Home Capital Program 2015-2019 Without champions, what future capital expansion?

Without champions, what future capital expansion?

by Benjamin Kabak

Over the past few weeks, as I’ve looked ahead to a new MTA Chair, a new Mayor of New York City and a new future for the MTA’s capital programs, I’ve often mentioned the need for a champion for each ongoing expansion project. The current slate of capital programs all had their vocal and forceful proponents, but right now we’re not seeing too many voices for transit expansion. What happens then when those voices fall silent?

During the current age of MTA expansion, each capital project has come with a powerful funding partner. The new South Ferry, currently in post-Sandy limbo, came about due to the largesse of the federal government. It was a post-9/11 recovery project that allowed the MTA to expand and straighten a platform that served as both a tourist connection to Battery Park and a lifeline to the subway for Staten Island ferry riders. It wasn’t absolutely necessary, but the money was essentially free.

Elsewhere, we’ve seen similar stories with a varying group of supporters. The East Side Access — arguably the least bang for the city’s buck — had then-Senator Alfonse D’Amato pushing for it until he was blue in the face. He eventually secured considerable federal funding and, of course, a 20-year construction and planning timeline. We could debate the merits of that one forever.

More immediately, the two ongoing subway extension projects have local boosters. Mayor Michael Bloomberg incorporated the 7 line extension into his grand plan to attract the 2012 Olympics to New York City. When that bid fell through, he maintained some of the subway plan in order to bring development to the Far West Side, Manhattan’s so-called Final Frontier. It is, in essence, his lasting gift to the isle of Manhattan. For the Second Ave. Subway, New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver served as cheerleader-in-chief.

In each case, New Yorkers — taxpayers — are paying a lot and not getting enough for their dollars. The MTA’s construction costs remain higher than just about any other transit agency or country throughout the world. But still, these projects march on because some politician or another wanted them at the right moment in time. The MTA has conducted the environmental impact studies and bid out the actual work, but the politicians have led the charge.

We’re quickly reaching a point in city history where these efforts will wrap and nothing will take its place. Christine Quinn, as Nicole Gelinas noted, had no grand expansion plans despite her call for mayoral control of the MTA. John Liu may not know what a subway is; Bill de Blasio wants more and more federal money; and Sal Albanese, a long-shot candidate with the best transportation plan around, has yet to call for any specific expansion project. Meanwhile, in Albany, Silver hasn’t made any noise about future Second Ave. Subway phases, and the Governor is more concerned with realizing the Tappan Zee Bridge boondoggle than with any transportation projects that would improve interconnectedness to and throughout New York City.

Now, subway expansion failures are not for lack of trying. The MTA and RPA have pushed the Triboro RX plan on and off for nearly two decades (though more on than off), and Diane Savino seems to think she can get a Staten Island subway just by throwing a fit about it. Meanwhile, Bloomberg wants his 7 train to Secaucus but time is fast running out on his term. Other ideas — a Rockaway Beach Branch line reactivation, a Nostrand Ave. extension, future Second Ave. phases — are out there awaiting a movement.

But no one is taking this bull by the horns, and until someone does, we’ll be left with nothing. Over the next year, the MTA will request funding for its next five-year capital plan, and it might just be the least ambitious one yet with a focus instead on behind-the-scenes maintenance and upgrades. Without a champion or a voice in Albany, City Hall or D.C., the subway system will remain as it is once Phase 1 of the Second Ave. subway opens, and New Yorkers will be left wanting someone to raise a stink about it.

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John-2 April 23, 2013 - 3:08 am

It really comes down to ego or votes — that is a project has to be driven by either the ego of a key politician (Bloomberg and the Hudson Yards project) or by the votes they think they can garner by pushing a project (D’Amato with ESA and his Long Island stronghold). But the problem is there are few pols with the ego and power to drive a project forward who are interested in mass transit, and votes can be more easily gained through other government spending — as the SAS construction shows, you’re just as likely to lose votes as you are to gain them until the project opens because of the high NIMBY factor in New York over the past half century.

