As the city gears up to vote in next week’s mayoral election, Michael Bloomberg has hit the campaign trail hard. He’s spending his billions and touting his record in search of a third term made possible, of course, by some underhanded term limit dealings.
On Monday, Bloomberg’s five-borough tour took him to NYU where he delivered a speech envisioning 2013, the supposed end of what would be his then-12-year turn as head of the city. During the speech, he spoke briefly about the 7 line extension, a subway line to nowhere and Bloomberg’s favorite MTA pet project. His excerpt on this city-funded extension was brief:
And Queens residents who work at the Javits Center, or elsewhere on the Far West Side, will begin riding the Number 7 Train past Times Square to 11th Avenue and down to 34th Street.
It’s the first new subway track the City has built in more than four decades – and we’re on schedule to complete it on time and on budget in 2013.
With an assist from the history of the New York City subway system and the Citizens Budget Commission, let’s fact-check the mayor. We start with a history lesson. Although the 7 line extension may be the first Manhattan-based subway expansion in decades, another line in Queens is less than four decades old. In 1975, the city began work on the Archer Ave. extension, a remnant of the Second System. Although work was slowed due to a lack of funds, that line opened in 1988.
Technically, the mayor is correct in saying that the 7 line extension is the first new subway track the City has built in more than four decades, but the 7 line isn’t the first new subway extension in that time. In 1988, the Archer Ave. Line, a remnant of the famous Second System, opened, and work on that subway extension had started in the 1970s and continued through the 1980s. The line itself opened in 1988.
One year later, the MTA completed work on a Tunnel to Nowhere. In 1989, the 63rd St. tunnel opened. At the time, it connected the East Side with, well, nowhere. The 6th Ave. line extended north past 57th St. to 63rd St. and Lexington and then under the East River with a stop at Roosevelt Island and then a terminus at 21st St./Queensbridge. Until 2001, when a connector to the IND Queens Boulevard line finally opened, this stump sat but 1500 feet away from the bustling Queens plaza. All of those projects have happened in the time during which Bloomberg claimed the city did not construct any new subway tracks.
And now we turn to the CBC’s report on the state of MTA construction. The report devotes three paragraphs to the 7 line extension, and it reminds us that the tunnel was to be completed in September 2012 with the new station operational by June 2013. Although the tunnel should still be finished by September 2012, the MTA estimates an on-time completion date for the entire project of November 2014.
Furthermore, the city reneged on its promise to fund a station — or even a shell of a station — at 41st and 10th Ave. As it stands, the 7 line extension will run from Times Square, through a neighborhood badly in need of a train stop to 34th St. and 11th Ave. to find only a run-down convention center and a train yard that may one day be developed into a mixed-use property. It truly is the new Subway to Nowhere.
Bloomberg can tout his transit record all he wants. When the best part of his opponent Bill Thompson’s transit plan is a promise to “object when when the MTA tries to cut service,” it’s clear that Bloomberg is running against someone unprepared for the job. But that doesn’t mean we should give our incumbent a free pass. The 7 line extension is not the only new subway in four decades; it isn’t on time; and it isn’t as originally promised. It’s arguably a bad use of money, and it will result in a subway line with few passengers that won’t alleviate overcrowding at a time when trains stuffed to the gills dominate the system.