Later on Monday, the MTA Board’s committee meetings will meet to discuss the various business before the agency, and one of those meetings — for the Capital Program Oversight Committee — will get an update on the 7 line extension. Shockingly, the MTA isn’t quite right to announce a firm opening date for this project, and it may not be ready for passenger service until early 2015. Will we have hoverboards, flying cars and a Cubs World Series win or the one-stop 7 line extension first?
When we last heard of the delay, The Times explored some reasons for the elusive revenue start date, and this month’s Board materials shed further light on the problems. Notably, the project just isn’t finished. It’s now six months beyond when the MTA had planned to wrap the project, and the 34th Street Station is only 95% complete. Now, it’s true that the station can open prior to 100% completion, but the outstanding problems are significant.
Notably, the Finishes and Systems contract is only 89% completed, and this is the last contract required for completion prior to revenue service. This contract includes the elevators and escalators and the communications system — all of which won’t be tested until July — but the tunnel ventilation system hasn’t passed acceptance testing yet. The project had no contingency built in, and it’s starting to show.
According to the MTA materials, while the elevators have earned headlines, the ventilation fans are more problematic. The fans for certain sites failed factory acceptance, and the contractor is performing additional pre-tests to ensure that certain corrective measures work. Tests are supposed to begin again this month, but we won’t know for a few weeks how this part of the project is progressing. Without the fans, the MTA cannot begin servicing this station.
Meanwhile, the escalators and elevators at the 34th St. site remain an open question. Testing will begin again next month, and the contractors have agreed to speed up work on these elements of the project. This sounds well and good, but while the MTA is remaining vague on the completion date, their independent engineering consultants are now predicting revenue service by February 2015, a full 14 months after then-Mayor Bloomberg’s ceremonial ride back in December. The IEC notes that the MTA’s own December 2014 date relies on accelerated contractor schedules that the contractors haven’t been able to meet. Any slippage will push the opening date back further.
As I’ve noted before, these opening dates won’t matter in a few years once people are passing through this station on a regular basis, the 7 line won’t fulfill its potential until the Hudson Yards project is more fully realized. But the IEC also urges the MTA to consider how this failure to meet promised revenue service dates could impact other ongoing projects. For the Second Ave. Subway, the IEC urges the MTA to conduct a coordinated review to ensure resources can meet revenue service projections. It’s not clear if contractors can fulfill this aggressive schedule either.
So we wait, and the MTA shuffles its feet. It’s important to show to politicians who control purse strings that the MTA can deliver a functional project relatively on time. But right now, this 7 line extension remains a promise and not a reality.
Unless it’s an emergency situation, the terms “MTA Construction Projects” and “Quality Control” don’t seem to come near each other, when you’d think that the longer time a project’s given for completion, the fewer problems they would have. In the MTA’s world, the faster and more urgent a project is, the fewer problems it seems to run into along the way.
Hudson Yards appears to be headed towards the same type of annoying delays and bugs as Lower South Ferry suffered in 2008-2012, when it had its opening delayed to early ’09 because the platform and the trains failed to line up right, and even before Sandy hit was doing its darndest to let water into the downstairs areas.
“Unless it’s an emergency situation, the terms “MTA Construction Projects” and “Quality Control” don’t seem to come near each other.”
I don’t think that’s a fair statement. The MTA is controlling quality by finding out that the contractors screwed up and making the fix it.
The problem is the contractors doing shoddy work and trying to see what they can get away with. MTA projects have punch lists (defects to be corrected) with thousands and thousands of items.
And then they go to arbitration and litigation to see who gets stuck with the bill, and usually the MTA folds — even though the contractors have built getting caught and having to fix things into the price they charge.
It isn’t just the MTA. Just go play paddleball against the wall at the Greenwood Cemetary in Windsor Terrace. It was a perfectly good wall before they hired some contractor to “fix it.”
I meant Greenwood Playground.
