Earlier this week, the MTA made, in the annals of capital construction, a relatively major announcement. On Monday morning at around 7:30 a.m., the final East Side Access TBM came to a stop six feet beneath the LIRR Main Line in Long Island City. The TBM named “Molina” made two runs and will now be scrapped. With its end, for the first time in three years, the MTA has no active tunneling machine boring through the city.
As part of the announcement, MTA officials were celebratory in their statements. And why not? After all, through economic turmoil, delayed schedules and numerous changes at the CEO position, the MTA has managed to complete 16 TBM runs since SELI, the first of the East Side Access TBMs began mining back in September of 2009.
“Sixteen brand new, concrete-lined tunnels now exist under New York City where none did five years ago,” MTA Chairman Joseph J. Lhota said. “For about sixty years, two generations, the New York transit system was essentially functioning in a status quo, with little action on expansion to meet the needs of a growing region. Today, we are lengthening a subway line, building the first quarter of what will be a new north-south trunk line running the length of Manhattan, and realizing a long-held dream of connecting the Long Island Rail Road to Grand Central Terminal. The conclusion of tunnel boring reminds us that New Yorkers remain capable of great achievements.”
As the tunnels dug out future train routes, New Yorkers and New Jerseyites will reap the benefits of the rock. Some college dormitory foundations have been constructed with the muck; a golf course has been stabilized; and much of the popular Brooklyn Bridge Park sits atop a foundation of dirt that once was under Manhattan or Queens.
The TBMs though won’t be put to further use in New York City. In its release, the MTA detailed the future of these machines. Adi, the Second Ave. Subway borer, is off to Indianapolis for future work while the two 7 line machines named for Mayor Bloomberg’s daughters have been dismantled. Of the four ESA TBMs, two are being scrapped, one has been dismantled and removed and the fourth has been encased in concrete and buried under Park Ave. at 37th St., a dead end for any sort of southern progress.
It is, of course, great news that the MTA has finished mining. Despite the years of work that still remain, with the tunnels in place, these projects are that more likely to move forward. No politician is too keen on seeing billions of dollars flushed down the drain as preexisting tunnels sit idle and unfinished. So the 7 line will open in less than two years with SAS due to wrap up in 2016 and ESA before the decade is out. It’s a generational change in the transit landscape.
Still, the MTA, with proper support, funding and foresight, could have done more. Adi, in particular, represents a lost opportunity as the MTA had a TBM underneath Second Ave. and removed it before the machine could dig south of 63rd St. or north of 99th. Subsequent phases of the Second Ave. Subway will be more complicated and costly due to the need to build a new launch box and procure and assemble another TBM. It’s redundant spending at its worst.
Yet, we have 13 miles of new tunnel, and that’s an accomplishment. Soon — or at least soon in the lifespan of a great city — we’ll have new train service and more transit options. It’s hard to be too upset by that news.