Home Second Avenue Subway At 63rd Street, Adi emerges

At 63rd Street, Adi emerges

by Benjamin Kabak

Adi breaks through at 63rd St. (Photo via Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Patrick Cashin)

On a chilly day in April of 2010 with skies grey and intermittent rain drops falling into a giant hole in the ground 70 feet below street level, MTA CEO and Chairman Jay Walder gathered with local politicians to launch Adi, the giant tunnel-boring machine that would be responsible for creating the Second Ave. Subway tubes. Yesterday morning shortly before 11:30, Adi completed her second run, and as a broke through into the preexisting station cavern at 63rd St. slightly east of Third Avenue, the MTA could celebrate a major milestone in a project that has taken 80 years and may still last at least another five.

“At street level it can be hard to notice progress sometimes, but down here you can see the Second Avenue Subway becoming a reality right before your eyes,” Walder said. “The completion of tunneling is an enormous milestone and further proof that the Second Avenue Subway is for real this time.”

Those two themes — street-level impact and progress that is “for real this time” — have dominated the coverage of the Second Ave. Subway work. In fact, on Wednesday night a few hours before the TBM finished its run, Second Ave. business owners again called upon someone, anyone to provide them with aid during the disruptive construction. “This is our 9/11,” one of them said less than tactfully during a meeting of Community Board 8.

The progress for real though is what officials came to celebrate yesterday. The Second Ave. Subway has come to stand for the city’s inability to see big projects through, and the jury is in fact still out on this one. Originally planned for construction during the 1930s, SAS ran into the Great Depression, a World War, the rise of the automobile and an economic slump in the 1970s. Along the way, politicians such as Sheldon Silver tried to kill the project by demanding the MTA fund it in full from one end of Manhattan to the next before starting construction, and even now, the FTA believes the MTA won’t meet its planned December 2016 revenue date.

Still, politicians were effusive in their praise. “This is a remarkable — and very welcome — milestone,” City Council Member Dan Garodnick said. “From above, it’s difficult to appreciate everything that is happening to move this project forward. But while it hasn’t always been smooth sailing, things are moving, and we can’t wait to see the first train come down the line. For straphangers on the overcrowded Lexington line and businesses in the construction zone, this is a moment to celebrate. It’s a moment that brings us closer to transit relief and to the additional infrastructure that will aid our City for many decades to come.”

Adi, the TBM, begin this journey through the east tunnel in March. The 485-ton, 450-long machine used a 22-foot diameter cutterhead to mine 7789 linear feet of rock at an average depth of 70 feet. Now that the tunnels are dug out, workers will line it with concrete as part of the permanent tunnel structure. While yesterday was a major milestone for Phase 1, though, the MTA has a long way to go. Stations must be built, ventilation shafts dug, money apportioned and future phases to consider.

Sandhogs pose in front of the Second Avenue Subway tunnel boring machine. (Photo via Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Patrick Cashin)

Ultimately, though, SAS is keeping construction workers on the job, and as the MTA looks ahead to some debt-filled years, I have to hope that the parts of the SAS we’ll see in my lifetime don’t just involve a northern extension of the Q train. One day, the T should arrive.

“This milestone is a tribute to the skilled contractors and trades people who work tirelessly every day to solve the complex engineering challenges and build the Second Avenue Subway in the most dense construction environment in the country,” Denise Richardson, managing director of the General Contractors Association of New York, said. “With this milestone, New York comes one step closer to completing a vision of the Second Avenue Subway first planned in the 1920’s. Let’s make sure we continue to have the vision and fortitude to continue to build the transportation network that is so critical to New York’s economy and basic mobility.”

For more on this milestone, check out Ben Heckscher’s post at The Launch Box. He snapped some great photographs of the event, and there’s a video as well that I’ve embedded after the jump.

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Frank B. September 23, 2011 - 1:52 am


Stu Sutcliffe September 23, 2011 - 8:34 am

The plight of the guy who made the 9/11 comment deserves our sympathy [very heavy sarcasm].

