Home 7 Line Extension On the elusive finish line for the 7 line extension

On the elusive finish line for the 7 line extension

by Benjamin Kabak

Toward the end of December as his days in office dwindled away, then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg rode a 7 train from Times Square into the still-unfinished station at 34th St. and 11th Ave. It was the first — and so far the only — train to make the ride, and while it wasn’t quite a ribbon-cutting, it was a valedictory ride. If all had gone according to plan, the mayor would have inaugurated the station he funded while still in office, but all did not go according to plan.

Since late 2013, all we’ve heard about the 7 line extension are delays. Completion was pushed back from 2013 to early 2014, then mid-2014, then late summer, early fall and now before the end of the year. The MTA is so close to wrapping this project, but with around $60 million worth of work remaining, the finish line has remained frustratingly out of reach. Last week, Matt Flegenheimer explored a source of the delays in a Times article that focused on the station’s incline elevator.

Because the new station had to burrow underneath the 8th Ave. IND, Port Authority underpinnings, the Amtrak tunnel into Manhattan and the Hudson Yards, and the Lincoln Tunnel, the station at 34th St. is very deep. Most riders will be surprised by just how deep it is when they first arrive there, and to build out the station to ADA specifications, the MTA has gone with incline elevators. This is hardly a new technology, but it’s new to New York. That is a recipe for problems, and the elevator failed initial testings last summer. Here’s Flegenheimer’s take on the tale to date:

This is the anatomy of a transit delay — pocked with tales of an ambitious plan, the vagaries of an Italian summer, an unusual funding model and a complex elevator design that had roots in a global landmark and a pyramid-shaped casino, but not in New York’s transportation system…The station, and its unusual elevator, provide a useful case study in the difficulties of capital construction in the city. The idea for a diagonal elevator — two, actually, to go with the station’s escalators and vertical elevators — dates to the project’s genesis more than 10 years ago, the authority said. Angling the structures at an incline was thought to be less expensive than tunneling in relatively straight lines, down and across.

It would also prove a boon to wheelchair users, officials said. A traditional vertical elevator from the upper to the lower mezzanine would have left such passengers about 150 feet from a second elevator that could take them to the platform. But because the incline elevators run parallel to the escalators, Mr. Horodniceanu said, “you are providing a similar experience, irrespective of your handicap.”

Before construction began, the transportation authority led an international search for elevator manufacturers, recommending two companies to Skanska, the project’s general contractor: Maspero and Huetter-Aufzuege, in Germany.

Maspero’s résumé was impressive. Its angled lifts, calling to mind Jetsons-style transport pods, have been chosen to climb slopes in the French Riviera, the Kek Lok Si Temple of Malaysia and a Renzo Piano building in Genoa. The company was selected for the New York elevators. But project administrators preferred that the software and other components come from American companies with whom they were more familiar. (The authority said its contractors, not the agency itself, made these decisions after being presented with performance specifications.) The controller was made on Long Island. The speed governors, or limiters, came from Ohio. Other pieces, like buttons and speakers, were manufactured in Queens.

Dr. Michael Horodniceanu, head of MTA Capital Construction, calls this elevator a “mutt,” and officials have subsequently blamed winter, Italian summers and time for delays in retesting. (It is not the only cause of the delay though as tunnel ventilation tests are delayed and fire protection tests await.) Still, this elevator the description raise some concerns. Though the MTA tells me the “hodgepodge” approach shouldn’t impact maintenance or reliability, there sure are a lot of cooks stirring the soup. It’s concerning that something as relatively simple as an elevator should be so problematic.

Meanwhile, the 7 line can afford this delay. Though some 27,000 daily riders are one day predicted to arrive at this station, that number is dependent upon the completion of the full Hudson Yards project. It’s still years away, and no one will really notice if this station opens now or in 10 months. (In fact, in twenty years, no one will care, but that’s besides the point.)

I bring this up though because uptown and to the east, another subway is growing, and this one is more complicated. It features three new stations and one retrofitted old one. It too will have relatively deep stations, modern ventilation structures and the requisite fire proofing. The Second Ave. Subway is due to wrap in December of 2016, just 31 months from now, and the MTA has vowed to stick to that date. But one would be forgiven for casting a skeptical eye on the Upper East Side as the issues with finishing the 7 line station on time come to the fore.

It’s tough to cross that finish line. We saw a platform gap a few centimeters too wide at South Ferry, and now we’re seeing incline elevators fail testing at Hudson Yards. What troubles await the end of the Second Ave. Subway? Eventually, we’ll find out.

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Josh K. June 1, 2014 - 11:59 pm

The MTA already has a shaky-at-best record with elevators. Its ridiculous that they would force the contractor and prime-source vendor to build such a hodgepodge system, when their own record with domestically built systems is so poor. If these German firms were so proven and no true domestic option available, why not just stick with what everyone knows works to well elsewhere?

Eric June 2, 2014 - 3:56 am

“Buy American”

It’s one of the million pressures from interest groups and lobbyists in the US that prevents infrastructure projects from being built in the most efficient way.

Other examples: NIMBYs, unions, environmentalists.

JimD June 2, 2014 - 8:46 am

It shouldn’t be a ‘Buy America’ situation because the extension is being paid for with city funds, though. Buy America comes into play when Federal funds are utilized.

