Home Second Avenue Subway As 2nd Ave. businesses suffer, MTA toes the 2016 line

As 2nd Ave. businesses suffer, MTA toes the 2016 line

by Benjamin Kabak

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.”

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ferryboi June 15, 2010 - 1:03 pm

OK, is it me or was has the East Side not been clamoring for a Second Ave line for like 70 years now? How did they think the line would be built, by lasering through bedrock 50 feet below ground without street level disrputions? Ask residents in parts of Queens or all of Staten Island if they’d mind a few years worth of disruptions for a brand new subway line.

As far as “eighteen businesses closing” in recent months: I lived on Second Ave at 74th St for seven years, and I watched restaurants, shoes stores, delis, etc come and go with stunning regularity, well before subway construction was even started. That’s the nature of business in Manhattan, so please quit the whining.

Josh K June 15, 2010 - 1:05 pm

TheLaunchBox has the bid results for the 72nd St. station cavern contract. The OHL/Tulley joint venture came in as the lowest bidder, with a bid almost 50% below the MTA’s estimate. The other two bids were also well below the estimate. This should help the MTA’s cost overrun problem with this project.

I think it’s important to note why all the bids came in so much lower than the MTA’s estimate. Most of the bidding firms are already mobilized in some capacity on the SAS site, so they’re familiar with the project, the project managers and the existing conditions. The MTA is also probably a little gun-shy in their estimates with all the problems at Fulton St. and the issues on SAS. So it stands to reason that the MTA’s estimating group probably had a higher safety factor in their estimate.

I also think that the downturn in the NY private sector construction market is finally making it’s presence known on the MTA’s jobs. Currently there’s a large surplus of experienced construction workers and supervisors, a surplus of equipment and a national surplus of material manufacturing capacity. As the more of the construction boom orders and projects wrap up, the market has gotten way more competitive, driving down costs.

Later this summer we’ll also see the bid results for the 63rd St. station re-hab. One can hope that those bids follow the same trend as this one and maybe the MTA can reign in the cost escalation.

Scott E June 15, 2010 - 2:19 pm

TheLaunchBox has the bid results for the 72nd St. station cavern contract. The OHL/Tulley joint venture came in as the lowest bidder, with a bid almost 50% below the MTA’s estimate..

The Launch Box compared this to an estimate released in July 2008. Wasn’t the station still three tracks wide at the time?

Benjamin Kabak June 15, 2010 - 2:20 pm

It was, but the lack of a third track — while providing 50 percent less train capacity — shouldn’t cause a 50 percent drop in prices without other factors coming into play.

Andrew June 15, 2010 - 6:31 pm

A third track wouldn’t have provided any additional train capacity at all! It would have made for a smoother operation (an easier merge), but total capacity wouldn’t have been affected.

Marc Shepherd June 15, 2010 - 1:06 pm

Horodniceanu gave the right answers. What else could he possibly say?

Jerrold June 15, 2010 - 2:06 pm

66 months?
We’re talking about the END of 2016.
Six-and-one-half years is 78 months.

(45 years ago, I was the “math nut” in my high school.)

Benjamin Kabak June 15, 2010 - 2:11 pm

So you’re right. I missed a year in counting.

Jerrold June 15, 2010 - 3:08 pm

Yes, I see that it’s been corrected now.

Al D June 15, 2010 - 2:17 pm


That’d be Mr. Spock you are referring to. Dr. Spock wrote the child health book. 🙂

Jonathan June 15, 2010 - 2:59 pm

Since the SAS has been planned for generations, savvy business owners intending to open in Second Avenue premises at any time in the PAST 80 YEARS could have asked their prospective landlords for a rent abatement during months of heavy construction. Why should the MTA bail them out now?

Jerrold June 15, 2010 - 3:14 pm

The trouble is, the landlord would have assured the merchant, “Oh forget about that. They’ll never build it anyway”.

And that way nothing about it would have been written into the lease that the merchant signed.

Andrew June 15, 2010 - 6:32 pm

Response: “In that case, please write it into the lease. Since they’ll never build it, you won’t have to worry about it.”

Alon Levy June 15, 2010 - 7:24 pm

“This is not how we do things here.” The leases are so standardized nowadays, to prevent fraud, that the landlord would probably sound reasonable.

rhywun June 16, 2010 - 12:23 am

Why would any landlord sign such a thing? They need to make a profit too.

Jonathan June 16, 2010 - 10:51 am

The landlords make their profit on the back end, when the tunnel is complete, the work is done, and the stations are open and bringing thousands of patrons to their doorsteps.

Aaron June 16, 2010 - 2:01 pm

I had something similar written into my residential lease in Los Angeles (“If after graduating law school I register for the bar exam in another state rather than California, upon timely notice to that effect this lease will terminate on May 31st.”) She wanted to rent it that week rather than keep it on the market, so she wrote it in, and I told her that I didn’t think I’d need to use it but needed to be prudent. I didn’t end up exercising the clause but I could’ve and it would’ve held up at the City’s housing court.

