The Launch Box targets four specific problem areas: Utility relocation took far longer than expected; contracts were awarded later than expected; final design elements were not finalized until late in the process due to requests from the community for additional review; and real estate acquisition and stabilization problems have slowed down the overall process.

In the end, we knew the Second Ave. Subway has suffered through delays. With the hard evidence, though, it’s very tough to believe the delays are a thing of the past and that this subway line will open by the end of 2016 or the start of 2017. At what point does the MTA throw in the towel? When do we look for surface-based, light-rail solutions to the East Side transit congestion problems? Can the city afford to wait another seven or eight years for a subway line that may never fully open when more cost-efficient solutions are out there?

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Adam October 13, 2009 - 7:34 am

Are they finished relocating utilities? If so, that’s the hardest part of the whole thing.

Kid Twist October 13, 2009 - 9:50 am

This is insane. Five years to build a subway station? Two-and-a-half years to rebuild an existing station … that was designed with this sort of reconfiguration in mind?

anonymouse October 13, 2009 - 10:16 am

The original IRT subway took four years to build for the section from City Hall to 137th street, and the Lenox Ave line to the Bronx and extension to Bowling Green opened shortly thereafter (1905 or 1906). Now we have much better technology than hundreds of Irishmen with shovels, why can’t we build subways any faster? Or cheaper?

E. Aron October 13, 2009 - 10:24 am

Well you should keep in mind that they’re building a subway line beneath a highly developed urban environment. I’m not sure what the state of the city was 100+ years ago when they built the subway you’re talking about, but I’m sure they had greater freedom in constructing it, not dealing with negligent landlords and business owners as they exist on 2nd Ave. today.

Today, once again, however, as I walked along 2nd Ave., construction is indeed occurring, but it’s the typical 1 guy’s in a hole doing something while 3 guys are standing there watching him. I’m thinking about taking some photo evidence to share with you guys to prove that I’m not using hyperbole. I witness the “construction” everyday, and the pace at which it is occurring is a travesty in light of what’s happening to the businesses and residents along the avenue. There absolutely must be more efficient means to accomplish this endeavor, and they owe it to those that are affected by the construction.

Scott E October 13, 2009 - 12:08 pm

If a guy is in a hole doing something, I think there’s some sort of rule that you need a person outside for safety reasons — in case the guy inside is injured or incapacitated, to prevent something (or someone else) from falling in the hole, etc. Why there are three guys, I don’t know.

What often happens, unfortunately, is that workers show up on-site for their regularly scheduled shift, but the materials they need haven’t been delivered yet, or the ConEd/sewer/water dept guy who needs to observe (to protect his own infrastructure) hasn’t arrived, or they encounter something different from their plans and they need direction from management. In this case, you can’t fault the guys “hanging around doing nothing”, they showed up ready to work, they just didn’t have what they needed to complete it.

E. Aron October 13, 2009 - 2:00 pm

I don’t think I laid blame anywhere in my comment. I did state the observation that, as a daily witness to construction at the site, I see everyday.

Your comment got to a broad statement that I made, that there has to be a more efficient means to construction projects in general. It’s inexcusable to delay a project b/c so and so didn’t show up when they were supposed to or what have you. I understand that this is how the system works, but I think that we’re all in agreement that it shouldn’t be that way. What can be done about that?

Scott E October 13, 2009 - 11:17 pm

I understand, and stand corrected for suggesting that you are blaming anyone. But these guys in the hardhats and orange vests usually do get blamed. In fact, they are not much unlike you or me waiting 3 hours and 58 minutes hoping the cable guy will show up during the promised “service window”.
But it’s hard to force these outside entities to play by your schedule. ConEd, Verizon, etc. have little interest in dedicating resources to this project, which, if ever completed, probably won’t generate revenue for their companies for about a decade.

Alon Levy October 14, 2009 - 6:00 pm

They had the same issues back then as they do now. They had to relocate utilities, lay down tracks, relocate utilities back, cover back the street before store owners yelled at them too much for disrupting business.

The problem isn’t urban development. It’s that the people running the city need to be put on Riker’s Island, on a permanent basis.

petey October 13, 2009 - 10:33 am

btw, i live on 84th street and barriers have been placed now on 85th – 82nd street in what really looks like preparation for digging. so something is happening. note to self, must take a picture of the building on 83rd before they tear down another yorkville walk-up.

