Over the past few years, as the MTA has showed off progress underneath Second Ave., authority officials have made it a point to downplay anything more than Phase 1 of the subway. Although the environmental study for a full-length Second Ave. Subway came out in 2004, funding for only a northern extension of the BMT line from 57th St. and Broadway to 96th St. and Second Ave. is in place, and the future of the remaining phases is hazy at best.
On the record, MTA officials have never spoken about the possibilities for future phases. When I interviewed Jay Walder last year, he talked about firming up Phase 1 funding commitments and looking for ways to reduce construction costs. On future phases, he hedged.
“If you look at the Second Ave. Subway piece, to their credit, the planners…are achieving a very usable segment of a railway so that when it opens in 2016, you will have something that will connect into the rest of the system.” Walder said to me. “If we don’t stop there, where do we go from here? The intent is that it goes south from there, and funding-available, that is exactly what everyone’s objective will be. We also have pieces of preexisting tunnel north so you may well have the opportunity to pick up both ends of that.”
Yesterday, though, a very faint glimmer of a Phase 2 future emerged when Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), Chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, and Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) toured the Second Ave. construction site. The federal government has been a very active funding partner for Phase 1. Their investment and pledge of $1.4 billion pushed the MTA to realize a subway line eight decades in the works, and without the federal dollars, the Second Ave. Subway would still just be a dream on paper.
Lately, though, with the feds on an austerity kick despite the need to create jobs, funding for the Second Ave. Subway had come under fire. The House had voted to take away $40 million funding, but after their tour on Tuesday, Mica and Maloney promised to restore those dollars. “The Second Avenue Subway is a great example of what can be done when we invest in our infrastructure, and I thank Chairman Mica for committing to help ensure that the federal government meets its responsibility to fund the subway’s first phase,” Maloney said in a statement.
Mica meanwhile was more expansive in his views. Noting how the Second Ave. Subway is a major infrastructure project with the ability to create a substantial number of jobs, Mica spoke of the future. “For the benefit of other major transportation and infrastructure projects like the Second Avenue Subway, and the stability needed to undertake these kinds of projects around the country, it is essential that Congress complete a six-year transportation bill as soon as possible,” he said.
Speaking with reporters after their tour, Mica stressed how he would lobby for continuous federal funding to maintain the pace of this project, and in those words, I can find that glimmer of hope for the future. If the feds can continue supporting this project, they will put pressure on New York to find the money to go forward. Phase 2 — the northern extension up Second Ave. to the IRT stop at 125th St. and Lexington — would ensure that those working on Phase 1 aren’t unemployed when the construction project ramps down, and the transportation benefits would be tremendous.
I’ve long held out hope for Phase 2 to start as Phase 1 winds down. As Chapter 3 of the FEIS explains, due to preexisting tunnels, the MTA would use cut-and-cover construction methods to build Phase 2. It would likely cost far less than Phase 1 and shouldn’t take nearly as long to finish. In a sense, it is likely to be the easiest segment of the Second Ave. Subway.
Still, I’m getting ahead of myself. The MTA has to make sure Phase 1 is set to finish on time and on budget before it can launch into Phase 2 planning. But I want to believe the project will keep going. I want to believe the MTA won’t cease construction entirely and then ramp it back up to build Phase 2. It’s going to take the perfect alignment of political stars and funding fates, but maybe, just maybe, this little subway 82 years in the making has legs that extend a bit further north than 96th St.