As this site nears its fifth birthday — I’ll reach the half-decade mark in late November — my thoughts have often turned toward the Second Ave. Subway. I started this site in 2006 when it became clear that Sen. Chuck Schumer and the then-newly empowered Senate Democrats would offer substantial funding to New York City for the completion of the first phase of the Second Ave. Subway. After 70 years of planning and numerous starts and stops, a salvation for the congesting East Side IRT and access for those who live on the far East Side was on the horizon.
Of course, that was before the market went south, before Lehman Brothers collapsed, before the state only guaranteed funding for two years of the MTA’s key 2010-2014 capital plan that would have all but guaranteed enough money to cover Second Ave. Subway construction. Economically and politically, things are much different than they were five years ago.
Yet, I feel more confident today that Phase 1 of the Second Ave. Subway will be completed — by 2016 or 2017 — that I have at any time earlier in this website’s life. The simple truth is that the MTA has spent too much money and expended too many resources to pull up stakes now. The western tunnel is complete; the eastern tunnel is two-thirds of the way to its destination at 63rd St. The federal government expects this project to be completed, and numerous other stakeholders do as well. It will get finished even if the fights over funding are far from over.
What is still surprising to me, though, is just how much remains to be completed. The MTA is quite pleased that Adi, the tunnel boring machine, will soon reach its southern destination, and the completion of the two tunnels should be viewed as a major milestone. But this blog will have to double in years before I have a chance to attend the ribbon-cutting along Second Ave. That’s a crazy long construction timeline.
That said, the MTA is moving forward. As The Daily News reported, Capital Construction is gearing up to award a few key contracts. The contracts, according to Pete Donohue, are for “tracks, signals and communications equipment,” and it is in the words of The Daily News, one of the project’s “last major construction contracts” as the Dec. 2016 completion date inches closer. “The Second Ave. subway is no longer just a blueprint – we’ve made enormous progress and we’re committed to getting it done,” MTA spokesman Jeremy Soffin said.
The finer print is available on the MTA CC procurement page. The authority plans to open C-26009 on July 28. As the Solicitation document notes, that contract is to last 61 months. That timeframe brings us up to the revenue date for the Second Ave. subway.
Yet, stormclouds are brewing on the horizon. As Donohue reports, the MTA still has to cover approximately $940 million in funding for SAS. It is anticipated that the federal government will cover some via infrastructure grants and that Albany will guarantee the rest through legislative action this fall when it finally takes up the MTA’s capital funding gap. But transit advocates are worried about belt-tightening in DC, and even with union, advocate and contractor pressure, Albany sometimes marches to its own drum.
So we wait. Since the 1930s, the Second Avenue Subway has come to symbolize infrastructure ineptitude on the part of New York City, its planners and politicians. Its construction has always preceded economic downturns, but the MTA seems intent on pushing through. The first five years have come by pretty quickly; now we just have to wait out the remaining five.