Soaring above the Gowanus Canal, nearly 90 feet above the ground, the Culver Viaduct offers sweeping views of the Manhattan skyline and, for years, a glimpse into the city’s crumbling transportation infrastructure. Sheathed in black wrapping to protect against failing waterproofing and crumbling concrete, the Viaduct is currently undergoing massive renovations that have left a significant portion of Red Hook without nearby subway service.
When the MTA first announced the Culver Viaduct rehab in 2007, plans called for a completion by the end of 2012. Well, here we are at the end of 2012, and the end is nowhere in sight. Over the course of the project, various pieces came and went. At one point, money for a full rehab for the 4th Ave. station disappeared, but local politicians were able to rescue most aspects of that plan. It was seemingly business as usual for an MTA capital project.
After various delays too tedious to chart here, the MTA shuttered Smith-9th Sts. in June of 2011 with a promise to reopen it in March of 2012. Nine months later, the MTA can say only that the station will open sometime during the first quarter of 2013, placing the station rehabilitation project one year overdue. Some reports in local Brooklyn media indicated that the station may not open until April. Those reports, however, have confused the project completion date with the station reopening. The two are not the same as the station can reopen before the entire project at Smith/9th is complete.
Meanwhile, the Culver Viaduct rehab witnessed another bump in cost by around $8 million. The MTA Board approved a retroactive modification to one of the project’s contracts for work on the 10th St. wall between 4th and 5th Avenues. The tale told in the modification plan is a warning for the rest of our infrastructure. It reads:
During a pre-award survey, some deterioration due to water leaks was observed, but the condition of the wall was determiend to be safe, and due to budget constraints, was not included in the contract scope. However, after contract award, during regular maintenance inspections, Subways observed further deterioration and by concrete core testing determined that the wall was in severely deteriorated condition and required extensive repair.
If that’s not a warning, I don’t know what is. A visual inspection can yield only so many details, and the MTA’s subsequent determination speak to the state of much of our outdoor subway system. We simply cannot afford to defer maintenance and repair stations, tunnels and supporting walls on the cheap.
Meanwhile, work will go on and on and on. Some of the delay at Smith/9th is attributable to the diversion of resources after Superstorm Sandy, but some of it isn’t. One day soon, Red Hook will have its subway stop back, and we’ll be left wondering what took so long. It’s the age-old MTA capital program question.