Home Second Avenue Subway The costs of Second Ave. construction

The costs of Second Ave. construction

by Benjamin Kabak

Phase I of the Second Ave. Subway is one expensive project. Designed as a three-mile extension of the BMT Broadway line north from 57th St. and 7th Ave. to 96th St. and 2nd Ave., this route is, as SAS commenter Alon Levy has noted, the most expensive subway under construction. It’s budgeted at approximately $1.7 billion per kilometers while similar projects in Paris and Berlin have checked in at $250 million per kilometer and a London Tube extension cost $450 million per kilometer.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve tried to ascertain just why this subway costs so much. While New York is a very developed city and the MTA is digging through some very old neighborhoods, Paris and London have both been around for centuries longer than the Upper East Side. Labor costs are higher in the U.S. than they are in Europe but not by that much. Could it be utilities work? Design and engineering? A combination of everything?

I was at a loss until a few weeks when the MTA published a quarterly report about the Second Ave. Subway work with the most comprehensive budget presentations to date. The report is available here as a PDF, and the budget chart is on page 15. I’ll summarize the Current Budget here. Clicking the thumbnail at right opens a larger version.

First, the MTA tackles component design costs. The Environmental Impact Statement cost $11.6 million; PE & FP Engineering costs are projected to be $228.9 million; and the final design costs will be $192 million. The next few lines concern construction. So far, the agency has awarded $734 million in construction contracts with $2.7 billion in contracts still be awarded. Those figures constitute the bulk of the project costs but aren’t broken out further.

After that line item, the chart delves into some detail. The agency is keeping $122.7 million on hand for contingency awards and will pay $96 million for control center modernization. In-house Transit labor will cost $33 million, and $70 million will go for an engineering force account. Phase I has a $6 million artwork budget and a $292 million real estate acquisition fund. Insurance policies will cost $172 million, and the agency has a reserve of $160 million. The total project cost checks in at $4.451 billion, but the agency has also added another $816 million in estimated financing costs. The final price tag: $5.267 billion.

So now we have the numbers, but we still don’t have the “why” of it all. We don’t know what costs so much and how the MTA could realize savings that would put the budget for the Second Ave. Subway in line with similar projects around the world. The ambiguous construction costs — $3.4 billion — are clearly an issue, but where does those construction costs go?

If I had to guess, I’d say the bulk of the costly work involves installing the tunnel boring machine launch box and relocating numerous utilities. Real estate acquisition amounts to nearly five percent of the project, and in the end, everything just adds up. That doesn’t mean that the MTA can’t save costs.

When New York built its first subway route, the Interborough Rapid Transit Company bid a cool $35 million in 1900. That amounts to less than $1 billion in today’s money, and that route stretched from City Hall to 145th St. and Broadway. Then, the subways reached through some emptier neighborhoods and employed cut-and-cover just below surface level. Yet, the connection into Brooklyn through some populous neighborhoods cost just $8 million, insanely cheap by today’s standards.

The Second Ave. Subway is deeper than the IRT and is being built in an era of high costs. As unsatisfying an answer that is, it simply might be the reason for the costs: It just costs more. But can the city really sustain three more phases of multi-billion-dollar construction or will we be left with just a portion of the Second Ave. subway? Time, obviously, will tell.

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John Cie January 14, 2010 - 1:32 am

It’s great that you’re posting this (and that the MTA is making the info available) but I think I need a glossary of all the acronyms and other jargon in that table.

Benjamin Kabak January 14, 2010 - 1:41 am

Yes. Yes, it does. It took me no small amount of time searching for the acronyms. Here’s what I think they stand for:

EIS = Environmental Impact Statement
PE = Professional Engineer
FP Engineering = [no idea]
FD Reserve = Final Design Reserve
NYCT Labor = New York City Transit Labor
EFA = Engineering Force Account or Engineering Failure Analysis
CCM = Control Center Modernization or Consultant Construction Manager
OCIP = Owner Controlled Insurance Program

Some of these are just educated guesses. So if everyone with an expertise in the area and more knowledge than I have can correct it, that would be much appreciated.