The pain comes before the gain, and in most pols’ minds, they don’t want to take the chance that the guy who replaces them will be the one to get the credit when the new subway opens, while they only get the blame for the noise, dust and detours. Add to that the Bob Moses factor — Moses loved bridges and hated tunnels because the bridges were out in the open for everyone to see and which would remind them of Robert Moses; tunnels, rail or road, are in the ground where nobody can see the infrastructure, unless you build some ostentatious headhouse that is just a monument to the people who built it (which is why the Calatrava porcupine got way more love from the politicians involved than the actual WTC tracks and rolling stock ever did or will).

BrooklynBus April 23, 2013 - 8:39 am

Funny you shoud call Sheldon Silver a cheerleader in chief for the Second Avenue Subway when it was at his insistence in the 1970s that the MTA not break up the subway into two phases and that we build the “cuphandle” that delayed the project and ultimately killed it for 30 years until it was reactivated into four phases instead of the two that he was against.

Larry Littlefield April 23, 2013 - 10:08 am

I agree he should never, ever be able to live that down.

In the meantime, one reason there is no support for transit expansion is that we have gotten nothing for all the money and disruption so far. Nothing. And with no capital plan, ongoing normal replacement is at risk.

The time to push for expansion is when the three station BMT Broadway line expansion opens, and people start using it. Then it’s time to push for the rest of the original proposal Silver killed, to 125th Street.

Among other things, that would provide an alternative to the Lex for people in the Bronx in cases of GOs and other outages. And it would allow commuters from points north to transfer and get to the hospital/universtity complex on the Upper East Side, which is the size of a CBD in most of the country.

Bolwerk April 23, 2013 - 10:50 am

He was against it in the 1970s? I seem to recall him whining about it in the 1990s or early 2000s on the basis that his district should have it first, but it only took so long for him to relent. He’s only been speaker since 1994 or so.

BrooklynBus April 23, 2013 - 11:12 am

No he was always for SAS. But when costs started escalating the MTA proposed it be broken into two phases. The plan was to first build the upper half in the 1970s and the lower half in the 1980s. If they were allowed to do that most likely the first half would have been completed and maybe even the entire line by now. Silver insisted that they start construction all over at the same time so three separate holes were dug, one in Chinatown for about a half mile. Then he insisted that they build a cuphandle in the lower east side to better serve his district. He wouldn’t let the MTA continue construction until they agreed to the cuphandle which they refused to do because it woud have greatly increased costs.

He kept the argument going for three years while costs escalated about 30 %. Then the budget crisis started getting worse and the City withdrew some support. Finally, the MTA just halted the project completely putting it on hiatus. When the project was finally restarted, costs had quadrupled.

It was all Silver’s fault because if they didn’t build three separate holes at the same time as he insisted, we could have had the 72nd Street stop open in the 1970s and probably woud have had at least enough money to go to 96th Street before the budget crunch. The rest of the project may have been delayed anyway, but anyway you look at it we would have been in better shape than we are today with nothing open and 25 years since the last new subway station opened not counting South Ferry.

Larry Littlefield April 23, 2013 - 11:36 am

I believe that Silver blocked the MTA plan for the SAS — basically what we have now up to 125th Street — in the mid-1990s. Because he demanded a “full subway.”

The result was a delay as a second EIS was done for a full subway. By the time that was over, costs had escalated and it was cut back to two stations.

And if you think that all that paperwork won’t have to be redone anyway if the southern half ever gets built, think again.

Nathanael May 8, 2013 - 12:50 am

Ah. The phenomenon which has prevented Toronto from getting any transit improvements. “Gold plating or bust! Finish everything or bust! Something for everyone or bust!” Result: bust.

John-2 April 23, 2013 - 4:21 pm

The cuphandle plan wasn’t directly part of the SAS when it was conceived, but was seen as a branch off the 14th Street line — a spur would be built east of the First Avenue station on the L (LL back then) and go down Avenue C, with one stop there before turning north on Houston and connecting with the unused center tracks at Second Avenue.

