Home East Side Access Project Déjà vu all over again: East Side Access late, over budget

Déjà vu all over again: East Side Access late, over budget

by Benjamin Kabak

A glimpse at progress on the Manhattan side of the East Side Access project as of October. The giant construction effort is once again delayed and over budget. Photo: Metropolitan Transportation Authority / Patrick Cashin.

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: The MTA’s East Side Access project is over budget and unlikely to be finished by the end of 2019, the current deadline for the multi-billion LIRR cavern underneath Grand Central. For the MTA, this is but another delay in what has been an unmanageable project. Originally set to cost around $4 billion with a revenue date of 2013, East Side Access will cost over $8.3 billion and may not be ready until 2020.

The agency hasn’t yet released a revised timeline or budget; that’s expected to arrive in a report due in February. But at a hearing in front of the state assembly’s Committee on Corporations, MTA Capital Construction officials said East Side Access was “slipping a little bit further [beyond 2019] and could cost more.” Said Craig Stewart, the senior director of capital programs, “I haven’t heard the update yet on the projected time, but we don’t think we will make 2019.”

As of mid-2012, when the MTA pushed back the completion date from 2018 to 2019, officials said they were 80 percent certain they could meet the new deadlines, and current MTACC President Michael Horodniceanu has focused on deadlines and budgets. Still, the hearing on Friday painted a picture of missed opportunities and poor management. Newsday’s Alfonso Castillo has a comprehensive report:

William Henderson, executive director of the MTA’s Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee, which includes the LIRR Commuter Council, said the latest delays will put further out-of-reach critical capacity improvements for “weary” and “disgusted” Long Island commuters. “It is discouraging. I mean, you talk to people on Long Island and they say, ‘I’m never going to ride this thing. I’m going to be retired before it happens,'” Henderson said. The MTA should have done a better job predicting the project’s risks before releasing a projected completion date and budget, he said. “They just weren’t realistic.”

MTA officials noted the project, which entails linking the LIRR to a new, 350,000-square-foot customer concourse at Grand Central via newly bored tunnels, is the largest construction project underway in the country, and a complicated one. “This project has gotten very large,” Robert Foran, MTA chief financial officer, told the Assembly panel. “It’s gone well beyond what the preliminary scope and scale anticipated.”

East Side Access has faced multiple obstacles, including unexpected engineering challenges and underperforming contractors. Stewart said Friday that the MTA has hired an outside consultant with “expertise that we don’t necessarily have” to find ways to expedite the project and reduce its cost. It also has recently gotten some favorable bids from contractors for future phases of the job.

At this point, the only way out of this morass is forward, but there’s no doubt that East Side Access has become a transit disaster. Officials formerly involved with the project have come to regret the shape of things. Though few will talk on the record, fingers have been pointed at politicians, Metro-North/LIRR turf battles and misguided advocacy efforts. It has also given credence to those who supported Gov. Chris Christie’s decision to cancel the ARC Tunnel.

I’m anticipating further details in the next report to the MTA Board. I’m sure for now many people wish these billions could be spent on something not quite as problematic. It is, after all, enough money to wrap up the next two phases of the Second Ave. Subway, and with six years left, who’s to say we won’t have more delays and more cost overruns? That’s been the norm now for nearly a decade.

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Chet January 12, 2014 - 10:32 pm

Since we rarely here of such insane delays and cost overruns on transit projects in Europe, wouldn’t it make sense to just bring in a project management team from the other side of the pond to see if they can rescue this mess.

The project itself is a good investment, but that it can’t seem to hold on to a deadline to save its life is pathetic.

Marc Shepherd January 13, 2014 - 8:00 am

…there’s no doubt that East Side Access has become a transit disaster.

I would say there’s considerable doubt. Not that I’m condoning the overruns, but this is a station that’ll still be in use 100+ years from now, long after we’re dead. Very few people then will know or care that it was $4.3 billion over budget. The U. S. Defense department spends that much about every 2½ days, so although it IS a lot of money, let’s not let the purple prose take over the story.