Scott E January 14, 2010 - 8:06 am

I think “PE & FP Engineering” is a typo, and should probably be FD. This is the way most large infrastructure projects work

Preliminary Engineering is the phase of design where they answer the basics: how far apart, and where where will the stops be; how big must they be to be to handle all the new features (ADA accessibility, ventilation, sufficient emergency egress, etc); what type (60- or 75-foot) of trains will be used and what yard will store them; environmental impacts; which parts are TBM, mined or cut-and-cover; and an approximate (but usually inaccurate) schedule and cost.

Final Design is the phase which has the real nuts and bolts come into play. How is the tunnel dug while preventing collapse, how are the lights mounted and wired, where does all the piping go to prevent flooding, the mechanical parts of elevators and escalators, architectural finishes, how power is fed to the 3rd rail, etc.

Michael Auerbach January 14, 2010 - 1:53 am

Would love to have those construction costs broken out to make sure there aren’t any $12,000 hammers laying around. Amazing that such a short stretch of track will cost so much. Sad to say, but I’m not very confident the City will be able to complete the final 3 phases of the SAS at this pace and cost. BRT, certainly a welcome and much-needed addition to NYC’s transportation landscape, is not a substitute for far-reaching, higher impact subway expansion.

John January 14, 2010 - 3:50 am

“it is just expensive” really doesn’t sound likely. I mean I could see some tax for it being Manhattan but SIX TIMES the cost of Paris metro projects (which has all kinds of ridiculous junk underground) just seems like there has to be something not quite right going on here.

Nathanael February 9, 2010 - 6:23 am

Well, part of the problem is that apparently New York has poorly documented utilities.

London has had complete down-to-the-inch plans for the locations of all utilities since the mid-1800s, meaning that you get very little unexpected when you dig. Paris developed similar records later.

Apparently not so for New York. That makes stuff absurdly more expensive.

It still doesn’t account for all the costs though.

Alon Levy January 14, 2010 - 4:47 am

I’m glad you’re raising this issue – and thanks for the breakdown of SAS costs.

I’ve recently read an account of American rail that blames high costs in the US on the excessive use of consultants, which it says can double the cost over in-house expertise; the article says that this is why projects in Britain are more expensive than in the rest of Europe – however, New York is still much more expensive than both Britain and the rest of the US.

Ironically, by forcing bare-bones operations on the MTA in the budget cuts, the state legislators are ensuring higher project costs.

Michael January 14, 2010 - 6:12 am

It costs that much money people are stealing money. End of story.

Scott E January 14, 2010 - 8:11 am

Perhaps to some extent, but I think its more a problem with waste and inefficiencies than crooks. Second Ave Sagas has already discussed changes such as reducing the number of tracks at 72nd St., shortening ancillary buildings and moving entrances because of community input – all requiring previous designs to be scrapped and reworked. Who knows what might get changed after the whole thing is built (see the platform/train gap at South Ferry). It always costs more to do it twice than to do it right.

Working Class January 14, 2010 - 7:39 am

This will be the only part of the SAS that ever gets done!!!

petey January 14, 2010 - 11:23 am

i agree completely.

Ray January 14, 2010 - 7:45 am

Ben –

So glad you are asking these questions. If guys like you don’t do it the opponents of transit will. Though, I suppose the costs of building any infrastructure in America, from a mile of highway to an airport gate, is out of step with the rest of the developed world.

In the face of deep opposition in Congress. It’s all very hard to accept and defend.

It would be very interesting to see the categories included in the French and British examples cited above. Perhaps it would inspire one of our transit advocacy groups to embark on a detailed “forensic” line by line comparison. We’d all be interested to learn what SAS costs are mandated by law and from which levels of government. Additionally, what SAS costs are driven by MTA circumstance or peculiarities of doing business in the US, NY State or NYC. In the end, findings that disturb us could form the basis for corrective Federal legislation or funding agreements.

