Before leading us into the cavern of the 7 line extension last Friday, MTA Capital Construction President Michael Horodniceanu spoke at length about the megaprojects currently under his auspices. We know the story of the city-funded 7 line extension and the ever-ballooning costs and construction timeline for the East Side Access project. We know too that Phase 1 of the Second Ave. Subway is currently on pace for revenue service in December 2016 even if initial reports seven years ago predicted a 2012 finish. But what of the rest of the project?
During his talk on the MTACC, Horodniceanu mentioned in broad sweeps the future of the Second Ave. Subway. For many years, MTA officials refused to speak much about Phases 2-4 of the project. They were focused on securing funding for the remainder of Phase 1 and ensuring that this part of the long-awaited East Side subway line would truly see the light of day this time around. After three failed attempts at building the line, after all, and with billions of dollars in federal money on the line, the MTA couldn’t afford to let this opportunity pass.
Now, though, we’ll have a subway that connections from the BMT Broadway stop at 57th St., swings east to 63rd and Lexington and continues north to 96th St. and Second Ave. It is Phase 1 of a four-phase project, and maybe one day, when the 2015-2019 capital plan comes up, the MTA will look for more funding for future phases. Of course, as Horodniceanu explained, the irony is that with some extra money now, the MTA could have built SAS up to 115th St.
Since preexisting tunnels connect from 99th St. to 105th and from 110th to 119th, the MTA, said Horodniceanu “could now build stations at 105th St. and 115th St.” The cost would be a cool $750 million – $1 billion per station, but the only obstacle is the money. The environmental impact statements are completed, and the tunnels themselves are in place. In fact, some of the tunnel north of 99th St. will be used as tail tracks for Phase 1.
Of course, as we know, the MTA isn’t going to build those stations any time soon. In fact, we don’t even know if future phases of the so-called stubway line will see the light of day. On Friday, Horodniceanu estimated that the remaining three phases could cost a total of $23-$24 billion. Seven years ago, the four phases combined were expected to cost a total of $16 billion. By the time the authority puts their shovels or TBMs into the ground, I’m sure that estimated total will increase to even higher levels.
Essentially, the original decision to split the Second Ave. Subway project into four phases doomed it from the start. The origins of that decision these days have always been a bit murky. Some have said it came about due to pressure from Sheldon Silver and the realities of funding. The MTA didn’t think it could secure the full funding amount at the start and tried to break the project into more palatable pieces.
A Times story from 1999 tells a slightly different story: “Transit officials said they had limited the plan for new construction to upper Manhattan because of the engineering difficulties and expense of extending a new line under the more congested parts of midtown.” In this telling, it almost seems as those Phases 3 and 4 were simply for show. Phases 1 and 2 were easier and cheaper, but the charade of Phases 3 and 4 could keep hope alive. The truth is probably somewhere in between.
Today, we live with this decision. We’ll have Phase 1 at least, and Phase 2, while also expensive, should see the light of day. Beyond that, it’s anyone’s guess. Phase 3 through Midtown will be a challenge, and Phase 4 through Lower Manhattan will be too. The MTA though made this bed 13 years ago, and today, as the pace of construction slows and costs go up, we live with it.