They really didn’t have a plan for where it was going to go from there, and it really didn’t help people living south of Houston, who were still going to be stuck trekking to Essex Street. But Silver and his group did know nobody used the 14th Street line, so it could certain afford the capacity to turn trains away from Brooklyn (so, yea, given the current ridership patterns, reviving this proposal is pretty much of a non-starter…)

BrooklynBus April 23, 2013 - 5:53 pm

But Silver would not let the Second Avenue Subway project move forward without the cuphandle in the plans, although it could have been added later if there were enough funding.

SEAN April 23, 2013 - 7:40 pm

Cuphandle? Can you explane what & where that is.


Benjamin Kabak April 23, 2013 - 7:42 pm
SEAN April 23, 2013 - 8:20 pm

Thank you Ben, that was a big help.

lawhawk April 23, 2013 - 8:47 am

None of the pretenders vying for the mayor’s race will be around for the ribbon cutting should it ever occur given the length of time on these projects. Term limits plays a role on that, so they’re focused more on what they can do right now.

Yet, that’s precisely what mass transit needs – something that can break the logjam on costs and time to bring capital projects in to revenue service.

There are plenty of projects floating around that deserve funding, not the least of which is expanding the 2d Ave line beyond Phase 1.

While the Staten Island expansions have gotten a bit of press recently, one of the reasons that mass transit is such a mess on the Island is that there are quite a few Staten Islanders who don’t want to see the subways come to their neck of the woods since it would introduce a different element to their borough. So, while they clamor for cheaper VZB tolls or a HBLR extension, they’re not going to take the steps to expand the SIR or bring SBS that could bring real congestion relief.

And because the MTA needs federal/state/city support for a capital program due to insufficient funding, the ability to expand the system is constrained until Albany decides that mass transit is a priority. That’s just not happening with Cuomo in office. He’s essentially ignoring mass transit, even though he saw its importance in the wake of Sandy.

Alex April 23, 2013 - 11:48 am

It’s conceivable that phase 2 of SAS could be completed within 8 years, given the existing tunnels already in place. Even cutting the ribbon shortly after a completed second term could help a mayor move on to other aspirations. Seems like a pretty obvious plank for a mayoral candidate to take up. Sadly, the obvious seems to often escape most of the current mayoral candidates.

Nathanael May 8, 2013 - 12:51 am

“It’s conceivable that phase 2 of SAS could be completed within 8 years, given the existing tunnels already in place. ”

Certainly the southern two stations of phase 2 could be completed within 8 years. (125th St. might take a bit longer… but the stations could easily be opened one at a time.)

Nyland8 April 23, 2013 - 9:42 am

If building political consensus for subway expansion is the goal, then it would seem that no project is better poised than Triboro Rx.

By offering the ultimate connectivity between lines, finding strong advocates in Queens and Brooklyn should be easily achievable. Just remind them of the inconvenient devastation of Sandy, and how a beltway would have given them another way around the flooded tunnels in lower Manhattan. Kings and Queens on board!

Judicious use of the St Mary’s tunnel would connect the 6, 2&5, BD4 and the Harlem and Hudson MetroNorth lines at the very least. All that bang for the buck, and most of it using existing infrastructure. Bronx on board!

Manhattan is an easy pitch when you explain to the riders that they are currently sharing crowded space with countless commuters who travel through New York County from one outer borough to another, and who would rather take the quicker bypass. Manhattan on board!

Finally, Richmond could be pitched by telling them that once the T-Rx is completed, the only place left to go is from Owls Head to St. George – making it the Quad-Boro Rx – which should perhaps be the sales pitch from the very beginning. Staten Island on board!

With the right presentation, and the right press, you’d cultivate political champions in every borough. All Aboard!

Bolwerk April 23, 2013 - 10:57 am

I agree Triborough RX is one of the best projects, but best poised politically? The most obvious cheerleader might be Liu, who as Ben noted probably doesn’t know what a subway is. Quinn probably doesn’t know what an outer borough is.

Perhaps de Blasio would be open. Anyone else is a long shot.

Larry Littlefield April 23, 2013 - 11:37 am

Does Triboro RX mean giving up on rail freight? Tha would create opposition.