If we are going to become “infrastructure nation” and vastly expand our projects during these Obama years, the Administration has to figure out how to free agencies from what appears to be a virtually unlimited feeding frenzy.

rhywun January 14, 2010 - 7:56 am

I wonder if we’re comparing apples with oranges? Do the Paris, Berlin, and London lines also feature deep-tunnel boring and numerous property acquisitions, for example? If so, then I too lean toward “corruption” as the likely culprit here. Especially if the final tally is double or triple the original estimate, as always seems to the case in NYC.

Alon Levy January 15, 2010 - 3:22 am

The Paris and London lines feature deep-tunnel boring – I believe they’re both deeper than SAS. They also feature underwater crossings.

One of the advantages of building subways in Manhattan is that the north-south subways are all parallel, so new lines don’t have to cross under so many existing lines. New crosstown lines are deeper, but not that deep, since they only need to cross under the subsurface north-south lines. The only part of the city where there’s a need for crossing existing lines deep underground is Times Square, where the 7 runs 15 meters underground; the Jubilee Line runs 32 meters underground.

Russell Warshay January 14, 2010 - 8:14 am

Thanks for raising this issue. If the answer is something other than, “that’s just what it costs,” then there is hope that these costs can be reduced. Substantially lower construction costs should translate into more subway construction.

The ambiguous construction costs — $3.4 billion — are clearly an issue, but where does those construction costs go?

That’s what I want to know.

I do have a question about the bidding process. Does it favor local contractors? If so, this could account for inflated prices.

Also, how do union work rules effect costs?

Mike January 14, 2010 - 9:16 am

The other phases will never, ever happen.

Nathanael February 9, 2010 - 6:26 am

The southern half of Phase II has the advantage that it requires no real tunnel-digging (the tunnels were dug in the 1970s; it consists of building a couple of cut-and-cover stations.

Therefore I think it has a pretty decent chance of getting done, much much more cheaply than anything else.

Kid Twist January 14, 2010 - 9:29 am

Three times the cost of New Yankee Stadium and there won’t even be a food court.

Jehiah January 14, 2010 - 9:46 am

As you mention, it’s tough to know exactly how to compare things.

one way to think of it is to compare the fixed costs on a project to project basis, and to compare the variable costs.

I think there are probably quite a number of things that are fixed per project. ie: they would cost relatively the same amount if you built a 1 mile tunnel vs a 30 mile tunnel. Some things like launching a TBM, insurance, Environmental study, and Engineering are probably fairly fixed costs.

Other things are probably quite related to the size of the project (or # of entrances). things like real-estate acquisition, labor, contingency fund, financing.

Josh K January 14, 2010 - 10:03 am

As an engineer who has worked in both government and private sector for construction, I have to agree that out-sourcing of engineering is a huge cost factor in these sorts of projects. Also, there’s an unacknowledged cost, experience. If the MTA had maintained an in-house capital construction engineering basis that could handle these projects, they would be in a lot better shape for implementing lessons learned from previous projects over the years. With outsourced consultants, you have constant turn over on the project team, thus hampering the knowledge base.

One of the sources of high construction costs is the number of large underground infrastructure projects occurring at the same time. Right now there’s ESA, SAS #7 Extension, FTC, ARC, DEP Croton Water Filtration and DEP Water Tunnel #3. I’m probably forgetting something.
Modern tunneling is a skilled trade. It’s no longer the sort of thing where if they want to get more done they just buy a few more pick-axes and hire a few more Irish immigrants straight off the boat.
For several decades the only major underground construction project was Water Tunnel #3. This project was the lifeline that kept the Sandhog skills in NYC. Now with so many large projects, the contracting firms know that their skills are in high demand and that there’s little competition from outside. Thus, the contractors have the upper hand in bidding. This drives up costs dramatically.

