On an unseasonably warm Friday toward the end of his 12-year tenure, then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg took a celebratory subway ride on the 7 train from Times Square to the station in progress at 34th St. and 11th Ave. Although the mayor had pushed to see the one-stop extension, funded nearly entirely through city money, open before he left office, the MTA couldn’t finish the project on time, and so his ride and subsequent press conference became a celebration in symbolism. The 7 line was supposed to open soon after Bloomberg rode off into the sunset, and he was content to smile for the cameras during his valedictory lap around the city.
“Today’s historic ride is yet another symbol of how New York City has become a place where big projects can get done,” Bloomberg said at the time. “This project is the linchpin of an ambitious transit-oriented, mixed-use development that is already transforming Manhattan’s Far West Side, and it demonstrates our Administration’s commitment over the past 12 years to invest in infrastructure that will allow our city to grow for generations to come.”
Since then, no one has gotten to ride on the 7 train since the MTA hasn’t been able to move past a few key problems. The long wait for revenue service, we learned today, should be over before summer ends. The MTA expects to open the 7 line extension by September 13 — presumably of 2015. As the agency has no plans to host a ribbon-cutting during the dog days of August, it’s possible that the new stop will open before September 13, but as they did with the Fulton St. Transit Center, it seems likely that Sunday, September 13 — Erev Rosh Hashanah — will be the big day for the mayor’s pet project.
It’s hard to view this as anything other than a relief. The MTA has the proverbial egg on its face due to its inability to get this project across the finish line until nearly 21 months after Bloomberg’s ride, and the project itself is marred by a costly game of chicken in which neither the city nor the MTA blinked over the $500 million cost-saving measure to cancel the plans for a second station at 10th Ave. and 41st. Though provisioning is in place for a side-platform station should the money materialize, there are no immediate plans in the works for anyone to fund or build this station.
In honor of the eventual opening, let’s take a look back at all the times the MTA promised to open the 7 line extension starting with the plan to build the Jets a new stadium atop the Hudson Yards and bring the Olympics to New York City. In 2005, as those plans percolated through MTA Board actions and various lawsuits, the MTA promised to open the 7 line extension before any potential Summer Olympics in 2012. Obviously, they missed that deadline.
In mid-2010 as work continued on the project, the MTA’s deadline had already slipped to June of 2013, but that was a short-lived target. By early 2012, MTA Capital Construction President Michael Horodniceanu said the 7 line would likely be in testing by the end of 2013 and open for revenue service in 2014. In early 2013, Mayor Bloomberg threatened to push the 7 train himself if it meant running trains before he left office, and that is basically what he did.
During Bloomberg’s press conference, the MTA stated that they expected a summer 2014 opening date, but as we know, that too proved elusive. In January of 2014, the MTA predicated a late summer/early fall opening; in February of 2014, the MTA predicated a November opening; and in June of 2014, the MTA predicted an early 2015 opening, a timeline later firmed up in September.
It didn’t stop there. In December, the MTA discussed an opening during the second quarter of 2014, and in April, the agency pushed that back to the third quarter. And that’s where we stand now. Despite this tortured history, I wouldn’t bet against a September opening. The MTA is performing the final tests, and officials don’t usually set a firm date as they did today without ample faith in that decision. Still, stranger things have happened.
Ultimately, in a year or five years or ten years, no one will care that the MTA couldn’t open the 7 line extension on time, but residents along 2nd Ave. are rightly skeptical the MTA will deliver on promises to open that project by the end of 2016. Furthermore, politicians too are also skeptical — rightly or wrongly remains an open question — on the MTA’s ability to deliver. While delays are ultimately temporary, city pols are happy to use them as an excuse to keep badly-needed funding out of the MTA’s hands. Thus, as we did with the station at 41st St. and 10th Ave., we all lose. It’s just a few things to keep in mind as we hurtle toward September 13, the 7 line extension’s latest do-or-die day.