Brandon January 13, 2014 - 10:08 am

Yes, but people 100 years from now would better be served by 6 or 10 stations instead of 3.

Theyll also be lucky if they arent still paying off the rolled over construction debt.

SEAN January 13, 2014 - 10:53 am

Yes, but people 100 years from now would better be served by 6 or 10 stations instead of 3.

Are you sure about that one? who knows what travel patterns will be like a century from now. I’m sure we’re all curious about that one.
Theyll also be lucky if they arent still paying off the rolled over construction debt

Many debts may never get payed back in 100 years if ever.

Marc Shepherd January 13, 2014 - 11:00 am

Yes, but people 100 years from now would better be served by 6 or 10 stations instead of 3.

There isn’t a specific 6-10-station project that got cancelled so that ESA could be built. A century later, no one cries over hypothetical spilt milk. The transit system is full over over-built components (e.g., the original City Hall station), and who is up in arms about them? Practically nobody.

Bolwerk January 13, 2014 - 11:41 am

They aren’t opting not to be up in arms because the previous generation made the right decision. It’s just a little hard to time travel back to the 1930s and punch the bosses who doubled the costs of the original IND in the dick. If that generation controlled itself, we might have had at least some of the IND Second System.

Let’s not kid ourselves or make excuses: doing less than we can with our limited resources is theft. It’s theft from the present, and it’s theft from the future.

(Also, City Hall isn’t an overbuilt component. It’s a vestigial component.)

Nathanael January 13, 2014 - 4:20 pm

“There isn’t a specific 6-10-station project that got cancelled so that ESA could be built”

SAS Phase II?

Heck, “Alternative G”? Through-running from GCT to New Jersey?

ESA is remarkably un-useful for something which costs as much as a subway line.

anon_coward January 13, 2014 - 4:27 pm

how many cars will SAS take off the road in manhattan?

i’ve driven on the east side a few times during rush hour and its the most hellish driving experience one can experience driving in NYC.

i’m sure a lot of these people drive in from long island because its cheaper and easier than taking the LIRR into Penn, then the E and then another train to get to work on the east side

Bolwerk January 13, 2014 - 5:31 pm

Who cares? If the only goal of a transit service is take cars off the road, it means a bunch of very empty transit vehicles.

Alon Levy January 13, 2014 - 10:38 pm

The Sixth Avenue Line cost overruns doomed Second Avenue Subway. People don’t complain about the IND today, but they do complain about the lack of SAS, which is a direct consequence of the IND’s politicized decisionmaking.

Spendmor Wastemor January 13, 2014 - 9:09 pm

The Defense Spends So Much gambit is an arthritic old horse.

Some homeless guy smells, does that mean you don’t need to take a shower?

There’s a lotta waste in Defense, in particular complex, muddled-mission systems. This is in large part because Congress wants it. DOD is forced to buy things they don’t want if there’s a piece of it in enough districts. Etc, etc.

It is totally irrelevant to transit. Money gets wasted because enough people want it that way. That is not a reason to waste mor.

Eric F January 13, 2014 - 8:50 am

“Since we rarely here of such insane delays and cost overruns on transit projects in Europe”

There is very little mass press attention to European projects, but I do recall hearing about massive delays and overruns on projects in Rome and Instanbul, generally chalked up to archaeological issues or with changing governments. Isn’t the new London dig also over budget?

Chris C January 13, 2014 - 9:46 am

As far as I am aware Crossrail is on time and on budget.

In the UK we seem to spend more time in the planning stages to get that right so there is less chance of having to make last minute (and costly) changes during actual construction.

That does not of course eliminate all delays or the finding of something totally unexpected but good preparation and investigation helps mitigate against that.