Another large factor in cost is NYC construction projects is the cost of materials. There’s significant mark-up for getting materials into Manhattan. Nearly everything comes in by truck over the bridge from Jersey. With no freight rail entering Manhattan any more, the trucking industry gets to set their rates with their monopoly. This is probably one of the largest places of graft and corruption and its outside the control of the MTA. The mafia has long controlled the trucking industry in the NYC area, driving up the cost of all goods. If you want cheaper construction projects, get the FBI and other law enforcement to crack down really hard on organized crime.

Scott E January 14, 2010 - 10:16 am

Josh, I have to disagree with you on the experience factor. There hasn’t been a major tunneling project at the MTA since the 63rd St. tunnel 20-some years ago. Engineers hanging around the MTA for that long would have been a waste. The guys designing this system move from project to project, and sometimes country to country, and have much more modern experience than an in-house MTA person might have.

The discussion and costs of trucking in materials (and then discarding excavated rock) over the GW Bridge versus other non-island locations is a valid one, however I’m not so sure about the mafia allegations. I’ll just plead ignorance on that one.

Alon Levy January 15, 2010 - 5:08 am

I don’t think there’s any foreign expertise designing SAS. The companies running construction are all American, and do construction in general, not subways in particular.

New York consultants don’t move from country to country, in general; Walder’s use of foreign talent is new to New York. There’s the language barrier, which blocks off most of the world. There’s also the fact that the big transit agencies in the rest of the world do have in-house expertise, so they don’t need American consultants.

Jonathan January 18, 2010 - 10:26 pm

Actually experience IS a gigantic part of the reason why the costs are so high, but not on the consultants’ side.

Its the contractors. There’s not enough of them with any knowledge or experience in subway tunneling in the NYC area, mainly because there just hasn’t been any large scale developments in years. As such, much of the work had only one or two contractors bidding for contracts, and actually, in many cases these contractors just decided to team up in joint ventures.

So one-bid contracts can really only mean one thing: zero competition and high costs.

peter knox January 14, 2010 - 10:21 am

Though I have been silenced by Kabak, I will continue to speak the truth. This is a senseless discussion because everyone is using the MTA’s own cost estimates. Those estimated costs have never, never, been accurate. They said the SAS would cost 3.7B, wrong, then 3.9B, wrong,then 4.4B, wrong, now they are saying 5.2B, wrong, wrong, wrong. I have already said the SAS would cost at least 6B; now I will admit I was wrong. Soon, within a couple of years or so, we will learn that the whole ridiculously corrupt criminal enterprise is going to have a price tag well over 7B. And to finance this boondoggle, the fares will continue to go up and taxes will be raised. And then what will we have? A meaningless extension to a system that already cannot be maintained. What a hopelessly disfunctional city! Wake up!! I keep trying to help this city, but I am feeling hopeless. No one hears.

petey January 14, 2010 - 11:22 am

well if you’re speaking you haven’t been silenced.

Jonathan D. January 14, 2010 - 1:53 pm

You could always get rich like Bloomberg and do all this stuff yourself for cheaper. As a resident of this fine city, I’d rather appreciate it.

Russell Warshay January 14, 2010 - 3:36 pm

A meaningless extension… No one hears.

Well, when you call a desperately needed extension “meaningless,” you’re not exactly arguing from a position of credibility.

Make a well reasoned argument, support it with facts, and people will hear you.

JMP January 14, 2010 - 10:28 am

First off, every other major underground subway line in Manhattan and Brooklyn was built using cut and cover, with rates of worker injuries that were much higher than would be acceptable today.

And some of the costs really are unavoidable, like cutter heads for the TBM, which will be very expensive. I know from a couple of construction projects I’ve been peripherally involved with that the bedrock under the Upper East Side is extremely hard. For anyone who wants to claim that this could have been avoided by doing the whole line as cut and cover, the bedrock is also extremely shallow, not to mention that it would have meant even greater disruption along all of Second Avenue.