Real estate is the place where “time value of money” really gets pressed into service – an extra month’s rent is often worth a certain amount of risk. You can tolerate retail product sitting on the shelf for a certain amount of time, but every day that real estate sits empty is a day that you’re losing a lot of money. It matters. A lot.

So I don’t want to draw with too broad of a brush, but I’m not feeling the same level of sympathy Ben has for these businesses. I mean, on a micro level, yeah, I’m sure that none of these people are having fun, to put it mildly, that these are real people who are suffering, suffering a great deal. But construction is a fact of life in the City – particularly when you’re in a corridor like 2nd Ave where every mayor since the Dutch called it New Amsterdam has promised a subway along 2nd. It’d be just the same if you operated across the street from the Farley post office – even though plans there have been delayed for endless years, you are bloody well on notice that some point the pieces could all come together and that whole block could be turned into a giant hole in the ground.

Benjamin Kabak June 16, 2010 - 2:39 pm

Aaron: I think you’re reading my sympathy incorrectly. I feel bad for the people losing their businesses, but in the long run, I don’t feel that bad for them. The MTA start the current SAS planning process in the early 2000s, and these business owners were on notice of impending construction. Plus, they stand to benefit greatly when the subway is completed, and we as a city can’t halt construction of something badly needed on the UES just because a few businesses might close. Call it heartless, but I think it’s a partical approach here.

Jerrold June 16, 2010 - 3:40 pm

WHAT giant hole in the ground?
I thought that the plan (if they ever DO actually starting doing it) was to convert that post office into a new Penn Station, rather than to demolish it and start from scratch.

Aaron June 16, 2010 - 4:27 pm

Well, I was speaking metaphorically, that it would still be a major construction site with presumably restricted access etc. etc. etc.

Alon Levy June 15, 2010 - 3:55 pm

If phase 1 had the same per-km cost as Paris’s line 14, it would cost $750 million. Just sayin’.

rhywun June 15, 2010 - 6:54 pm

If cut-and-cover was good enough in the 1970’s, why isn’t it good enough now? The usual excuse of “minimal disruption” is hard to accept when one considers that the thing would have been DONE by now.

Alon Levy June 15, 2010 - 7:29 pm

Cut and cover sucks for tunneling deep, or under existing subway tunnels. In the 1970s the plan was to build the full line, which required a TBM. This time it’s in phases, and phase 1 doesn’t intersect any older line, but they already had the TBM. Probably more to the point, phase 1 needs to hook into the existing 63rd Street station, which is quite deep.

While best industry practice (in this case, Spanish practice) is to build as close to the surface as practical, sometimes deep tunneling is unavoidable, and in that case TBMs are better. (Spain has a real cost escalation problem nowadays. Barcelona’s Line 9, featuring 45 km of tunnel crossing under city center and the older lines, was originally budgeted at 1.9 billion Euros, and ended up costing 6.5 billion. Its per-km cost is now a full one ninth of the per-km cost of SAS.)

rhywun June 16, 2010 - 12:26 am

OK, I can accept that deep tunnels might be necessary under certain conditions. I’ve heard here and there, however, that deep tunnels are just “the way it’s done” now for whatever supposed benefits result – cost be damned. Then again, with almost no recent construction to compare this too, it’s hard to judge.

Alon Levy June 17, 2010 - 10:36 pm

It’s how it’s done when there’s no other option, which is often the case for infill lines in dense urban areas (including the 7 extension but not SAS, which doesn’t cross under anything between Houston and 125th). In fact most of the lines I’m comparing SAS’s cost with are deep-tunnel bores, and had cost escalations that were blamed on the depth of the tunnels.

But bear in mind that this is relevant for stations. For the actual tunnel, it doesn’t matter too much. If anything going deep can be good because it makes it likelier that the rock above will form a natural arch, reducing overburden.

Think twice June 16, 2010 - 1:12 pm

I agree. They should have just gone full-tilt Robert Moses on Second Ave and have whole stretches of it built in one go.

John June 16, 2010 - 12:45 am

Once the businesses saw the groundbreaking for the SAS, they should’ve started looking for property in the neighborhood that wasn’t on 2nd Avenue. Either that or it would be the time to try to invest in real estate near the SAS, instead of trying to continue the business near a construction zone.
But when the SAS is complete, businesses will do better as a result of being near the subway. Overall, in the future, it will benefit businesses to be near the SAS.

Stores suffer while 2 Ave. residents earn a break :: Second Ave. Sagas June 22, 2010 - 12:48 am

[…] construction continuing apace underneath Second Ave. and the MTA maintaining its intention to finish Phase 1 of the Second Ave. Subway by 2016, attention has turned to the impact construction has on both residents and businesses. For years, […]


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