There is also a lot less political interference in construction projects e.g. in determining routes and locations of stations and in design etc That’s not to say there is no political advocacy for a route / station to go a particular way just that decisions get made based on long term usage and economics rather than short term political considerations.

Eric F January 13, 2014 - 10:38 am

There is a ton of time spent planning here as well though. Not sure how U.S. planning could be any slower or any more thorough.

“There is also a lot less political interference”

I understand that Heathrow expansion was scuttled when the Conservatives took over and that high speed rail routes are being bickered over, but I guess I can’t say that U.K. is worse, and it’s hard to imagine that it could be worse than the U.S.

Chris C January 13, 2014 - 3:04 pm

yes there is political decision making on the strategic level i.e. should there be a 3rd or 4th runway and which airport it should be at or a high speed rail line or an olympic bid but he politicians don’t then decide (or interfere) in the detailed location, design etc etc of terminals, stations or stadia which appears to me to be a feature of the US system.

BTW something like ‘bridgegate’ would never happen here in the UK as politicians are simply not involved in day to day operational matters of that nature.

Tower18 January 13, 2014 - 11:19 am

I’ve long suspected that planning in the US is done deliberately poorly, so that contractors can profit from changes, and governments can claim lower costs to get approval, rather than the real eventual costs that they know will occur.

This way, everybody “wins” except the taxpayers.

Nathanael January 13, 2014 - 4:21 pm

There’s evidence that in New York in particular the way contracting for state & city governments works is designed for contractors to do shoddy work and then demand change orders (at extra cost) in order to do the work right.

State contracting law probably needs to be amended to have a “when in doubt, the contractor fixes it at his own expense” rule, which seems not to be the case right now.

Alon Levy January 13, 2014 - 11:05 pm

Crossrail on budget is about twice as expensive per-km as Marmaray over budget (and two-thirds as expensive per-km as less complex Manhattan subways). And that’s without the part about crossing the Bosphorus.

Anyway, yes, there are huge cost overruns in Europe. For examples:

-The North-South Line in Amsterdam is if I remember correctly 100% over budget; a few Wikipedia edits ago, there was a quote from officials saying that the project should never have been built.

-The Jubilee line extension was 66% over budget.

-Line 9 in Barcelona is 3.5 times over budget. It is still cheaper per kilometer than the average Continental European subway.

-Marmaray, but cities that go back to Ancient Greece get a free pass on archeological complications.

-Munich’s second S-Bahn tunnel has gone over budget so much that they keep postponing the beginning of construction.

Needless to say, all of those projects still cost a fraction of the SAS damage per-km.

PeakVT January 13, 2014 - 9:47 am

I don’t think it is a question of getting the right team, but instead one of getting the right team in-house. As long as there is very little expertise within the MTA, hiring consultants from successful projects in Europe won’t help that much.

Stephen Smith January 13, 2014 - 1:12 pm

Percentage-wise, the cost overruns are rarer, but not unheard of for Europe. The difference is that in Europe, a 100% overrun means $100m/km more. In the US, it means $2bn/km more. (Making up numbers, but that’s the scale of things.)

And it’s not just the project management that’s rotten, it’s also the basic design of the project (i.e., bringing the tracks into a new deep cavern station instead of into existing underutilized Grand Central tracks).

The interesting question will be, where are the latest rounds of overruns and delays coming from? I fear it’s the cavern (isn’t this where past problems have come from?), which should never have been built int he first place.

DmK January 13, 2014 - 1:24 pm

The caverns are done and have been for some time. Furthermore, there is no such thing as “underutilized” tracks at GCT.

There are many reasons for the cost over runs. To blame it on the caverns alone shows no knowledge of the entire scale and scope of the project.

Nathanael January 13, 2014 - 4:23 pm

GCT has a lot of underutilized tracks, to the point where they’re replacing some of them with a waiting room and escalators for “East Side Access”.

GCT was designed to host trains from as far away as Chicago, which sat in the station for a long time. The commuter service barely uses the platforms, by comparison.