My problem with this is watching the way the MTA has managed overall capital resources. They treat every project as a completely separate entity, with no possible sharing of resources between them. Just around the time that the TBM for East Side access was wrapping up its work, it was time to start using the TBM on the 7 train extension. That machine has just finished its run, and Second Avenue is almost ready to start loading in its TBM. As it is now, the MTA is paying the contractors, who amortize the cost of the new TBM over the course of the project. Now imagine how much could have been saved over the course of 3 projects if the MTA had paid for the purchase of 1 TBM, rather than 3 of them…

Nathanael February 9, 2010 - 6:28 am

That’s a very good point. With all this stuff planned, buying two “MTA TBMs” and using them for all projects would probably have saved a lot.

another Ben January 14, 2010 - 10:38 am

Great topic. I have wondered for a long time why Phase 1 of this project is so incredibly expensive.

In your posting you guessed that the most expensive part of the project will be the TBM launch box and the tunnels. Actually, the most expensive parts will be the stations, one of which (86th Street) is budgeted to cost in excess of $1 Billion to build.

Over on The Launch Box blog I’ve been tracking the contract costs (actual and budgeted) in a section that I call “Contract Packaging”. What I’ve found can be summarized as follows:

Contract 1 – Launch Box & Tunnels – $ 337M
Contract 2A & 2B – 96th St Station part 1 – $ 742M
Contract 3 – 63rd St Station Rehab – ?
Contract 4A, 4B & 4C – 72nd St Station – $ 939M
Contract 5A, 5B & 5C – 86th St Station – $ 1,002M
Contract 6 – Systems – $ 395M

Total cost for construction – $ 3,415M

With costs like this one could assume that we will not see an additional construction, past Phase I, for a very long time.

another Ben

Nathanael February 9, 2010 - 6:30 am

A billion dollars for one station?

What the heck is going on here?

Well, I guess that’s a deep cavern station, but that only accounts for some of it…. is there seriously a “part 2” to 96th St. Station, and if so why does it cost nearly as much?!?

Eric F. January 14, 2010 - 11:21 am

Does the budgeted amount include the cost of added rolling stock? I would think with a new line you’d need additional trains as well, otherwise there’s not much use in adding the track capacity. The same point could/should be made regarding the ARC Tunnel and East Side Access.

Scott E January 14, 2010 - 1:01 pm

It was included in the cost estimates for the #7 extension — I remember Mayor Bloomberg balked at the city having to buy new TRAINS — so I would think it was considered here as well. (Although, in the #7 extension, I believe they tried to hide an entire fleet replacement in the costs to be borne by the city, not just a handful of extra cars)

Alon Levy January 15, 2010 - 3:47 am

I don’t think the budget includes new rolling stock – nor does it in the European cities I’m comparing New York to. Regardless, rolling stock is cheap. For Paris Metro Line 14, rolling stock cost €107 million, whereas construction cost €1.1 billion.

Unlike subway construction, rolling stock is not more expensive in New York than elsewhere. New trains are about $1.5 million per car in New York, $2.5 million per car in London, and $1.2 million per car in Paris.

paulb January 14, 2010 - 8:07 pm

First, SAS will have much more noise, dirt and unreliability than its European counterparts so adding all that makes it cost much more.

Second, who knows if those figures about subway construction costs abroad are accurate or, if they are accurate, maybe they don’t count as construction costs things the MTA is obliged to.

Construction costs LESS in Europe than in the USA? Who ever heard of anything in Europe costing less? I mean, since 1954 or something.

John Voelcker January 15, 2010 - 7:47 am

Ben: The comparison to London is a bit unfair. Virtually the entire city of London sits on hundreds of feet of compacted mud, while as JMP notes, some of the hardest granite known–Manhattan Schist–lies underneath Manhattan. Tunneling for the Brits takes a fraction of the time that it does for us.