But it does seem as if despite the problems, the same contractors continue to be on the bid lists, as if double-secret probation is the worst punishment anyone’s going to get for repeated substandard work.
Why doesn’t the MTA and Port Authority just cooperate to procure in-house contractors to do most of the work in these projects, billing out the other [specialty] tasks to bids?
Isn’t this what the transit authority in London does? They seem to have a nice on-time record.
At Transport for London maintenance is in-house but major capital works are still put out to bid to the private sector e.g. Cross Rail and the Victoria tube Station extension come to mind as current examples.
The scale of these contracts is just off the chart when compared with routine maintenance activities so in-house is just not practical.
TFL does appear to have very good contract management and monitoring arrangements though.
And of course TFL is also the direct responsibility of the Mayor (who chairs the TFL board) with regular accountability reviews by the Greater London Authority so he has a personal interest in making sure both day to day operations work as well as an efficient capital programme.
Unlike the Mayor of NYC he can’t blame anyone else when things go wrong.
Blame the incompetence of John Lindsay and his fear of having to negotiate another contract with the TWU after Mike Quill took him to the cleaners in 1966 for the current situation. Lindsay couldn’t move fast enough to dump the TA off on the state, and Rockefeller and Ronan already had plan in place to use the takeover as a way to force Robert Moses out of the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority.
Indeed. That’s why London has the second highest construction costs in the world, after New York.
It’s very simple, because there are only a handful of contractors that have the bonding capacity to bid on projects over a certain dollar amount. And before you get all hot to blame the contractors, don’t forget that it’s unions who are doing the work and the MTA who is managing the mega-projects that are ALL behind schedule.
Why hasn’t Dr. Horodniceanu been fired yet? Every capital construction project continues to be late and over budget. He’s clearly incapable of performing his job properly.
Who is the General Contractor? Have they taken any decisive role in fixing this, or do they, like the subs, wait to see if the MTA catches the bad work?
If contractors do shoddy work, then why can’t they be banned from any future bids?
Because they have rights.
The MTA can’t win. It has tried big contracts with big contractors, breaking projects into smaller pieces to attract more contractors, experienced contractors, new blood, in house.
The situation on the LIRR is, obviously, worse.
Any or all of which could work, but they all overlook the problem. What they haven’t tried is having consequences for fucking up.
That said, I’m guessing the sheer complexity of these projects leaves very few firms capable of even being able to read, much less execute, the project.
ICYMI: http://www.railforthevalley.co.....from-2012/ (with Larry Littlefield quoted!)
The author (Stephen Smith, @MarketUrbanism) posts here too sometimes.
Ironically, the blog that’s reposting Stephen’s article is primarily anti-SkyTrain, even though Vancouver has reasonable construction costs.
I have read that out-of-state and even out-of-region contractors simply won’t touch contracts in NYC. So, for instance, if there’s a nice, responsible, competent engineering or construction firm in Rochester, they *will not consider* an NYC contract.
Don’t ask me why. But I think this makes it hard for the MTA to get anyone except the “usual suspects” to bid.
I can tell you why, and believe me, I’ve worked for a large construction company in NYC for over 15 years. It’s because of the unions. Unless you have depth of experience dealing with the unions here, you will not be successful.
Like many organizations, the MTA excels at fire-fighting/superman-type stuf, but their planning/service mgmt sucks.
The projected revenue date for second avenue subway has not been updated in years. Any hope for December 2016?
On what moral ground does a contractor who does shoddy work have the right to bid on new work?
Do the best private builders allow substandard operators to continue to work for them? Even in the scummy NY construction world? Are all the subs incompetent or criminal?
I realize how awful NYS government is, but we at present have a governor who likes to pretend that he is is some kind of effective leader. Is there nothing at all that he can do?
I believe they went out of the country to get a better escalator contractor, but got the same result. Their stuff works in Europe, but stinks here — just like Alstom and Siemens.
Since the SAS subway stations and East Side Access will require escalators too, this is not good news.
