The first phase of the Second Ave. Subway will be open for business by the end of 2016, Michael Horodniceanu, president of MTA Capital Construction, promised at a City Council hearing yesterday afternoon. Even as tunnel boring has faced some difficulties, even as the federal government doubts the MTA’s own projections, the authority has continued to assert that these $5 billion subway extension will open in 78 months.
Pledging that this projected date is “set, as far as I’m concerned, in stone,” Horodniceanu hedged his bets. “You should understand one thing: We have a variety of factors that many times are unanticipated.”
Despite this seemingly firm timeline, the MTA currently has no idea when future phases of this not-so-ambitious and long-awaited subway line will see the light of day. Originally, the MTA had anticipated a full line by 2020, but now, Horodniceanu does not know when or if the authority will begin to make plans for Phase 2. For what it’s worth, Phase 2 will rely on some preexisting tunnels north of 96th St., but construction, according to MTA documents from the early 2000s, will rely largely on disruptive cut-and-cover techniques. The price tag should be lower, though, than the fully-funded $4.45 billion figure for Phase 1.
While some of Horodniceanu’s testimony can read as good news from an agency notorious for finishing projects years late, the main purpose of the Council’s hearing concerned Second Ave. businesses, and on that front, the MTA has taken an approach worthy of Mr. Spock. The long-term needs of the subway-riding many outweigh the temporary needs of the few.
As Heather Haddon and Gabriela Resto-Montero note not for the first time, construction along the East Side has been catastrophic for businesses. Eighteen restaurants and shops along the avenue have gone out of business, and others further south are without their sidewalk cafes this year due to construction.
What will the MTA do about this economic issue, the City Council wanted to know. The answer: nothing. “We have no way of determining which businesses have closed as a result of construction. Businesses close and open for a variety of reasons,” Horodniceanu said. “We are not in a position to provide any financial help. We are not going to look at claims unless there is a claim related to something we have done.”
When asked if the cash-starved MTA could set aside money in the project’s very lean budget for reimbursement expenses for suffering businesses, Horodniceanu replied simply, “Absolutely not, sir.” What more is there to say? During massive street construction, businesses will suffer, and neighborhoods will carry the weight of a megaproject. In six years, if all goes according to plan, Upper East Siders living on Second Ave. will enjoy a quality of life better than they’ve known in the decades since the Els came tumbling down. For now, the temporary loss of business is but the price of progress.
“We are acknowledging that construction impacts the businesses and the residents’ quality of life,” Horodniceanu said. “But at the end of day, this area will be better off because we are providing transportation to their front door.”