Larry Littlefield September 23, 2011 - 9:20 am

“Along the way, politicians such as Sheldon Silver tried to kill the project by demanding the MTA fund it in full from one end of Manhattan to the next before starting construction.”

I’m glad you remember that. Keep saying so; these pols rely on amnesia. It would be built up to 125th Street by now if it wasn’t for that nonsense.

Which reminds me: from the Post.

“The MTA says the project is the first phase of building a new subway line along Second Avenue all the way downtown.”

Well, I don’t think it is necessay to build the SAS all the way Downtown, though it would be nice. What I do think is necessary is to build it as far south as a station at 42nd Street, with tail tracks beyond.

The MTA plans to take the TBM out of the ground, cut it up, and sell it for scrap. Why? Then to restart construction, another “launch box” would be required right in the middle of Midtown.

Wrap the damn thing in plastic and leave it in the rock south of 63rd Street. Then in a more elightened age, perhaps after Generation Greed is dead and gone and its debts are paid, the project can be restarted with the tunneling spoils taken out overnight by rail and no surface disruption aside from stations.

Larry Littlefield September 23, 2011 - 9:23 am

“One day, the T should arrive.”

It would need a southern terminal. Thus the need to extend to 42nd Street, as noted above.

That would also mean the Broadway Line Extension (aka SAS) could be used by Upper East Side residents traveling to East Midtown as well as West Midtown and Lower Manhattan.

And with a transfer at 125th Street, it would provide a higher capacity alternative to the Lex for Bronx riders if deferred maintenace and/or the need to correct it ever led to a shutdown.

BrooklynBus September 23, 2011 - 10:18 am

I don’t believe that Silver’s intention was to kill it, but that certainly was the effect his actions had.

I wrote something similar last week.


al September 23, 2011 - 12:19 pm

Apparently this TBM is slated for a water tunnel job in Indianapolis. Perhaps when its done there it can come back.

Lucy September 23, 2011 - 3:08 pm

Enough with the “Generation Greed” garbage already!

Bolwerk September 24, 2011 - 1:05 am

Larry has a point with that. Boomer jackassery has gone a long way towards leaving subsequent generations with little to work with. It will only get worse too. The stupid pricks voted away their own social safety nets. They voted to dismantle the transit networks so they’d have more of other people’s money to keep subsidizing highways. They’ve even done their best to help make the next generations stupider and poorer by refusing to run proper schools, encourage good nutrition, etc.. You can be damn sure they’re going to feel every bit as entitled when they’re tired, embittered neocon eightysomethings as they did when they were as mealy liberals giving each other gonorrhea in the backs of their parents’ cars in the 1950s and ’60s. Now, in their latest fit of malignant self-absorption, they’ve decided that, in the one moment in the past 40 years when it would really do everyone a lot of good, increasing government borrowing/spending is off the table. You know, because it suddenly matters that it might cost money later when it’s about helping the less fortunate and often younger people who aren’t getting a chance at having the economic security the boomers enjoy.

Generation Greed? Meh, more like Generation Narcissism. Malignant narcissism at that.

Alon Levy September 24, 2011 - 3:42 pm

Bolwerk, when American cities dismantled their transit networks, Boomers were in diapers. And when American governments made a collective decision to build toll-free roads everywhere, Boomers’ parents were toddlers.

Bolwerk September 24, 2011 - 7:09 pm

Yes, fair enough, other generations made some decisions too, but not with the same zeal. But I would consider the last great shedding of American transit infrastructure to be the 1970s, when boomers were fully politically ascendent, not the 1940s. The 1940s/1950s was the first, and it at least was driven as part of a worldwide trend towards highways. It is the conditions of transit in the 1970s-1990s that brought us gifts like the MTA’s debt crisis today. Before the 1940s, infrastructure was at least lost for more market-driven* than policy-driven reasons. National highway construction began most earnestly in the 1950s and continued to the 1980s or 1990s when the interstate system roughly finished. Much of the rest of the world reconsidered it by the 1970s, and we still haven’t even begun to be honest about paying for what we have.