Christopher October 13, 2009 - 11:29 am

Surface-based solutions are great, but they are not a replacement for subways in high density areas. They work best as ways to speed up local connections — connections that would be generally made by walking. In NY particularly they are the ideal way to create cross town connectivity. And frankly, you need both. I suppose NY can and should look at N-S streetcars (It should definitely look at E-W systems), but as duplication, not a replacement for the subway.

peter knox October 13, 2009 - 12:42 pm

Excellent points, Ben. I’m proud of you. I wish it were only three guys looking into the hole. It is usually six looking and another five drinking coffee and eating doughnuts. There is no way they will be able to build the four stations, as they are now designed, in less than ten years. Like everything the MTA does, the original designs were divorced from reality–each station was going to be more elaborate than any other stations in the city. Soon, I’m sure, we will learn that the station designs are being modified. We are never, ever going to see all four phases of the subway built. And phase one is going to be a shockingly-reduced version of what we were promised. My gosh, phase one is still not paid for, the price will only continue to skyrocket, and the city, state and federal governments are all already facing catastrophic deficits.

Jerrold October 13, 2009 - 8:51 pm

Ben, the last paragraph on this article surprised me.

I thought that you were a strong advocate of bulding a Second Avenue SUBWAY, and that that was the “point” of this website.

Nathanael October 18, 2009 - 1:41 am

Sure, surface solutions would work!….

…if you can convince the City and the residents of Second Avenue to lose *four lanes* of traffic, and convince crosstown drivers to have their streets cut off on either side of Second Avenue….

What, the Subway looks easier to build now? What a surprise.

Jerrold October 13, 2009 - 8:54 pm

I forgot to add that even if they DO bring back the trolleys by another name (“surface light rail”, or whatever), that system will be a replacement for the BUSES, not for a subway.

Cen-Sin October 13, 2009 - 11:17 pm

I find that the pace of building in China is staggeringly quick by our standards. Maybe we need to get rid of some red tape to make progress.

General October 15, 2009 - 7:43 am

Its not just red tape. Its unionized labor, and its the fact that there simply isn’t enough contractors with experience in building tunnel infrastructure like this anymore in the city. Experience is what counts in construction, and competition between different contractors with experience is used to drive down costs. When you have a project like this which cost billions but barely anyone is willing to bid on, you have a mess in your hands, and that’s the reason for the delays.

Alon Levy October 15, 2009 - 4:53 pm

Then hire contractors from other countries. Offer the contractors who build subways for Tokyo Metro 50% more money than what they’d get in Japan; construction costs would still be about two fifths what they’re budgeting for SAS and the 7 extension.

Nathanael October 18, 2009 - 1:45 am

The “Buy America” laws are a problem there.

A bigger problem, however, is *lack of contractor coordination*. One reason why “design-build” has become popular is that it puts one small group of people in charge of everything.

In the 19th century, the IRT was given carte blanche by the city, pretty much; if they hit an electric line, they didn’t wait for Con Ed, they moved it themselves, and if Con Ed complained, the city weighed in for the IRT.

Sadly, the same is not happening now. The city *should have* simply condemned the problem buildings and arrested the owner long before the digging started, but nooooo. Contractors shouldn’t be waiting around for other people; if Con Ed doesn’t show up when they’re supposed to, they should be fined. Et cetera.

Failure to coordinate seems to be a major source of delay, and with this many companies and people involved, coordination is essential.

paulb October 14, 2009 - 9:19 am

Kind of late for this comment, and not precisely on topic, but it’s something I’ve been curious about so… Why is the new subway on Second Avenue, in the first place? Apart from that it was meant to replace the long gone Second Avenue El? Wouldn’t First Avenue have been a better route? Second Avenue is already relatively close to the existing East Side line. A First Avenue line would seem to give more central service to the upper East Side, be better for alphabet city, and also be right there for the UN, hospital row and Stuy Town/PCV. Surely someone involved with the planning for this must have brought this up, at some time.

Alon Levy October 14, 2009 - 6:01 pm

Second Avenue is closer to East Midtown. In a city where people are incapable of moving a subway line from one street to another, this counts for a lot.

Ben G October 26, 2009 - 8:57 pm

MTA Leadership is to blame. The buck has to stop with them. This thing is being mismanaged. The delay in blasting is a perfect example. Arguing with landlords about who’s-to-pay to shore up the busted buildings? After months of bickering, the MTA figures out, it’s cheaper, faster, better to stop fighting, fix the buildings and get on with building the subway. Bickering with landlords won’t in a million years get the subway built. The MTA does not have the right stuff, can-do attitude that gets things done. Anybody who’s worked in engineering knows the Dilbert mentality, and that’s what’s going on here.

Start with the design assumptions and go into any aspect of this project, and it’s not about “can-do”…the people responsible for every aspect of this project do not have the attitude that this must get done on time and on budget.

New management is required at this point. The contractors, workers, suppliers are the same more or less everywhere. Hire the best person in the world who knows how to get a project like this done, pay him the money he’s worth (and will save the project in the end) and let him bring in a new team of managers who will kick butt.

Changing this-or-that here-or-there won’t do a damn thing to change the situation — if current management remains. Better management is the only hope.


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