As hard as it is to believe, the current slate of MTA megaprojects are, by and large, operating at something akin to autopilot. While the authority still has to worry about construction timelines, budget caps and placating neighbors, the various expansion projects are generally well on their ways toward completion. Thus, it is never too early to talk about the far-off future.
Over the past few months, it’s become clear that, despite some concerns about timeframes and budget figures, the MTA has its projects under control. The 7 line is on pace to open in late 2013, and the Fulton Street Transit Center, after years of delays and a lack of leadership, is set for a 2014 debut. The authority is making progress underneath Second Ave. and continues to stress a 2016 revenue service date. The East Side Access Project’s timeline remains in limbo, but Capital Construction should be coming back with an update within the next few weeks.
So what’s next? We don’t know where the money will come from, but the MTA can’t stop expanding its system. There are too many worthwhile projects that have been years or decades in the making. As the MTA is no longer planning its current slate of projects, the authority could begin to look toward its next round of so-called megaprojects. As I see it, the authority could have four projects ready to go pretty quickly.
1. Second Ave. Subway Phase 2: As far as I’m concerned, this is a no-brainer. While Phase 1 of SAS is supposed to carry 200,000 passengers daily, for the line to be worthwhile, it must fulfill its full potential. Phases 3 and 4, through midtown, will be costly and tricky; after all, Michael Horodniceanu recently guessed the total price tag on the remaining sections to be over $23 billion. But Phase 2 should be the easiest. Much of the tunneling has been completed, and this Phase offers the promise of a connection to the Lexington Ave. IRT at 125th St. Furthermore, it allows the MTA the option to build north or west at a future date.
2. Reactivation of the Staten Island North Shore Rail: Restoring rail to Staten Island’s North Shore has been in the works for some time. At the behest of local politicians, the MTA has been hosted planning open houses for a few years, and they have developed a fairly extensive North Shore Alternatives Analysis website. The city’s Economic Development Corporation appears to be on board, and the authority issued a study last year focusing on the various transit possibilities.
3. Metro-North Access to Penn Station: Again, this is another project that has been percolating within the MTA for some time now, and it is largely dependent upon the East Side Access Project. Once ESA is completed, the MTA could bring some Metro-North trains into Penn Station to provide better access to both sides of Manhattan for residents from Westchester. In fact, this plan first popped up in the early 2000s, and the MTA revived discussions this past fall. The authority plans to release an environmental assessment in 2013 and has up a project website. For some reason, Long Island politicians and residents aren’t yet on board though.
4. Third-Tracking the LIRR Mainline: In 2005, the MTA to began to discuss plans to improve service along the LIRR Mainline, and those plans included a highly controversial third track. Long Island politicians and transit advocates feel that this is an entirely project that will help the LIRR adapt to a planned jump in ridership that a completed ESA will bring. Yet, NIMBYs along the route have long spoken out against it. Four years ago, some LI representatives stressed how this project would happen, but it’ll take a battle to see this one through.
These aren’t particularly out-of-the-box ideas for the MTA’s next big expansion push, but reading the tea leaves here is not challenging. The authority appears to have its sites set on these projects, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them become the focus of MTA Capital Construction as its current works wind down over the next few years. The key to all of them however will be the costs. The authority must figure out a way to get construction costs down to reasonable levels or else these projects won’t move from beyond the drawing board.