When New York City Transit announced that, as part of their service cuts, the M train would run from Middle Village to Forest Hills via Sixth Ave., many riders were confused about this routing. While those in the know knew about the Chrystie St. Cut, only New Yorkers around for the death of the K train in 1976 could lay claim to knowledge of that connection, and after 34 years of silence, the tunnel connecting Essex St. on the BMT Nassau St. line with Broadway/Lafayette on the IND Sixth Ave. had been lost to the sands of subway time.
Today — two days after Doomsday — we know all about the Chrystie St. Cut. We know that a train with 60-foot cars only can slowly wind its way from Essex to the Sixth Ave., and we know that residents in northern Brooklyn and southern Queens are enjoying the new one-seat ride to Chelsea and Midtown. They ought to, after all; it was an expensive connection to build.
Our tale starts in 1954, nearly 15 years before initial revenue service on the Cut would begin. That year, the Transit Authority, the precursor to the MTA, asked the Board of Estimate for $172 million for capital improvements. In their request was a $37 million outlay for the entire Chrystie St. Connection that would allow BMT trains coming off of the Manhattan and Williamsburg Bridges to transfer over to the IND tracks in Manhattan. In 2009 dollars, that would be akin to a $292 million price tag, small beans considering the cost of the Second Ave. Subway and 7 line extension.
From the get-go, the project faced a lukewarm reception. New York City planning officials worried that the connection would be a “possible detriment to efficient rapid transit traffic movement” to and from Lower Manhattan. In 1957, however, these objections were put to bed, and the TA promised a three-year construction timeline. The Board of Estimates authorized a $10.2 million expenditure for the first phase, up from $9 million a year before, and on November 25, 1957, officials gathered for the groundbreaking. The price had risen to $58 million or $437 million in 2009 dollars. Even in the 1950s, the TA couldn’t control construction costs.
In 1961, a year after the TA’s initial deadline, trouble began. One report accused the authority of wasting money on the modernization project. As 1961 turned into 1962 turned into 1963, the costs rose from $60 million to $70 million. By the end of 1963, one report had the project’s cost at $74.8 million or $518 million in 2009 dollars. In 1964, the new connection was still supposedly one year away from being ready for service, and the city started a clean-up effort that involved restoring parks and removing unsightly barriers.
Finally, a decade after beginning work, in November of 1967, the Chrystie St. Connection went into service. While the passengers were confused, the Manhattan Bridge connection proved to be a hit. The Williamsburg Bridge/Chrystie St. Cut sections suffered though. The KK, a skip-stop service to Jamaica, went into service in the summer of 1968, and commuters were unhappy. The routes were slow and often indirect. By 1975, the MTA had announced plans to pull the plug on the Chrystie St. Cut, and in August of 1976, amidst budget crises and deficits, the KK was no more. In the end, construction of the Chrystie St. Connection took 10 years while K trains ran through the Cut for just eight.
When the last K train rolled down that line, little did New Yorkers realize that a useful subway connection would be severed from the Beame Years until the reign of King Bloomberg. It is ironic too that service originally cut due to a budget deficit was this time restored for the same reasons. I’ll have more riders of the M train later today, but it is a fascinating history. The Chrystie St. Connection remains vital today as trains coming off of the Manhattan Bridge have used it for decades, and now, after just eight years of initial use and nearly four decades of neglect, the Williamsburg connection has been restored. Through it all, we’re still waiting for both a properly funded transit system and the Second Ave. Subway, an original impetus for the Chrystie St. work all those years ago.