Bolwerk April 23, 2013 - 11:46 am

Alon Levy says no, I’m less sure. Or, at least I think doing it without giving up freight likely will be more expensive, although there is apparently room for separate tracks along much of the ROW.

Although, maybe a temporal separation approach like River Line would is another possibility. Plus, regulations are changing somewhat.

Alon Levy April 23, 2013 - 8:11 pm

Short answer: no.

Long answer: there are a few parts of the ROW that are only two tracks wide, though most of the ROW is wider. If keeping rail freight for a few trains per day is desired, there are two options. One is running freight at night (FRA nightmare, but technically not a problem; freight trains are narrower than the AAR loading gauge and would fit within IND/BMT platform clearances). The other is widening the narrow parts of the ROW by a track.

Widening the ROW costs money and is likely to create neighborhood opposition, but both are secondary factors compared to what any cross-harbor freight tunnel would create. Without such a tunnel there’s no point in retaining freight service; with such a tunnel, the cost of widening the ROW becomes relatively unimportant, and the NIMBYism is only going to get slightly worse than it already is in the neighborhoods next to the freight line.

John Doe April 23, 2013 - 9:57 am

And that’s exactly what we’ll get Benjamin, NOTHING! It’s sad but true. Our leaders are incompetent and don’t understand that we need more mass transit options. I bet in 50 years we’ll be having the same conversation.
“The MTA’s construction costs remain higher than just about any other transit agency or country throughout the world.”
This is inexcusable!! enough is enough! we need to go back to investing in infrastructure, not these bloated unions. If the Chinese can do it, why can’t we? It’s time to hire non-union and get the job done right and timely.

Benjamin Kabak April 23, 2013 - 9:59 am

I mostly agree with you but “If the Chinese can do it, why can’t we?” is not a compelling line of argument. They can do it because they have no regard for the safety or well-being of their workers or for the property rights of those in the way of construction or for the environment. I’d look elsewhere where construction is much cheaper before relying on comparisons with the Chinese.

lawhawk April 23, 2013 - 10:37 am

Costs for similarly scoped projects in Europe (whether subway systems in Paris or London, or rail projects in Germany, Switzerland, France) are significantly lower.

That includes projects where the companies involved also happen to do work here in the states. Some of those companies, like Dragados (a Spanish company) bought their way into US markets (buying Schiavone for one) and not without problems.

In some ways, the problems are due to privatizing functions that transit agencies used to do in-house. There’s also a refusal by US planners to avoid starchitecture that can ramp up the costs (see Calatrava’s WTC hub).

Bolwerk April 23, 2013 - 11:06 am

Scale elsewhere seems more modest period, even if you discount absurdities like uncalled for headhouses.

Part of the reason: projects get capital financing once from the feds, so there is incentive to overbuild.

BrooklynBus April 23, 2013 - 11:13 am

Remember that brand new apartment building in China tat just keeled over and collapsed a few years ago?

Jeff April 23, 2013 - 10:23 am

Not sure if it’s got everything to do with unions either. Europe is heavily unionized and they can still manage to build their stuff (granted they pay a lot higher taxes there)

SEAN April 23, 2013 - 12:51 pm

Blaming unions is an easy out that doesn’t bring any substance to the discussion as they don’t make the dessisions on a project. Government & those in their back pocket do.

Benjamin Kabak April 23, 2013 - 12:52 pm

That’s a bit more naive than reality though. Unions have a significant say in staffing levels, etc. That’s a big reason why MTA projects are so overstaffed.

SEAN April 23, 2013 - 1:19 pm

Sorry Ben, let me rephrase it… I wasn’t referring to such issues as staffing, rather I was referring to what actually will get built. Unionized contractors maybe constructing the new WTC PATH hub, but the workers themselves didn’t choose to construct that monstrosity of a head house, the Port Authority unwisely made that choice for them.

Blame really falls on the agencies & the higher ups at the construction companies, as cost escalate for every little thing that happens.

al April 23, 2013 - 6:05 pm

Most of the cost is underground. The porcupine is $700 million of a $3.44+ billion project.

al April 23, 2013 - 6:09 pm

The project designs and construction phasing can also slow down the schedule and drive up cost. Instead of having a moving linear assembly line where one work team follows the next as the tunnels are excavated, soil stabilized, lined, and fitted out, its excavate, then line, then fit out. It drives up overhead and schedule and is pretty much the opposite of what the low cost Barcelona and Madrid subways did.