Joe September 30, 2011 - 6:33 pm

In many cases, quite the opposite is true: harder rock makes for easier digging since you don’t have as many problems with settling and shoring up the tunnel. Drilling through soggy mud like in London is often much more challenging.

Streetsblog New York City » Today’s Headlines January 15, 2010 - 9:04 am

[…] Why the Second Avenue Subway Costs So Much (SAS) […]

Larry Littlefield January 15, 2010 - 9:20 am

There is no excuse of these costs, and East Side Access is even worse. Figure just 20% of the cost is materials, and divide the rest by manhours, and ask where all these damn people are.

The general excuse for MTA costs is the cost of working on a active railroad, with just a brief period of work between set-up time, and the need to get everything out of the way of the trains. There is no need for any of that here.

A more specific excuse, for the proposed BMT connection to the Rutgers Tunnel when the Manhattan Bridge was out, is that many project costs are fixed, so small jobs are more expensive. This is not a small job.

MTA contractor costs are someone elses pillage. I suspect that, as in the TWU, a lot of the money is going to those who aren’t working, either because they retired early or for some other reason.

JB January 15, 2010 - 1:35 pm

In addition to the things mentioned above (property prices, material prices) you have to factor in labor costs when comparing New York to other places in the US and around the world. The Construction Unions have good agreements in NY that set minimum staffing levels (type 50% to 100% than used elsewhere for undergruond work) and a whole host of other rules that protect the workers. As a result, labor costs are significantly higher in NY. A consequence of high number of workers is there is less incentive to invest in technology to get the work done more efficiently.

AlexB January 15, 2010 - 10:59 am

I’m not sure this is that expensive compared to other new tunnels. Crossrail in London is supposed to cost 16 billion pounds, about 25 billion dollars, and is 13.75 miles long with 7 new stations with a number of renovated tube stations included. That sounds very similar to the SAS in terms of cost and scope. Am I wrong?

Alon Levy January 16, 2010 - 2:19 am

I believe Crossrail costs include significant overground work as well.

In either case, you should bear in mind that the UK has the highest construction costs of any place outside the US. I’m cutting it some slack on the Jubilee Line Extension because it includes four underwater crossings. But other rail projects in the UK have been budgeted at several times as much as comparable projects in Continental Europe. These include Crossrail, High-Speed 1, and now the proposed High-Speed 2 ($55 billion for 700 km, four times as much as comparable construction in France).

Nathanael February 9, 2010 - 6:33 am

The overground work for Crossrail is actually insignificant; it consists of a short electrification (on a very wide ROW), a couple of platform lengthenings, and a maintenance yard (on an existing yard location).

Nathanael February 9, 2010 - 6:33 am

But other rail projects in the UK have been budgeted at several times as much as comparable projects in Continental Europe

That’s the outsourcing overhead. 🙁

Leo January 15, 2010 - 5:38 pm

The powerful unions have to be at least partially responsible for the high construction costs of these projects. The non-union shops can never get these kinds of contracts. Add to that all the litigation/legal/relocation costs that are probably much lower in Europe (seems that every building that is affected in any way is either suing or threatening to sue forcing MTA to reimburse the “inconvenience”). It is truly sad that it has become so hard in this country to make any notable improvement to the old and outdated infrastructure. The subway system is a disgrace.

John Cie January 16, 2010 - 1:33 am

FWIW, here’s what the 100-days report says about the topic (at pp 11-12). It’s a little light on specifics, but it shows that the MTA leadership is aware of the problem and thinking about it.

“Our partners in the contracting community tell us that they are forced to charge more for our projects to protect against the perceived risks of working with the MTA and to compensate for the difficult environment of working around service and the complexity of each project. In addition, construction industry practices in New York tend to increase costs. As an example, tunneling for the expansion projects has cost between three and six times as much as similar projects in Germany, France and Italy. …

“We must identify ways to minimize contractor risk and work collaboratively to minimize project costs and impacts to customers. In return, the contracting community must eliminate what has become a surcharge for MTA work.”