There’s no crowding in GCT proper; the problems are at the throat and in the Park Avenue Tunnels.

Rob January 13, 2014 - 4:29 pm

sorry to burst your bubble, but the euros WERE involved – a spanish firm Dragados/Judlau, got the construction contract.

al January 14, 2014 - 4:19 pm

No, with the exception of Skanska, the Euro Multinational construction firms came 2008 and after. They bought up local firms to get into the US construction market to offset the sag in Euro area construction. The reason they’re here is the bloated costs mean fat profits.

Rob January 16, 2014 - 3:27 pm

Maybe the folks who built the Oresund Crossing from Sweden to Denmark? That looked challenging, but maybe it was easier b/c it didn’t involve that much tunneling under existing urban areas?


Duke January 12, 2014 - 10:37 pm

The fact that this project is now poised to cost more than twice as much as planned and take more than twice as long as planned to build needs to trigger an investigation to what the hell is going on, and the heads of whoever is responsible need to roll, be they officials at the MTA and/or lollygagging contractors. This is turning into a freaking perpetual employment program.

Boris January 13, 2014 - 12:02 am

That’s the whole point of a capital program – jobs. Everyone involved, on both the contractor side and agency side, is interested in making every project as long as expensive as possible. It’s job security. Customers won’t get to ride this thing until they retire because employees want to make sure the project won’t be finished until they retire too.

pete January 13, 2014 - 9:48 am


anon_coward January 13, 2014 - 9:43 am

they found that the sand and dirt in sunnyside and long island city was too loose to build like they originally planned and had to engineer around this fact

Chris C January 13, 2014 - 9:50 am

To me that would indicate some poor planning and preparation.

Were no test bores done to check the ground conditions or did they just assume what the conditions would be like?

David Alexander January 12, 2014 - 10:57 pm

I suspect that I’m one of the few railfans who wonders why we continue inefficient railway terminal designs that support questionable operating practices. In other words, why do we need a complicated six track station to turn 20 tph when in the rest of the world, a simple two track station could have done the same thing? For the money we blew on this, we probably could have considered extending the tunnel downtown, and for some more money, we could have ended up with a usable loop railway via Flatbush. Do the same for the New Jersey side with Hoboken and a new tunnel north of Penn Station and we could have had a usable railway network.

Something like this would have been my preference:

Clarke January 13, 2014 - 9:37 am

No! That would make sense! Burn the cash on a stub terminal with a TBM encased in concrete at its end to make sure no further southern expansion is possible!

anon_coward January 13, 2014 - 9:47 am

a lot of the railroads in the north east were originally built by different companies and aren’t compatible with each other.

we happened to bomb europe and japan in WW2 and destroyed all the infrastructure which they rebuilt with brand new infrastructure in the 50’s and later. in the USA our rail roads date back to the 1800’s

Alon Levy January 13, 2014 - 11:11 pm

Switzerland wasn’t really bombed. Paris wasn’t bombed, either, because it had no military targets. Sweden wasn’t bombed. I don’t think Denmark and Norway were bombed – they were conquered too quickly.

Bolwerk January 14, 2014 - 12:54 am

The Swiss were mainly only bombed because Americans couldn’t shoot straight even then.

Also, I think anon_coward may make some of the most non-sequitur comments I’ve seen in these parts.

BenS January 13, 2014 - 10:56 am

Well, the biggest criticism of your plan is design–why does the NJT tunnel go all the way down to the Financial District? The obvious plan would be to connect to the terminal in Hoboken, which would involve branching off the NJT tunnel around 8th St. (Can you imagine the NIMBYism in the Village?)

Also, I can’t imagine that would be less than a $20 billion project, given how long those tunnels are. Definitely more than this project cost, anyway.

Alon Levy January 13, 2014 - 11:17 pm

Why loop trains back instead of running them linearly?