Theorem Ox April 23, 2013 - 1:14 pm

Not necessarily. It does depend on which unions we’re talking about.

Some unions are quite powerful and (charitably speaking) overzealous with demands and rules. Sometimes to the point where they will effectively hijack the decisions of management and government. The construction unions behind MTA projects certainly have in the past and I suspect will do so for some time.

And then there are some unions, which are “unions on paper” effectively and management have them in a vise grip. They can certainly be spared of the blame (with the exception of perhaps complacency that may be responsible for the union being in the position they’re in).

Bolwerk April 23, 2013 - 1:54 pm

Union demands are sometimes over the top, but I have trouble blaming the unions for advocating in their own best interest. That’s what unions are for.

I blame the people who don’t say no to them. Politicians and managers should be balancing the needs of the public against wishes of the unions, and that’s where the problem lies.

Douglas John Bowen April 23, 2013 - 11:09 am

Woefully too pessimistic; one can see the barrage of criticism (including supposed runaway costs) leveled at projects such as the Brooklyn Bridge to see that not too much is new under the sun. As just one observation, the vitriol levied at the current mayor blinds many to the fact that a No. 7 line extension may indeed become quite useful, quite beneficial.

Argue away with theoretical laundry lists all one wants; there’s always a “better” and more deserving project lacking political backing. But in the grass-is-greener department, it could be worse: There could be nothing going on right now. Look just west of the Hudson Ocean at New Jersey if one needs reminding.

Benjamin Kabak April 23, 2013 - 11:10 am

I’m not lobbing vitriol at Bloomberg here. He saw a project he wanted, realized it would be beneficial and pushed it through. What about that is vitriol?

I also don’t see how this is pessimistic. In fact, New Jersey just proves my point. When someone who wasn’t a champion for transit expansion stepped into the governor’s role, the state’s transit expansion project was canceled with nothing picked up to replace it, no?

Bolwerk April 23, 2013 - 11:58 am

We don’t have to look outside our own state for that. Cuomo killed meaningful hope for a rail line across the Tappan Zee too.

SEAN April 23, 2013 - 12:45 pm

We may not even get the BRT either at this rate. Strange how both county executives Astorino & Vanderhoff were championing transit across the TZB calling it vital & other buzzwords, but now absolutely nothing is mentioned.

The new bridge will add a total of one aditional travel lane as compared to the current one, meaning within three years we will have solved absolutely nothing in terms of traffic congestion. The only way out of that problem requires a robust transit system of some kind across the hudson including service to not just Tarrytown & White Plains, but to Stamford CT as well.

Bolwerk April 23, 2013 - 1:16 pm

In this case, BRT is almost as good as nothing anyway. We could have that now, without the new bridge.

Woody April 23, 2013 - 11:26 am

The best thing to do with Triboro RX is to break it down into pieces like the Second Avenue Subway.

A stretch in Queens connecting five or six lines would get support from the Boro President, City Council members, the boro’s reps in Albany, etc.

A stretch in Brooklyn connecting five or six lines would get support from the Boro President, City Council members, the boro’s reps in Albany, etc.

A stretch in the Bronx connecting five or six lines would get support from the Boro President, City Council members, the boro’s reps in Albany, etc.

I’d think it’s easier to overcome NIMBYs when you don’t have them allied across two or three boros. And smaller sections are easier to finance, plan, and design.

Let’s try for a piece of Triboro RX in a hurry. Then the other boros will clamor for their pieces too.

Jeff April 23, 2013 - 2:41 pm

Easier said than done.

The Triboro RX and the 2nd Ave Subway serve radically different neighborhoods, and potential riderships probably differ by a factor of 10, so not sure their situations are remotely comparable.

Alon Levy April 23, 2013 - 8:21 pm

First, if you go by the ridership models used, the ridership ratio of Triboro to the full SAS is about 1:3.5, not 1:10.