Woody January 16, 2010 - 4:47 pm

Alon notes that the north-south subway lines in Manhattan are parallel and shallow, and were therefore cheaper to build than lines that must burrow under other tracks.

Phase II of the SAS might then simply push further north to 125th St at roughly the same cost per mile as Phase I. But for Phase III, watch out. Heading south it will have to pass under the tunnels at 63rd, 59th, 53rd, 42nd, 33rd, 14th — and half a dozen more for Phase IV.

So I still have hope that we’ll live to see Phase II of the SAS, especially since JMP points out there will be three fully depreciated TBMs available about that time for contractors to use in competitive bidding. But I don’t expect to see the SAS below 42nd in my lifetime.

Of course, another Ben reminds us that the new SAS stations are costing about a billion bucks each. Maybe we could salvage the SAS by building it to run non-stop from 42nd to Wall Street and save $5 or $6 Billion right from the start. 🙁

Alon Levy January 16, 2010 - 5:37 pm

I’m pretty sure Phase 3 would pass over all the crosstown lines, except at 14th Street. The 7 is entirely deep-level in Manhattan, the E/V is deep-level even at Lex, and the East River and 59th Street Tunnels are deep enough at 2nd to go underwater further east.

However, Phase 4 would probably have to go under Chrystie Street Connection – there is reserved tunnel space for SAS above the connection, but it would be difficult to connect to it. I’m not sure what the Lower Manhattan crossings would look like.

JMP January 18, 2010 - 8:48 pm

The TBMs would be useless for Phase II, for two reasons. First off, that tunneling will be through dirt, so it will be mostly cut and cover. Second, most of the tunnel between stations for the second phase already exists. It’s just a question of building stations between the tunnels that were built in the 1970s.

As for going south for Phase III, I wouldn’t imagine that the depth requirements would create that much difficulty and expense. Once you’re tunneling through solid rock, it’s just a question of setting the course for the TBM properly. Going deeper or shallower might look complex on paper, but in terms of complexity of construction it’s just as complex as level tunneling. And I’m not convinced that it would require such incredibly deep tunneling.

The tunnel at 63rd Street already passes below the upper and lower levels of the Lexington Avenue line, and is pretty deep at Roosevelt Island. So it would be entirely possible for the new line to cross above the 63rd Street Tunnel.

The tunnel at 60th Street goes between the upper and lower levels of the Lexington Avenue line, then go deeper to cross the river, so a 2nd Avenue line could easily pass above that line.

The tunnel at 53rd Street is also very deep, going below both levels of the Lexington Avenue line, giving room for a new line to pass above it.

Likewise, 14th Street is deep enough to go under the new line.

The complicated part will be in Phase IV, around Chrystie Street. I seem to recall reading that there was a proposed design that would set up a cross-platform transfer at Grand Street, with the possibility of even routing trains from 2nd Avenue to the Manhattan Bridge. (Our grandchildren might someday hear the announcement “due to necessary track work, the Q train will be running along the T line this weekend.”) Of course, we need to get through the first three phases before we have to worry too much about that…

Alon Levy January 19, 2010 - 2:07 am

Deeper construction means more cut and cover tunneling for the stations… that’s why it’s so expensive in Tokyo and London. That said, SAS is shallower than even the average Tube line in London, let alone the recent ones.

The current plans for Phase 4 are for a deep Chrystie or Forsyth option. This would make it impossible to either have a cross-platform transfer to the B/D, or use the existing tunnel that was left there when the Chrystie Street Connection was built to accommodate SAS.

I don’t think there are plans for a track connection to the Manhattan Bridge, but don’t quote me on that. In all honesty, that would just complicate operations further. The track connection they’re planning to build, from the 63rd Street Tunnel to Phase 3 SAS, is far more useful – it would allow using the tunnel to its full capacity, as well as provide direct East Side access from Queens, relieving the overcrowded E/V and the Lex/53rd station.