DingDong January 12, 2014 - 11:44 pm

Is it just transit projects that we can’t build or are all other infrastructure projects in the US consistently late and over-budget and overly-expensive and slow even when on budget and on schedule?

Does anyone know how we do with road construction compared to the rest of the world?

Duke January 13, 2014 - 12:07 am

Well, the Big Dig in Boston also took twice as long and cost twice as much as planned. But this is not typical of road projects. I’d figure the issue is that tunneling through an urban area that has a tendency to hit loads of unexpected snafus.

JJJJ January 13, 2014 - 4:38 am

My city started building an enhanced crosswalk (embedded lights) for a midblock crossing back during summer of 2012.

The contract was for a 90 day construction period.

They’re still not done. A goddamn crosswalk.

Or look at DC. Theyre building a new bike lane! (M street cycle track). Completion date: August 2013.

Yup, theyre not done.

For a project thats 95% paint. They’re six months behind schedule on a 3 week project!

Or look at Boston. The “key bus line improvement project” (aka, eliminate some stops, move some signs around) got one of the Obama stimulus grants back in 2010. Due date: Spring 2012.

Yeah, theyre not done yet. MOVING SOME FUCKING SIGNS.

This country is broken.

SEAN January 13, 2014 - 10:10 am

Has anyone been paying atention to the insanity that the Cross Westchester Expressway reconstruction around White Plains? It’s years behind schedule & way over budget. There have been several investigations & yet, nothing has changed as far as the bidding process is concerned.

Nathanael January 13, 2014 - 4:25 pm

The Department of DIY in Los Angeles seems to agree that things aren’t moving fast enough.

Brandon January 13, 2014 - 10:10 am

It is typical of road projects.

wb8 January 13, 2014 - 4:38 am

This is why Design-Build, with all financial risks transferred to the consultant/contractor team is absolutely essential.

The traditional bidding process 100% discourages honesty or on-time performance, because any contractor who submits an honest bid will immediately be underbid by someone else who knows how to work the system. (ie: lots of change orders and overruns)

Here’s to the new Tappan Zee Bridge design/build contract, let’s hope it’s a success that will be a model for other public works projects in the future.

Rob January 16, 2014 - 3:34 pm

Have to say that as much as I hate the new TZ bridge, I’m rooting for Design-Build to work out well. Though this blogger’s points make me concerned:


Eric F January 13, 2014 - 8:53 am

“At this point, the only way out of this morass is forward”

If this was an auto project, you’d never say that. After decade + of work, this thing has longer to go today in time and cost than the entire time and cost budgeted for completion of the full project when it started. I think it’ll be a great addition to NY’s infrastructure if and when it’s completed, but if it wasn’t a transit project, the usual suspects would have argued to pull the plug years ago, and probably would have been successful.

Also, luckily the “correct” party runs NY, so there needn’t be any investigations on corruption out of the $8 billion(!) to be spent on this.

Benjamin Kabak January 13, 2014 - 8:58 am

If this was an auto project, you’d never say that.

You assume to know my thoughts; you don’t. Much like the Big Dig, which ran into nearly identical timing/budget issues, this is too far forward to stop and too important to the region in the (very) long term. Additionally, because of the federal dollars, it would be nearly as expensive to cancel and refund as it will be to finish. This should and will wrap.

lawhawk January 13, 2014 - 9:18 am


There’s several major auto projects that are underway in the NYC metro area. Goethals and TZB replacement spans, Bayonne Bridge navigation clearance, and the Kosciuszko Bridge Project. All have been stuck in development hell for any amount of time, and the TZB span cost/scope has been roundly criticized for not incorporating sufficient mass transit (which will add to the cost to be sure, but it will be cheaper to build out at outset than years down the line).

For instance, the Kosciuszko is expected to cost $550m. We’ll see if they hold to that cost, or if the SDOT slips on that as well; they’ll have to be held accountable just as MTA must.

Eric F January 13, 2014 - 9:40 am

“There’s several major auto projects that are underway in the NYC metro area.”