Wasn’t there a post about the diagonal elevator a few weeks ago?
The Italian supplied elevator and electronics and controls work happily elsewhere in the world but failed when the US master contractor insisted on them using US made components and made design changes – something about bigger buttons to operate it – that’s when the problems started
This does sound like a symptom of a classic problem with subcontracting. There’s a general rule of thumb that you want the layers of management to be as thin as possible. If you have a subcontractor, you want them to be installing an unmodified black box.
The current governor is waging a quiet war on transit. Ideologically, he’s more like Robert Moses than anyone we’ve had in power in this state since Moses.
Except Moses at least started off maybe meaning well.
I am amazed at how often the escalators are out of service.
Just this morning, the one at Court St / Borough Hall was out again.
This is not such a steep climb, but as all know, some of the escalators are really really steep.
I doubt that such metrics exist, but I would love to see a comparison of escalator performance in NYC subways as compared with other metros nationally and globally.
Or, more importantly, a concise comparison of construction costs / quality of work / time to complete comparing NYC subway with other major cities worldwide.
There is no accountability, and 99% of the time when you see a ” construction worker ” they’re just standing around.
To be fair, a lot of workers are doing actual work behind barriers so we don’t see them.
Anyway, it’s not the individual worker’s fault, it’s these companies that bid on projects with no intention of doing the job in the time allotted. Good on the MTA for holding them to this, but it seems like the MTA needs management that will fight every last case to the death in court.
Everyone would cheer if the MTA was spending most of its budget on lawyers to beat these scumbag contractors into submission. The real-world problem with that is that those contractors have a lot of influence in state government and the MTA has no ability to counter their campaign finance advantage. Any MTA head who got seriously tough on contractors would be removed.
You are woefully misinformed. The contractors do not perform the work, the union workers do, so why people like you continue to make excuses for them is beyond me.
And contractors do not have influence in state government. That’s a little leftie fantasy, but nice try.
Everybody in DC rags on the Metro escalators being constantly out. It’s not unique to the MTA. And to be fair, it seems that the MTA is better at keeping its own escalators working than the escalators that were built as part of station/building private partnerships are the responsibility of outside building management companies. So it’s again more of an issue of the MTA’s seeming inability to force other parties to hold up their contractual obligations.
PATH seems to be good at keeping its escalators in repair. Or it had the foresight to build a ton of extras at WTC and Exchange Place, so when some are out it’s not a crisis.
More evidence: the escalators are constantly out at the Manhattan-side SI ferry terminal (not MTA areas). Indeed, that terminal has been plagued by technical problems since day 1 and 99% of the time has a problem with its dot matrix electronic signs, and they gave up on the sliding door motors, pathetically slow as they were, ever working again years ago. So no, these are not exclusively MTA issues.
In complete fairness the Staten Island Ferry Terminal (Whitehall Street) has often had problems with the escalators. I am talking about the 1950’s boat-influenced terminal design that was burnt down in 1991 – that one had problems with the escalators.
(As a historical note prior to the 1950’s terminal design, the oldest White Hall Terminal did not have any escalators, but had direct pathways from the old elevated train lines at South Ferry.)
The completed 10+ years “Temporary Terminal” built out of the remains from the fire – one often had problems with its escalators. (While that temporary terminal was being built – ferry riders had to use the enclosed roadway space to enter & exit using the main decks of the boats.)
The current new terminal officially opened in 2005 – contains digital signage both inside and outside. The exterior digital signs were supposed to display messages that boat riders could see. Those digital signs have NEVER EVER been activated. There were periods where those escalators were out of service!
It took an entire year & more since the Hurricane Sandy outage for 4 of the 5 escalators to be restored to service, now with neon borders. However in fairness the elevator in the Whitehall Terminal has worked the majority of the time without long periods of absence – excepting as noted the period after Hurricane Sandy.
In the St. George Terminal there is only 1 single escalator from the lower level Kiss & Ride lot to the main corridor.