Second, Triboro is in an existing ROW with only one short tunnel required in the Bronx to get to Yankee Stadium. The MTA map that Ben reproduced at the top of the most recent Triboro post omits this segment anyway. This means the cost is also going to be a fraction of the SAS cost, just like the ridership. The line is longer but the normal range of ratios of existing ROW cost to underground cost is 1:4 to 1:6 rather than 1:3.5, so the costs per rider are close.

Frank B April 23, 2013 - 10:26 pm

Agreed. Not to mention how quickly it can be built; in some places, abandoned platforms already exist from the LIRR era and would merely require refurbishment; the IND Second Avenue Line will not be in operation for years from the inexcusable length of time it takes to build stations.

Alon Levy April 25, 2013 - 5:40 am

Even where new platforms are required (i.e. pretty much everywhere), it’s much less expensive to build stations when you don’t need to excavate them.

Think twice April 23, 2013 - 12:41 pm

Perhaps a pro-infrastructure Super PAC lead by real estate industry.

SEAN April 23, 2013 - 1:01 pm

Your handle “Think twice” doesn’t do you justice. I totally agree as the RE industry would have everything to gain & nothing to lose by throghing there colective weight behind massive transit expantion & getting the right people with vision into office.

Jeff April 23, 2013 - 2:46 pm

RE industry’s only interested in attractive locations with room to grow. Triboro RX is not serving any of those areas, and zoning rules mean its not serving those areas anytime soon. Same with other projects like the Rockaway Line. They are the ones who would support projects like the 7 line extension and WTC Hub which boost property values in upscale neighborhoods with a lot of RE activities.

SEAN April 23, 2013 - 4:12 pm

Not totally sure about that, as the RE industry is perfectly aware that frequent rapid transit increases property values across classes. Now of course a midtown or WTC office building would have a comparatively higher value than say rowhomes in the Rockaways, but accessable transit & good walking infrastructure with nearby shopping are game changers. As an example of the latter in the case of the Rockaways, http://www.arvernebythesea.com is a massive 127 acre redevelopment along the beachfront on the A train. Also look at Forest Hills, parts of Jackson Heights, Riverdale & areas along White Plains Road as examples of walkable areas with varying housing types & nearby transit.

I cant believe that powerful RE interests would ignore something as obvious as that.

I do wonder how Sandy changed the prospects of Arverne by the sea as they were in the middle of construction of homes when I visited last summer.

al April 23, 2013 - 6:20 pm

You might want to rethink how RE industry sees of Triboro Rx. A triangle composed of LIRR Main Line, Port Washington Line, and CSX Fremont Secondary is formed at the site of the defunct LIRR Winfield Junction Station.

Location: 40° 44? 11.7? N, 73° 53? 41.3? W

If there is through running at Penn Station between NJT, MNCR, and LIRR, and a Triboro Rx connection to MNCR at 125th St or South Bx. then that location becomes a highly connected location for Class A office space.

al April 23, 2013 - 6:21 pm

40° 44′ 11.7″ N, 73° 53′ 41.3″ W

SEAN April 23, 2013 - 8:18 pm

Although I don’t know exactly where that is, your point is right on as the old real estate axium states… location, location, location.

As another example, lets take a look at Co-op City.

Co-op City is one of the most densely populated areas of not just NYC, but the entire country. Although there are several bus routes serving the numerous buildings, there really isn’t a central point where easy transfers can be made. Now if the 6 was extended to the neighborhood & a station were to be built when MNR adds service to Penn station, all those highrises & ajacent shopping centers including the new mall being constructed at Bay Plaza all become so much more valuable.

In another case you can look at where the transfer station in Queens is planned for LIRR & MNR. If there’s developable land around there, it too can be another hot spot if the city wants to have that area built up.

al April 24, 2013 - 1:58 pm

LIRR Winfield Junction is in West Queens.

Its co-ops. Unless they vote to convert to rental or condos, its going to restrain prices.

Sunnyside Yards is the next Hudson Yards.

SEAN April 28, 2013 - 4:50 pm

You are right regarding Sunnyside Yards, as there’s much potential for redevelopment with mixed use buildings with a new transfer station in the works serving both LIRR & MNR trains.

