Sporting his trademark bowtie, Dr. Michael Horodniceanu took the stage last night at a Transit Museum-sponsored event to discuss the MTA’s two capital programs that are due to come online this year. He presented about the ins and outs, the designs and challenges, and the impacts of both the 7 line extension and the Fulton St. Transit Center. While the presentation trod well-worn ground, a subsequent Q-and-A with New York Times reporter Michael Grynbaum revealed some of the limitations affected future transit growth. MTA Capital Construction does a reasonably good job at fulfilling its mandate, but beyond projects that are in progress and funded, the future remains murky.
Over the past few years, I’ve constantly stressed the need for a transit champion. We have, for instance, the 7 line extension because the city under Mayor Michael Bloomberg foot the bill; we have the Fulton St. Transit Center because the federal government contributed nearly $1.5 billion to first rebuild Lower Manhattan and then later to bolster the economy. We have East Side Access because Al D’Amato and George Pataki fought for it, and we have the Second Ave. Subway thanks, in part, to Chuck Schumer’s efforts. Everything else we don’t have because no one came to fight for it.
In a way, that’s what Horodniceanu discussed during the interview segment of the presentation. Grynbaum pushed the MTA Capital Construction president on transit expansions we’ve discussed here. Will we have light rail, perhaps in Staten Island, or a subway to Laguardia? Nothing’s happening there, Horodniceanu said, vaguely referring to the late 1990s NIMBY opposition to the N train extension to Laguardia. In other words, no politicians are stepping up to the plate, and the MTA isn’t about to stick its neck out for such a plan without solid support in Albany or City Hall.
What about the 7 train? As we well know, the original plan called for a station at 41st St. and 10th Ave. that was cut due to budgetary concerns. Even a shell station met the axe, and the MTA has left in place the barest of provisions for a future side-platform station. Furthermore, the tail tracks extend down to 26th St. and 11th, and it would have been relatively easy to extend the train to 14th St., perhaps to a meeting with the L.
In discussing these aspects of the work, Horodniceanu said it was “not part of the plan for the MTA to pay the money” to see any of these aspects of the 7 line extension through right now. “Had someone been more generous,” he said, there’s no limit to what the MTA could have done with the 7 line. But money is a constraint, and politicians are only willing to fork over so much to complete a project. (Not everyone, after all, is Santiago Calatrava building the world’s most expensive subway stop.)
At one point, as Grynbaum pressed the issue, Horodniceanu spoke about the other part of the equation — costs — and he ducked and dodged as best as he could. Things are just more expensive in New York City, he claimed, but he made some concessions toward labor laws and work rules that burden construction projects with what many would call overstaffing. Still, costs seemed nearly besides the point Horodniceanu was trying to make. If no one will fight for the project, it’s not going to happen.
In closing, Horodniceanu joked that he hopes he’s still live when East Side Access and the Second Ave. Subway are completed. I hope I am too, and I’m less than half the good doctor’s age. He also seemed to indicate that nothing is next without political support. We have our wishlist of projects, and the MTA kinda sorta has theirs. But until funding and a champion materialize, we’ll be left to dream of an era in which the MTA built out our transit network. It all could be coming to end within the next decade. Where are the champions?