Bolwerk June 2, 2014 - 9:10 am

Quoth Flegenheimer (emphasis mine):

But project administrators preferred that the software and other components come from American companies with whom they were more familiar. (The authority said its contractors, not the agency itself, made these decisions after being presented with performance specifications.)

If the MTA is to be blamed, it’s because they didn’t stop them from synthesizing.

Duke June 2, 2014 - 12:10 am

Meh, it’s like Duke Nukem Forever. It’ll be open “when it’s done”.

Pete Falina June 2, 2014 - 4:34 am

Please forgive my ignorance here. Is this station deeper than the 7 line station at 42nd St.? One of my Dad’s favorite jokes was that, to go down to the 7 line was “all the way to hell.” I’m just curious. Thank you.

Eric Brasure June 2, 2014 - 10:15 am

Yes, it’s something like 100 feet deeper than the Times Square 7 platform.

Ray June 2, 2014 - 7:26 am

I share your concerns Ben. This simple inclined elevator has its specifications changed to such an extent that Horodniceanu calls it a “mutt”. It’s not hard for me to imagine the added costs to have an expert vendor make a Franekstein product. Perhaps if we bought one “off the shelf” it would be installed and running on-time. We’d have a nearly open station and the Italians would be left to enjoy their usual August vacations. Maintenance considerations aside, is this another hidden contributor to the epidemic in US infrastructure costs overruns?

g June 2, 2014 - 12:06 pm

In the market for a complicated mechanical system which you have no practical experience with that must be operational all the time and requires timely delivery as to not delay billion dollar project? What could possibly go wrong with buying Italian.

Chris C June 2, 2014 - 4:09 pm

These Italian made lifts work in numerous settings in numerous countries without problem. The company has operated for decades so that shows it is providing a quality product.

It was only once people (Americans) started fiddling with the controls and wanting buttons made in one part of the US and controllers in another that it started to go tits-up.

Me thinks the problem is with the US end rather than the Italian

But 10/10 for a cheap shot against the Italians.

Michael June 2, 2014 - 1:07 pm

The article makes it clear that the original intention was to have elevator users to “arrive” at the same place as escalator riders, rather than have wheel-chair users have to roll about 150 extra feet.

As quoted: “A traditional vertical elevator from the upper to the lower mezzanine would have left such passengers about 150 feet from a second elevator that could take them to the platform.”

So the goal was to provide a similar experience for elevator users and escalator users. The question should be was that a worthy goal? The unstated but not quite hidden inference that such a goal was not worthy given all of the troubles so far.

It is indeed possible that a vertical elevator using technology that is well understood would have required about 150-200 of extra tunnel space for that level, leading to other complications. The planning and engineering alternatives were discussed and decided upon long ago.

In any case, it is simply too late now, the dye has been cast. Given enough time – this issue will probably not amount to much of a problem.

Rob June 2, 2014 - 2:57 pm

“you are providing a similar experience, irrespective of your handicap.” — now what could be more important than that?

BruceNY June 2, 2014 - 4:47 pm

This sounds like a recipe for a long-term disaster. Eventually these elevators will start to break down and due to their hodgepodge composition one side will forever point fingers to the other side across the Atlantic and no one will be accountable. I just stayed at the Luxor in Las Vegas which has the same type of inclined elevators. The name plate on the floor says OTIS. Why couldn’t we have just used one domestic company and call it a day?

pete June 3, 2014 - 7:25 pm

Because OTIS won’t meet the “Buy Upstate NY” law.

AG June 2, 2014 - 5:02 pm

Good synopsis.. Though – plenty of ppl will start using that station (though of course not 27k per day).. Why? The last part of the High Line will be ending up there shortly.. and the Javits Center. Residential and restaurants are pooping already.

LLQBTT June 3, 2014 - 1:46 pm

MTA can barely maintain a 1 story escalator, and we’re going to rely on them to operate and maintain these fancy gizmos?

Sea Beach June 3, 2014 - 11:02 pm

Would a funicular not be much easier to build and cheaper to maintain, given that there are two parallel “elevators”?

Chris C June 4, 2014 - 8:59 am

But in a funicular the two cabins are connected so as one goes up the other descends and vice versa.

If there is a problem with one side then BOTH sides are out of action.

Andres June 4, 2014 - 3:38 pm

Q: If the inclined elevator is causing the delay for the new station, why not just open the station and finish the elevator after?

A: Because that’s not the real cause for delay.

Matthew June 4, 2014 - 6:15 pm

New stations can’t open without step-free access. That would be against federal law if they attempted that.

justin June 5, 2014 - 12:29 pm

#6 Concerning vs. Disconcerting. Look it up in the dictionary. “Concerning” means one thing: about, or regarding. It does not mean “something that worries you.” So to say “this problem is very concerning to me” is just plain wrong. There’s no such thing. You may be trying to say the problem is “disconcerting,” which means it causes you to feel “ill at ease, slightly confused, or taken aback.”

Benjamin Kabak June 5, 2014 - 12:31 pm

If we’re going to obnoxious and technical about it, look up the secondary definition of concerning in the dictionary. I’ll wait.

Nathanael June 7, 2014 - 1:32 am

The station which needed the inclined elevators was East Side Access.


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