Mike January 19, 2010 - 7:40 am

London and Paris were both built on soil, so deep tunneling to avoid hitting utilities is easy. NYC was built on solid rock making tunnel boring a lot more complicated. Other factors to consider are that london was rebuilt after being bombed in WW2, and Paris doesn’t have tall buildings. Not quite an apples to apples comparison.

Joe September 30, 2011 - 6:43 pm

As I mentioned earlier, hard rock often makes tunnelling easier than wet soil. London was hardly completely rebuilt after WW2. We’re not talking Hiroshima here. Some buildings were destroyed but most remain and the urban fabric is very much intact, underground infrastructure included. Tall buildings don’t make much difference if you’re just tunnelling under streets. Paris is also much older than New York, has a denser subway network, and has catacombs.

The cost of construction in the NYC area is mind-boggling. The Tappan Zee bridge is another example of a completely unexceptional project costing at least five times more than it would in any other developed country, or even in another part of the US.

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[…] total cost of the project is running off the tracks. As Benjamin Kavaks illustrates in his blog, secondavenuesagas.com, the price tag has increased from $xxx in 20xx to $xxxx […]

Mr. Transit February 15, 2012 - 8:27 am

Interesting that there has been no discussion of the very high cost of conforming to federal procedures and requirements in order to receive the relatively large amount of federal funding involved in Phase I.

The environmental analysis, reporting requirements, and federal review of each and every stage of the project adds significant time and money to the cost of these projects. That is why so many cities are passing up federal funding on their streetcar programs. The FTA is regarded as one of the more difficult silos of the U.S. DOT to work with on large scale infrastructure projects, too.

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[…] tracks the ins and out of the projects has gone through procurement announcements and identified consulting and design costs as needlessly high. Separate from the Second Avenue Line, the MTA is spending $3.8 billion on a […]

ConstruConstruction Scheduling Consultants February 28, 2013 - 10:19 am

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What Williamsburg can tell us about two tracks and short trains | Sic Transit Philadelphia March 7, 2013 - 4:39 pm

[…] leverage out of existing infrastructure. Important in New York, where resources are strained by a cost structure resulting in $1 billion/mile subway construction costs, and important here in Philadelphia where resources simply aren’t […]

Can NYC ever get a subway system like this? - Page 2 - City-Data Forum July 23, 2013 - 4:59 pm

[…] Yes, we'll see an improved subway system. Unfortunately we're absolutely extorted by private firms and developers who are often consultants, expect costs to run over and face little reprimand from the legal system. Our costs of subway expansion are 4 times what the costs are in London (with higher wages) and seven times the cost in Paris (with higher wages and worker benefits). It's asinine to think that Paris and London do not have underground infrastructure/utilities that would be disrupted – they do. Yet projects move ahead and they're not so abused by contracting firms as our municipalities are. We need legislation to protect municipalities, perhaps opening their processes to review also, limit court action and ensure a better procurement system. In China sure they're building massive projects as the government has absolute authority to push projects through, but in Japan and much of Europe large projects move forward without the stagnation we face, and at 10-20 percent of our costs. A quick article that points out some of our (rather needless) costs: U.S. Taxpayers Are Gouged on Mass Transit Costs – Bloomberg Another about the 2nd Ave subway costs: The costs of Second Ave. construction :: Second Ave. Sagas […]

Ferries Could Save Tax Payers from the Second Avenue Subway | Present In The City January 23, 2014 - 6:53 pm

[…] and bridges. Based on what figures I can glean from MTA reports and a helpful 2010 post on the 2nd Ave. Sagas blog, I calculate that construction of the Second Avenue subway ballooned to a cost of  $2.75 […]

City Branch Transit: the Transit Equity Express | Sic Transit Philadelphia October 30, 2014 - 4:30 pm

[…] I’m worried. DVRPC has figured out, somewhat to its credit, that the expensive part of any below-grade transit project is the stations. (Or paying New York City prices.) But one of its proposals for how to deal with that expense when […]


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