* Streetcar use, for instance, peaked around 1915 IIRC, but that’s partly because streetcars weren’t especially viable in many of the places they were built to begin with.

Alon Levy September 26, 2011 - 12:15 pm

National highway construction began most earnestly in 1917, continued with gusto through the 1920s and the US Highway system (putting the interurbans and local trains out of business and leaving only the premium long-distance trains), and then accelerated in the 1930s with the New Deal. The Interstates were just a culmination of the previous forty years.

But sure, in the 1970s the US could’ve made a decision to stop destroying its cities, and didn’t. The biggest blame most likely goes to the failure to rescue the hostages in Iran. Carter was trying to push the US in the right direction, albeit haltingly. Then Reagan came along and told people from the middle class up that everything they were doing is fine.

Bolwerk September 26, 2011 - 1:37 pm

It wasn’t exactly “national” in a meaningful sense until the postwar period. It was local or state. That does not mean some highway construction was not federally funded, especially during the Depression. Such examples weren’t exactly the kind of limited access expressways (“parkways”) that Moses already was building in the 1930s, and even those weren’t exactly following the Autobahn model of the the Interstates. (Some, like route 1 through the Florida Keys, were built on RR ROWs.)

Eh, well, the way I see it is there is a point where you have a new-ish idea that seems like it may work and you try it for a while and a point where you’re just pushing back against reality – and if there is one thing that politically unifies the boomer generation it’s pushing back against reality. I expect that some highways would have been built in the early automobile age, and that limited access expressways would be experimented with. Maybe people didn’t grasp induced demand, climate change, petro-politics, and other implications of autocentric planning in 1970, but it was already beginning to become obvious that a new lane of highway was making the problem worse rather than making it better.

Yeah, Carter had foresight, but little ability to effect [sic] policy. One thing is for sure, and that is every president since learned the lesson Carter did: don’t fuck with Big Oil if you want to get reelected. Clinton had a prosperous economy behind him, and he didn’t touch the issue either. Hell, a huge spurt of SUV consumption began then. Even, in the midst of an energy crisis most people ignore in favor of talk about cutting future deficit spending, Obama barely is touching it. And now, there isn’t even much hope that the days of $1.50 gasoline are going to come back.

SEAN September 23, 2011 - 9:31 am

Curious, I wonder how this effects East Side Access at all since that tunnel will cary those trains all be it another level.

Scott E September 23, 2011 - 7:39 pm

Different tunnel, Sean. ESA shares the tunnel with the F train as it crosses under the East River, but from there it forks off (I assume beneath 63rd/Lex station) into its own tunnel over to Lex and down to 42nd.

Jason September 23, 2011 - 9:32 am

Isn’t there another punch-thru still to come (the lower level) or did that already happen?

Jerrold September 23, 2011 - 10:32 am

I believe that they are going to do that with blasting, because it would have been too sharp a turn for the TBM to handle.

Scott E September 23, 2011 - 11:18 am

Let’s back her up to 72nd Street and have Adi start digging Phase 3. You know, since she’s already underground.

In other news, it looks like the federal government is funding preliminary engineering of Amtrak’s version of ARC…. http://www.nj.com/news/index.s.....preli.html

Hank September 23, 2011 - 12:15 pm

Read Ben’s post at the Launch Box. The TBM is now being sent to another project (in Indiana), so we can’t just bury it. However, stub tunnels at 72nd should be built to aid in future construction. That’s just prudent.

Scott E September 23, 2011 - 7:45 pm

They wouldn’t be at 72nd St station, but a bit south of 72nd after a stretch of tunnel. There are (will be) mined underground caverns in each of the tunnels with sufficient space for track switches and other equipment — I’m not sure if it’s done as part of the tunnel contract or the 72nd St station contract, but it is part of Phase 1. When 72nd St station shrunk from 3-track to 2-track, they could no longer fit four tunnels into its southern end.