AG April 28, 2013 - 11:32 pm

I’m uninformed of the connection of Metro-North and Sunnyside Yards. How will that work?

I wrote to the MTA about putting a station in Queens for Metro North as part of Penn Station Access…. as close as possible to La Guardia.

Alon Levy April 23, 2013 - 8:25 pm

Up to a point, maybe. The real estate industry will support sprawl if it’s profitable, and generally there’s a lot less NIMBY opposition to construction in areas where nobody lives. Even within the realm of infill, the real estate industry wants profits, which happen to be our rent checks. We want affordable housing; the real estate industry wants expensive housing. We need the housing cartel broken up; the real estate industry needs it to stay in place, with just enough loopholes for favored developers to sneak a few new buildings in.

SEAN April 28, 2013 - 4:43 pm

You want to see the effect of sprawl without traveling far? Look at Paramus, most of LI or the areas around Woodbridge & outside downtown New Brunswick.

Frank B. April 23, 2013 - 2:01 pm

Ben, you’ve single-handedly expounded everything that’s wrong with our system in a single article. Bravo.

However, I disagree with the East Side Access being ‘least bang for the buck’. Grand Central Terminal Access, while making the horrible situation of the IRT Lexington Avenue Line even worse, will ultimately add more access for the LIRR; 6 tunnels in use; In previous posts, I’m touted the benefits of having 6 times the capacity of LIRR trains into the City over NJ Transit; the New York Suburbs will have more capacity, as well as a choice of East or West Side Access; Metro-North to Pennsylvania is another brilliant little benefit; I’m sure the Hudson Valley Commuters will love not having to take the 42nd Street Shuttle Crosstown. 😀

SEAN April 23, 2013 - 4:42 pm

Exactly. Another tool in the RE arsonal.

Every office tower near Grand Central just went up in value just with the knowledge that there will be not 1, but soon 2 railroads close at hand making marketing & or redevelopment of these buildings importent. This makes the upzoning post a few weeks ago so crucial.

Alon Levy April 23, 2013 - 8:29 pm

The North River Tunnels aren’t at capacity. The LIRR doesn’t need this extra capacity, and it certainly doesn’t need it at $8 billion. It could use a tunnel to Lower Manhattan, and in the post-9/11 funding environment it could’ve gotten funding for a tunnel from Flatbush to Lower Manhattan, but instead it blew the money on more tunnels to Midtown.

Even the choice of East vs. West Side access isn’t really done right. Here is how to do it right, but this isn’t on the radar of anyone important.

majortom1981 April 24, 2013 - 8:20 pm

Won’t the east side access give the LIRR a tunnel it actually owns? They lease the current tunnels from Amtrak right? This would mean at least one route off of long island that the MTA Owns and can depend on for staying up to date and usable.

Also how is another route off of long island a bad thing.

Alon Levy April 25, 2013 - 5:43 am

It’s not a bad thing; it’s not worth $8 billion.

And the LIRR doesn’t need a route it owns. It’s getting a sufficient number of slots on the current tunnels. It just institutionally likes having its own fiefs. Fuck it and its noncooperative managers.

majortom1981 April 25, 2013 - 7:03 pm

The LIRR is constantly having to stop service due to Amtrak not keeping its tunnels and equipment up to date. This gives them an alternative to that .

Alon Levy April 26, 2013 - 1:19 am

The LIRR constantly has to stop service because the LIRR thinks staying on schedule is only for weirdos. Amtrak is an excuse, just like Amtrak peddles Metro-North as an excuse for its own inability to stick to schedule (never mind that a most delays I’ve experienced between New York and Providence were north of New Haven in Amtrak’s fief).

For $8 billion, you can send all the managers who can’t find Switzerland on a map to early retirement and still have $7.99 billion left over for relieving bottlenecks, buying more reliable rolling stock, building new tunnels where capacity is constrained (i.e. Jersey, not Long Island), and adding new connections.