These have all been slow walked by the regulatory process and financing, not overruns and construction delays. Those may happen too! But they haven’t happened yet. The yearly announcements about the Kosciuszko Bridge and Goethals starting, but that never produce and actual start are beyond laughable at this point. By the way, I think Kosciuszko will run about a solid billion, but it’s being done in two stages, with stage two not even scheduled at this point.

The biggest road project in the wider area in the NJ Turnpike expansion in central/southern NJ which is on time and on budget. Should be drive-able by Thanksgiving of this year, 5 years after construction began.

ckrueger99 January 13, 2014 - 11:46 am

As a frequent end-to-end Turnpike user, I have enjoyed watching them build that. Quite an engineering feat — I’d be interested to hear a thorough analysis of what went right there and to contrast it with the disasters mentioned above.

lawhawk January 13, 2014 - 2:42 pm

NJ Turnpike expansion cost is about $2.5b, which they say provides about 170 lane miles of new highway. That includes the overpasses, many of which were near the end of their original lifespan and would have needed significant rehabilitation/rebuilding in any event. This work is now done to current code.

It’s not nearly as complex as any of the projects we’re talking about; new bridge spans, new tunnel/borings, etc., let alone land acquisition costs.

The work was done over a 35 mile stretch of the Turnpike, so on a per-mile cost, it’s about $71 million per mile or $14.7 million per lane-mile. Not particularly outrageous by any measure.


anon_coward January 13, 2014 - 11:52 am

adding lanes and new bridges to a highway in the middle of nowhere is not even in the same league as the ESA and other NYC projects

Eric F January 13, 2014 - 12:40 pm

It’s hardly in the middle of nowhere! Certainly not as built up as Manhattan, but this is not some desolate wilderness.

It involved relocating the key natural gas pipeline for the NYC area.

One of the bigger aspects involved rebuilding quite literally every overpass spanning the Turnpike for something like 15-20 miles, including the one carrying I-195 over it. The last time I was through the zone, it looked like every new overpass was in place, but I don’t know that for a fact, just my observation. A couple of the older ones still had to be demolished.

They also relocated interchange 8 to allow for a better plug in to the local road network.

Anyway, it’s of a different qualitative universe than tunneling under NYC, but it’s a very big deal and involved fairly substantial engineering challenges.

Eric F January 13, 2014 - 9:36 am

Ok, I’ll accept that. I’ll put it this way, I think if this was an auto project, I would have heard about this delay and overrun on NPR this morning. Instead, this will be a non-story.

To me, the bigger deal is the time as opposed to the expense. These things just cost a ton of money, it’s the waiting that is awful to bear.

Bolwerk January 13, 2014 - 11:24 am

Is there any project where you hear about absurd costs or delays from in mainstream press channels? Discounting local press coverage, the only two I can come up with that seem to get (or have gotte) a lot of play are Boston’s Big Dig and CAHSR.

These things take a life of their own in construction/transit boards and political forums, in different ways, but other than a mention in the headline ticker they aren’t going to get much more MSM play because, let’s face it, your average Evening News viewer or New York Times or even Wall Street Journal reader can’t understand the problem or the finances.

Eric F January 13, 2014 - 11:32 am

“Is there any project where you hear about absurd costs or delays from in mainstream press channels?”

Bay Bridge would be another. WTC delays and overruns have broken through. In NJ, delays on Rte 3 reconstruction mainly due to slow utility relocation work is/was a big local story. Similar issues with Roslyn viaduct on Long Island. Right, normally, it’d be just a local story, but ESA has garnered some national news before in terms of its progress.

Bolwerk January 13, 2014 - 11:52 am

Ah, yeah, I forgot about WTC, though that isn’t so much transportation and the play that one gets is for an obvious reason.