Eric September 23, 2011 - 3:10 pm

9 years and $6 billion for 2 miles of new subway. What a crowning achievement for the ages.

BrooklynBus September 23, 2011 - 4:42 pm

The Queens Blvd connection was only 1200 feet. I think it took even longer.

al September 23, 2011 - 9:04 pm

What was the reason they built the line under E63rd st instead of E61st st?

That alignment would have made a transfer to the IRT Lex far easier to build. Heck that alignment would allow for a stub to Columbus Circle (or a track connection to 8th Ave IND) for crosstown shuttle. That crosstown facility would alleviate the congestion on several lines in Midtown caused by the lack of a crosstown line connecting Columbus Circle (A,B,C,D, 1) and the Lexington Ave (4,5,6).

A 61st alignment would leave 200′ clearance to the 60th St tunnels under the East Rr, 50’+ clearance north of the Queensboro Br, and a bored through bedrock tunnel adjacent to the elevated section of the Astoria Line on Queens Plaza North. A moderately deep station at Queensboro Plaza would connect to the 7, Astoria, and Queens Blvd Lines. From there, they had multiple alignment options: wide blvds, highways, rail ROWs, and (under) parks. Destinations included LGA, JFK, and other undeserved parts of Queens.

A 3-4 track 2 platform LIRR station on the lower level at Queensboro Plaza would make the area very attractive to develop as a business district ala Downtown Bk or Jersey City (but with lower rents).

Justin September 23, 2011 - 11:25 pm

Rockefeller University had earthquake monitoring equipment, and they said if the tunnel was placed at E61st, the rumblings for the trains would interfere with their equipment. So that’s why it was build under E63rd Street.

al September 24, 2011 - 2:50 pm

Rockefeller University is on York Ave between E62nd and E68th St. Unless the equipment is under the park next to the Queensboro Bridge and BMT 60th St tunnel, that doesn’t make any sense. The current 63rd St tunnel runs right between Rockefeller University and Rockefeller University Hospital.

Evan September 23, 2011 - 5:19 pm

You think it’s bad now? Just watch: A few years from now, people will be dancing in the streets over 2 INCHES instead of 2 miles.

Ron Aryel September 25, 2011 - 1:46 am

An important occasion. And, no, Benjamin, Sheldon Silver did not try to kill the whole project. There were concerns uptown that the SAS would be only built to bring people in wealthy neighborhoods down to Wall Street. The project’s phasing is the answer: Harlem benefits from Phase I ending relatively close by, and Phase II will cover Harlem itself.

Larry Littlefield September 26, 2011 - 12:18 pm

“There were concerns uptown that the SAS would be only built to bring people in wealthy neighborhoods down to Wall Street. The project’s phasing is the answer: Harlem benefits from Phase I ending relatively close by, and Phase II will cover Harlem itself.”

The proposal that Silver stopped went all the way to 125th Street. He objected to a proposal for a light rail system through the East Village and along 14th Street to Union Square, claiming it would cheat his neighborhood of the full SAS. See this 1995 report and DEIS.


After a stall of a few years, a revised plan was released in 2003.


All that time ESA was moving forward. The light rail was eliminated and a proposal was made to plan the entire line. Silver then allowed it to go forward. But by that time, there was only enough money for three stations, without even detailed planning for the part up to 125th.

Eight years of delay for Silver to show he was boss, even as he agreed to a budget that slashed NYC’s share of state school aid at about the same time. He also managed to delay the SAS into a Republican Administration in Washington.

Sorry, but I don’t get the kind of amnesia these pols count on.

Building Transit Today: The Second Avenue Subway October 4, 2011 - 8:01 am

[…] right to the 63rd Street Station where the tunnel boring machine nicknamed ‘ADI’ emerged out of the east tunnel right into the station just last […]

Building Transit Today: The Second Avenue Subway | Untapped Cities July 23, 2013 - 12:02 pm

[…] right to the 63rd  Street Station where the tunnel boring machine nicknamed ‘ADI’ emerged out of the east tunnel right into the station just last […]


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