David Brown April 23, 2013 - 2:30 pm

I have little doubt Phase 2 of the Second Ave Subway will be built, since a lot of the work (Such as the tunnels) have already been finished, and I would be shocked if Phase 3 (Down to 14th and 1st to meet the (L)isn’t as well. Why? The East Side Access and the major changes on 14th St (Becoming much more upscale). I think some kind of rail expansion to LaGuardia would be in order (Like they are planning at MacArthur in Islip), so would a new Republic Station (For Route 110 In East Farmingdale), and Metro North Expansion to The Bronx and LIRR to Elmhurst are also possibilities.

BruceNY April 23, 2013 - 2:52 pm

This post and all of the subsequent comments make valid points regarding the lack of long term planning by our politicians, often due to their belief that they will be long out of office before any ribbon cutting takes place. The result is a lack of will to take on any major projects and to fight for the funding to pay for them. The reference to Robert Moses’ anitpathy towards tunnels and their lack of visibility on the skyline is also well taken.
So, I am curious how another major infrastructure project in our region, which is all but hidden from view, and began literally decades ago, has managed to seemingly continue without any suggestion of delay or cancellation: Water Tunnel #3. I don’t recall ever hearing much in the media about cost over-runs, disruptions to neighborhoods, funding issues, etc. or any other threats to its relentless progress. Most, if not all, of the politicians who were in office when this project started are, or will be dead by the time the tap is turned on. How did the planning and funding of this (very necessary) project differ from transit projects which can’t get off the drawing board?

Nyland8 April 23, 2013 - 3:11 pm

No conflicts, no competition, no alternatives … and too deep to affect anyone on the surface.

In the words of Fela, “Water no got enemies.”

Bolwerk April 23, 2013 - 3:12 pm

Well, on the one hand, Water Tunnel #3 is a matter of sheer necessity. People can schlep long hours to work, and conservatives/libservatives probably even think they deserve to, but everyone needs water.

On the other hand, I think people frankly overplay the staying power issue. Why? It’s a simple, elegant explanation that just happens to be incomplete and maybe even wrong. Projects don’t need one champion, they need a legislature full of champions – or at least a bureaucracy full of them. Don’t get me wrong, the effect is real, but other effects are real too – like the perception that once a project is even most of halfway finished, it’s better to finish it.

Or, to mention a more mundane effect: pandering to swing voters. Jackasses whose elections are assured pander to “swing voters” (in ESA’s case, Long Island) in the hope that their power base will be expanded, while those whose reelections are in jeopardy do it to clinch victory. It makes for muddled policy.

David Brown April 23, 2013 - 4:36 pm

Water is a very controversial issue. Look at the Van Cortlandt Park Water Treatment Plant that costs $3.4b People in The Bronx have been livid about it for years (Last time I heard, they are in the testing phase, so it likely will open this year). Texas & Oklahoma are before the Supreme Court right now in a case involving you guessed it… Water.

Benjamin Kabak April 23, 2013 - 4:40 pm

The Supreme Court case over water rights isn’t in any way related to the VCP Water Treatment Plant. Just to clarify that.

David Brown April 23, 2013 - 5:09 pm

Ben: I am aware of that. I just wanted to state that water is not a cut and dry issue, and I mentioned that the Supreme Court Case involves Texas & Oklahoma. The VCP Water Treatment Plant is a whole other can of worms, and the best thing is that it will be finished this year. But……… It does not mean plans are finished when it comes to VCP and water issue. Why? it is at the heart of Tunnel #3. The largest valve chamber is in Van Cortlandt Park. It is built 250 feet (76 m) below the park surface. When completed it will control the flow of water from the city’s Catskill and Delaware systems. These systems provide 90 percent of the city’s current drinking water. The Van Cortlandt Park Valve Chamber is 620 feet (190 m) long, and 43 feet (13 m) wide and 41 feet (12 m) high. The complex has nine vertical shafts; and two manifolds. Each manifold is 560 feet (170 m) long and 24 feet (7.3 m) in diameter. It will be finished in 2020. http://www.wikipedia.com

AG April 24, 2013 - 10:13 pm

Well it seems the mayoral candidates think a Staten Island Light Rail to connect to NJ is a good idea:


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