The basic difference between the terminals is that at Whitehall Street the main waiting room is at a higher level to meet the boat ramps, while all of the riders enter the terminal building from the street level. At St. George the bus ramps, SIR stairways, pedestrian and parking lots entrances all lead directly to the main corridor and waiting room – requiring only 1 escalator. The majority of the users at St. George use pathways that do not require an escalator. The previous design of the St. George terminal (pre-2004) did not have any escalators, thus none to repair.
In Vancouver, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen a SkyTrain escalator malfunction.
The escalators have been intermittent at Exchange Place since Sandy, and both times they posted a date for when one undergoing major maintenance would be back in service, they missed it by months.
The center escalator is down now, and I think the reopening date is posted as September.
The Port Authority has had numerous issues with the Exchange Place escalators, including malfunctions that made the press when they suddenly started moving in the opposite directly (minor injuries reported IIRC). They’ve been trying to repair/replace them ever since Sandy.
The escalators at PATH hill in the WTC are more reliable, thought they will sometimes take 1 escalator out for repair at any given time for maintenance (repair/replace treads, etc).
It will be interesting to see how reliable the new escalators between the mezzanine and the track level will be.
Perhaps just as worrisome is that the elevators at Hoboken and within the WTC haven’t exactly had a great track record either – and that’s even with the newly rebuilt Hoboken elevator (which was also damaged by Sandy and completely rebuilt thereafter).
I believe those metrics do exist (if not in comparison with other systems but rates of non operation etc) as I am sure I have seen them in the MTA board papers.
Am not sure how valid the comparisons would be. for example many of the DC escalators are outside whereas in London they are all inside the stations.
They say it’s getting better.
For the ones installed and managed by developers in exchange for zoning variances and the like, it came out a few years ago that the MTA had no coherent system for enforcing contractual obligations. After spending money to build a system to detect when people get stuck in elevators, they decided not to use it because it had such a high rate of false alarms, but did nothing to fix it. After the IG put out a report on both the MTA got to work improving things.
This is exactly what William Barclay Parsons foresaw when he was designing the IRT as cut-and-cover instead of deep tube. He knew the long-term value of keeping things low-maintenance instead of high-maintenance. He was already building things ‘green’ and ‘sustainable’.
NYC unions and construction workers and labor laws are the problem.
The very same large contractors have better financial and timeline results in other large US cities.
What possible incentive do the workers have to work hard? Why would they ever work hard, when they’d be criticized by fellow workers and union stewards for being a slave and lowering the hourly total for all.
Unless I’m misreading the post, you can’t blame the construction workers for this one. This is about discrete pieces of equipment being provided in shoddy shape, not sloth on the part of the on-site workers.
Nor can we blame unions or work rules for poor contractor performance relative to this project. It’s one thing to have inflated costs and lengthy timelines, as New York does. It’s another thing for a private contractor to fail to meet its own schedule with unions and work rules in place with which it’s supposed to be familiar.
Not excusing terrible work rules and stereotypical lazy union workers like myself, but nothing can change until we’re honest about what this stuff costs and how long it takes, and we aren’t. And I wouldn’t even care about the delays if the MTA didn’t give the contractor another dime for it, but as Larry Littlefield says, they probably will.
“Nothing can change until we’re honest about what this stuff costs and how long it takes, and we aren’t.”
That’s when we’ll realize we can’t afford it and shouldn’t bother.
The MTA has been honest. I takes the inflated cost of the past project and makes that the budgeted estimate for the next project, which all the bidders get to see.
The bidders then use that as a minimum and see if they can top it, establishing a higher baseline for next time.
We can afford multiple projects, and should be doing a lot more than this, but we should not approve or fund any new major projects until there is major reform of NY Labor Laws along with a better system for holding all contractors accountable for costs and deadlines.
Construction project results with contractors are better upstate (well, west of the Capitol Region, I should say…) than in NYC or its suburbs.
