Considering how rare it is these days for the New York City subway system to gain track mileage and new stations, next month’s long-awaited opening of the 7 line extension at Hudson Yards is a moment to celebrate. The MTA expects the new station at 34th St. and 11th Ave. to one day be among the most popular in the city, and the stop opens up the new development at the Hudson Yards, the Javits Center, part of the High Line, the Bolt Bus staging ground and an otherwise marginalized area of Manhattan to the subway system. The costs were exceedingly high though; the only reason the 7 line isn’t the most expensive subway project in the world is because the Second Ave. Subway is even more costly. But besides the dollars, the city and the MTA sacrificed an opportunity for even more, and the decision to cut the stop at 41st and 10th Ave. isn’t one easy to overcome.
The history of New York City’s subway system is filled with broken promises and grandiose plans that never came to be. Now and then, remnants of what never was crop up in unexpected ways. The 2010 Underbelly Project in the South 4th St. station shell reminded the city of grand plans for a Second System that were pushed aside over the years due to the Great Depression, a World War and the rise of the automobile and Robert Moses. The history of a cross-Bronx subway echoes through the tail tracks north of the D train’s Norwood – 205th Street terminus. The IRT’s dead end at Flatbush Ave. speaks of a Nostrand Ave. subway Sheepshead Bay still yearns for today. Now, we can add the 7 line to this list.
When the one-stop extension opens on Sunday, September 13, riders won’t notice the provisioning for a station at 41st and 10th Ave., but it’s there. The slope of the tunnels have been flattened out through the area where a train station would be to allow for future construction. Once planned as a station with an island platform, provisioning would allow for an in-fill, side platform station with no cross-overs or transfers to be built one day if money materializes. The costs of any future construction are expected to be significantly higher than the price tag attached to the station had it been built over the last few years, and after a burst of activity a few years ago, no one is talking about funding it anymore. It may just be lost to time.
So what happened? The history is a lesson on understanding what “on time and on budget” in MTA-speak really means. When the Bloomberg Administration first proposed funding the 7 line extension, the plans called for two stations — one at 41st St. and 10th Ave. and another at 34th St. and 11th Ave, and the MTA and city agreed on a $2.4 billion budget. Nearly immediately, it became clear that the MTA couldn’t deliver on this budget, and plans for a station at 41st St. turned into plans for a shell of a station at 41st St. The finishes would come later when the money materialized, but even that idea was in jeopardy.
As I noted back in 2006 in the fourth post in this site’s history, the MTA would likely to have to cut the plans to construct even a shell at 41st St. when costs became untenable. In late 2007, the move became official when the one project bid came in at around $500 million over budget. The MTA refused to spend a dime on Bloomberg’s pet project, and even an offer to split the bill for the shell 50-50 went nowhere. Chuck Schumer made some noises about resolving the dispute, but federal money was tied up in the 9/11 recovery funds and the Second Ave. Subway grant. In the end, in a game of political and economic chicken, no one blinked, and the opportunity to build the station at the time disappeared. A few years ago, costs were estimated to be at least $800 million for the station, up significantly from the $500 million price tag eight years ago.
So why wasn’t it built? Words from the city in 2008 that have been repeated as talking points by Dan Doctoroff speak volumes for what was the guiding philosophy behind the subway extension. “Unlike the extension to 34th Street and 11th Avenue, which the city is funding, a 10th Avenue station is not necessary to drive growth there,” a spokesperson for the deputy mayor for economic development said. “A Tenth Avenue station would be nice, but it’s really a straight transportation project versus an economic development catalyst.”
To those who live in those new high rises in the West 40s on the Far West Side (or those who will move into the 1400-unit building now going up right where the station should have been, sorry. It’s “just” a transportation project isn’t a good enough reason for a new subway station that would have been around for the subway’s next 110 years. To the team funding the subway, “economic development” was the driving argument and not the need to improve mobility.
So we’re finally getting the new train stop. As the project was supposed to wrap in late 2013, it wasn’t on time, and as the project was supposed to have two stations, or at least a shell of a second, it wasn’t on budget. Instead, we have a badly needed and much appreciated subway stop and a reminder yet again that New York City failed to take full advantage of an opportunity to address holes in its vital subway system. The MTA isn’t fighting for the 10th Ave. station, and it’s just a blip in their 20-year plan. I don’t think I’m going out a limb when I say we won’t see it in any of our lifetimes, and that’s a huge missed opportunity.