Either way, the two iconic ones seem to be CAHSR and Big Dig. With NYC’s rail projects, the major overruns almost always seem to be in the stations (e.g. Fulton Street, ARC, 41st Street on the 7, Calatrava WTC, etc.).

Nathanael January 13, 2014 - 4:29 pm

There aren’t actually any overruns or delays with CAHSR — that media nonsense was blown up by anti-rail liars. The biggest so-called “overrun” was an artifact of a stupid accounting change from “constant-year” dollars to “year of expenditure” dollars forced by a Republican Congressman sticking a dumb clause in a federal bill.

The Big Dig — well, there have been whole books written on that. Suffice it to say that the people hellbent on building it made sure not to pay attention to any outside advice, and bought off any critic (and there were many) with promises of money for other things. The result is kind of what you would expect.

Nathanael January 13, 2014 - 4:30 pm

(The most salient complaint which could be made about CAHSR is that it wasn’t actually “shovel-ready” for the timeframes when the ARRA awards were made; they attempted to pull the schedule *forward* to get the ARRA money, with less than complete success.)

Tower18 January 13, 2014 - 5:05 pm

At least one could see the light at the figurative end of the tunnel for Big Dig. It had problems along the way, took way too long, and cost way too much, but in the end, it did absolutely transform living and transportation in Boston.

I wish we could Big Dig the BQE. Even if you told me it would have overruns on the scale of the Big Dig, I would almost still say do it. The social and public health benefits ALONE are almost worth it.

Bolwerk January 13, 2014 - 5:11 pm

It doesn’t have overruns, but it is being budgeted to cost significantly more than a typical first world HSR.

Alon Levy January 13, 2014 - 11:15 pm

That’s not really true. In constant dollars, costs went up from $33 billion to $65 billion and back down to $53 billion after they cut some scope. Yes, it’s possible to go back down to roughly the original estimate if they change to Tejon and Altamont-SETEC, but the current alignment did undergo significant real overruns. Palmdale-LA requires more tunneling than originally believed because further environmental work eliminated the above-ground Soledad Canyon route, the Central Valley requires more viaducts because the original maps were a few years out of date and showed fewer suburban sprawl roads that needed to be crossed, and the Bay Area has gone through massive scope creep because of agency turf wars.

Bolwerk January 13, 2014 - 11:03 am

Who what? You keep parading this premise that everyone here is a partisan Democrat with a different set of standards for the other party. Yet I don’t think I can even identify a single openly partisan Democrat who posts here. Can you?

Eric F January 13, 2014 - 12:12 pm

I don’t get the sense that SAS readers are evenly split between people ostentatiously reading The New Yorker on the subway on the one hand and guys with NRA stickers on the back windows of their Buicks on the other, but I could be wrong. Admittedly, I’ve never taken a survey.

Bolwerk January 13, 2014 - 2:12 pm

Yet you keep insinuating people are being completely unfair to one side without citing evidence for that. Why should they be evenly split, and why hone in on irrelevancies like the NRA? It’s possible to have opinions and agendas while still objectively evaluating criteria and opposition.

lawhawk January 13, 2014 - 9:14 am

Projects that take twice as long and cost more than double the initial costs sap the ability to build other essential projects in the same (expanded) time-frame.

MTA could have gotten Phase 2 underway with the extra $4b that has instead had to go towards ESA. That’s a delay that everyone has to live with for the foreseeable future.

Where does the blame lie with this? MTA will point at contractors. Contractors will point to the MTA, and outsiders will say it’s the unions and jobs that take precedence over all else, including getting the job done.

What I’m curious about is who’s paying for the overruns here. Someone is – whether it’s the MTA, the feds, and ultimately state/local taxpayers, who will be picking up the tab on the overruns.

So, while 100 years from now, people will marvel at the tunneling and improved access to GCT, one has to wonder what could have been had the project been held to the cost estimate and the other projects that got short shrift or delayed as a result.