What is going on in New York City? Is it the same culture of corruption which led to the Tweed Courthouse running 5 times over budget without being finished?
Today Washington Metro finally announced the late but date certain opening of the Silver Line, end of July.
No date has been set by the MTA to open anything.
The 7 line has no opening date, Eastside Access of the LIRR keeps chugging along without end in sight,the Colonial Road project in Thomaston has fallen off the Radar,the 2nd Avenue Subway’s completion date is elusive at best. And the LIRR is going on strike! Is there anything that they do right. Construction is endless.
what’s the ‘iec’?
Independent engineering consultants
Per an article in the Times today the MTA knocked back Fulton Center another 3 months, 7 extension into next spring (i.e., Spring ends June 21, so about one more year) and East Side Access into 2022.
In unrelated news the SEC and NY AG are going after Christie for cancelling ARC and putting the money into the Pulaski Skyway. Per the MTA scheduling, ARC would be announcing it’s 25th timetable delay by now.
If Mario Cuomo’s son had been doing his job, those Port Authority funds would not have been misappropriated by Christie for a non PA project.
It seems that Christie has complete authority of the Port Authority these days
Today’s news reports are saying that Fulton Center wont open for another 60-90 days due to critical testing of key systems not having been completed.
2-3 more months. The report also indicates that the contract lists completion by the end of 2014, so someone will get to claim that this contract was completed ahead of time.
The 7 is also slated to open by the end of the year, even though it was supposed to be up and running by now.
The story with EAS is worse, as the date keeps slipping and costs continue rising.
But the WNYC report does point to a discrepancy/disconnect: the MTA touts earlier completion/open dates, while the contracts appear to indicate later dates. At least in the Fulton Center case, the contractors would be on target to not only meet their contractual obligations, but if there were performance bonuses to finish early, they’d get them, even if MTA open dates slipped by a few weeks/months.
“…some key systems”.
They’re called Elevators, and as Newsradio88 reported this morning, that’s what’s holding up the opening of Fulton Transit Center. Once again, the MTA can’t figure out elevators, and these aren’t the fancy European (mixed w/ American parts) inclined elevators. Just the same type that go up and down, which any private enterprise could install in their new buildings on time, but not the MTA.
There is something very odd about the high elevator failure rates. Elevators are really standard technology.
I’m sure the MTA is responsible for a lot of the cost overruns in terms of bad management, but I think it’s important to keep in mind the failings of the “design-bid-build” system that’s standard in the USA. The MTA hires architects & engineers to design the structures, then issues the drawings to get bids and then the winning contractor (usually low bidder) builds the project. Usually, the only way a low bidder can make money is to pick over the drawings for errors that would allow them to claim more money. The more complicated the project the more likely the contractor will be able to make a valid claim for cash. Problems during construction usually require fixes and work stopages that are more expensive than if they’d been in the original contract and are therefore more lucrative to the contractor than just doing the normal work. In other words, contractors often end up ahead when the project falls behind, creating perverse incentives. If cost and schedule control were of absolute importance, the MTA would bring a lot of the design and construction in house instead of hiring others. Or, they should hire a contractor who also does the design and construction for a lump sum so they have a lot more incentive to keep things within the original cost.
Design-bid-build seems to work OK when the agency doesn’t have to pick the low bidder; bidders who pull the kind of crap which is routine for MTA contractors end up on the blacklist.
I’ve read through the meetings of the board of NICTD (South Shore Line) and they reject the low bidder a *lot*, for not being up to their quality standards. And NICTD doesn’t get sued for doing this, either.
Uh, you do not seem to realize that MTA has a prequalification process for all of their contracts.
a little sad political humor:
The #7 extension is behind schedule
The 2nd Ave line is taking for ever
LIRR East Side Access feels like a grain of sand at a time.
When progress seems so slow, costly and painful it is not surprising that people do not support transit expansion.
What is needed (forget the Chinese) is to bring over workers from Gaza –
the are really good at digging and explosives!!!!