It also raises questions as to why a project like the MNR one that Ben wrote about a few days ago is estimated to cost as much as it is – is that reflective of the obscene costs that we’ve come to expect from transit projects or will that too end up being a low-ball figure on a project that shouldn’t cost nearly as much.

Eric F January 13, 2014 - 9:50 am

“Projects that take twice as long and cost more than double the initial costs sap the ability to build other essential projects in the same (expanded) time-frame.”

Yup. They also sap political will because who wants to start a project that takes 10 years to get through regulatory review — if it even CAN get through review — and then moves glacially to completion on somebody else’s watch.

SEAN January 13, 2014 - 10:31 am

Eric F,

Then let me ask the obvious – why bother with ANY new infrastructure projects?

Eric F January 13, 2014 - 10:41 am

That’s pretty much where things stand. Very little new projects are built. Most of the big ticket items are replacements or augmentation of existing infrastructure.

Big new additions in the northeast are extremely rare. I can’t think of very many. ESA is one as is the 2nd avenue subway of course. NJ has built a couple of extensive light rail lines recently. NYC has expanded the water delivery system in a massive undertaking over decades. After those, I more or less run out of stuff.

SEAN January 13, 2014 - 11:17 am

I actually ment it as a social & or a societal question rather than a construction question. Look at Penn station as an example. many of us hate the prospect of going there unless nessessary. However behind the senes the atitude is – if it was good enough 25-years ago, it’s good enough now. The reality something should have been done there a long time ago. We need a whole new mindset when it comes to large scale projects.

SEAN January 13, 2014 - 11:20 am

The reality is…

AlanF January 13, 2014 - 5:04 pm

“Big new” transit expansions in the Northeast? No, NYC is not the only metro region with significant expansion projects. Depending on how ones defines the northeast, outside of the NYC region, there are the following expansion projects, either underway, fully funded, or have gotten state funding & are solid bets to start construction in the next several years:
MBTA: Green Line extension, South Coast rail.
WMATA: 23 mile Silver Line extension, phase 1 nearly complete, Phase 2 contract awarded and underway.
DC Streetcar: starter line on H St service expected to start in Spring of 2014, build/operate contract for 24 mile priority system in bid phase.
Maryland: Purple Line LRT in DC suburbs aiming for contract award and construction in 2015; Baltimore Red Line LRT aiming for construction start in 2016. (Both projects have $680 million each in committed state funds). At the current pace, the MD Purple Line may beat East Side Access to start of revenue service.

Bolwerk January 14, 2014 - 12:38 am

Depends indeed. Delaware and Maryland are already Southern states!

D in Bushwick January 13, 2014 - 11:11 am

Corruption Rules the World.
In most countries, big public projects typically are double the promised cost and take twice as long.
That’s how you pay off all of the scumbags involved in the big scam.

Nathanael January 13, 2014 - 4:32 pm

In the old days, before Tammany Hall, it was more common for them to be double the promised cost, but to open on-time. Nobody minded that as much.

Irwin Gratz January 13, 2014 - 3:19 pm

It’s been so long since East Side Access began, many may not recall that it was a pet project of Gov. George Pataki, who won with strong support from voters on Long Island. It was also Pataki who ended the practice of funding MTA 5-year capital programs with state bond money and insisted that the MTA borrow on its own, a move that critics, at the time, said would push the full impact of that borrowing onto users of transit, which, indeed, it has.

Nathanael January 13, 2014 - 4:32 pm

Ah yes. Bad decisions from borrow-and-spend Republicans — the gift that keeps on giving us trouble.

Nathanael January 13, 2014 - 4:33 pm

(Thanks for the history reminder.)

Rob January 13, 2014 - 4:32 pm

would like to remind all that this is the el cheapo version. the original plan was to have a separate terminal [‘transportation center’] at 48 street.

john doe January 13, 2014 - 10:28 pm

Why can’t we have a world class metro system like Europe?? So sad & disappointing, why does it take eons to get anything done here, enough is enough!!


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