Home Capital Program 2015-2019 MTA Board approves slimmer 2015-2019 Capital Program with less money for 2nd Ave. Subway

MTA Board approves slimmer 2015-2019 Capital Program with less money for 2nd Ave. Subway

by Benjamin Kabak

Phase 2 of the Second Ave. Subway project will eventually extend the route north to 125th St. and west to Lexington Ave., but due to MTA capital funding disputes, construction won’t begin until the early 2020s.

Nobody ever likes to grovel. It’s that antiestablishment aversion to brown-nosers we all develop in middle school, but yet, there comes a time in every person’s career when, if one is not the ultimate, one must grovel. Thus, when the MTA sent out a press release on the MTA Board’s approval Wednesday of the revised and pared-down $29 billion five-year capital plan, agency head Tom Prendergast had to grovel.

“Thanks to the leadership of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the hard work of our dedicated MTA staff, this revised Capital Program will reduce costs and deliver projects more efficiently without cutting any projects or the benefits they will bring to our customers,” Prendergast said. You can almost hear him gritting his teeth via press release.

Cuomo played the part. Calling Wednesday a “great day,” Cuomo easily dismissed the months of childish fighting. “I challenged the MTA to revise its Capital Program in a way that reduced costs and delivered results more efficiently, without cutting any major projects or the benefits they will bring to commuters – and that is exactly what this new Program does,” he said. “Along with the State’s historic $8.3 billion investment and significant funding from the City to pay its fair share, this will mean a stronger, safer and more reliable MTA well into the future.”

Take that for what you will (and keep in mind that Cuomo’s funding solution likely just means more MTA debt). Now that the capital plan approval is on its way toward full approval, the reality is that the MTA isn’t exactly underfunded. It can tap into a massive amount of money to keep up current projects and implement future ones. Whether the agency spends well and gets bang for the buck is certainly in doubt, but the money, in some form or another, is there.

So with the capital plan approved — and one that relies more on city input — what’s changed? When the MTA first unveiled the 2015-2019 Capital Program during the summer of 2014, we delved into the request for funds for Phase 2 of the Second Ave. Subway and a variety of other measures, from signal work to Penn Station Access to the MetroCard replacement and beyond. The new plan shows how even a contribution of just a few billion dollars, as Mayor Bill de Blasio eventually ponied up, can skew things.

Notably and most importantly, the idea that Phase 2 of the Second Ave. Subway will see shovels enter the ground before the end of the decade has gone up in smoke. Instead of proposing $1.5 billion for the northern section of the long-awaiting subway line, the MTA has pared down its request to slightly over $500 million, and nearly all of this money is expected to come from federal sources. Here’s MTA-speak on the project:

The proposed 2015-2019 Capital Program provides $535 million to commence SAS Phase 2. This is a reduction of $1.0 billion compared to the previous 2015-2019 capital plan proposal that was submitted in September 2014, reflecting funding availability and the ability to implement scope within the plan period. Included are environmental, design, and real estate and project support to undertake preliminary construction work, such as utility relocation. The balance of the work necessary for operation will be funded in future capital programs.

In plain English, this means that the MTA no longer expects to start the actual construction work on Harlem-bound part of the Second Ave. Subway until the 2020-2024 capital plan comes due. Previously, the MTA had expected some contracts for tunneling to be issued by 2019, but in the capital plan and subsequent comments on Wednesday, officials indicated that this was no longer a realistic timeline, considering the MTA’s ability to undertake the work and available funding. For what it’s worth, the billion-dollar reduction for Phase 2 of the Second Ave. Subway is the single biggest line-item cut in the new capital plan.

Now, this move doesn’t mean that the Second Ave. Subway extension to 125th St. and Lexington Ave. is dead. In fact, it commits the MTA to spend half a billion dollars on this vital part of the line. Rather, it means New Yorkers will have to wait longer for those stations at 106th, 116th and 125th, and, as time leads to more dollars spent, it’s likely to cost more as well. This is a symptom of the phased approach indicative of the funding constraints placed upon the MTA. It’s also a result of the ballooning East Side Access costs as the MTA needs to secure the dollars to finish that project. So we’ll wait until the mid-to-late 2020s instead. What a crazy thought.

Meanwhile, the new capital plan has more projects worth considering over the next few days. As a laundry list, the MTA, under pressure for some reason from de Blasio, will spend a whopping $5 million on the initial studies for a Utica Ave. extension (something I’ll revisit shortly) and will spend the same amount on studying converting Staten Island’s North Shore rail right-of-way to a bus rapid transit route. Investments in the new fare payment system have jumped from $250 million to $419 million, an indication that the MTA actually wants to see this project through, and the agency has yet again vowed to deliver countdown clocks throughout the subways by 2020 as well.

The agency has also signed up for a few more long-awaited subway-related projects. After years of requests, the agency will finally offer a connection between Livonia Ave. on the L and Junius St. on the 3 for a cost of $30 million, and the 42nd St. shuttle may see a big overhaul. (Look for more on that project soon too.) The MTA will also spend $740 million — up from $561 million — on ADA-related projects, including new entrances for the L train at Avenue A.

So that’s a lot to digest, and it barely scratches the surface. You can read through the revised booklet if you wish; the MTA has published it as a pdf. I’m not thrilled about the elongation of the Second Ave. Subway timeline, and I feel it’s indicative of the way the MTA operates (or doesn’t) these days. That’s the cost though of a 10 percent reduction in budget. If that’s the “bloat” Cuomo referred to when he bashed the initial capital plan, I don’t have high hopes for subway expansion until a more transit-friendly governor takes over in Albany. Either way, though, $29 billion is nothing to scoff at.

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Duke October 29, 2015 - 1:06 am

Now, this move doesn’t mean that the Second Ave. Subway extension to 125th St. and Lexington Ave. is dead.

No, but the trend is nonetheless in that direction with no sign of reversing. Remember what happened with the Archer Ave subway – they finished phase 1 several years late and over budget, and then abandoned plans for future phases. I smell a reprise of this.

Besides, even with the capital plan as it is calling for Queens Blvd signal replacement and all, there still remains a lot of unsexy behind the scenes work like this which is necessary and expensive. The MTA would be wise to focus resources on keeping the infrastructure they already have in good working order and only consider expansion if there is money left over. Which there won’t be so long as costs remain what they are.

Eric October 29, 2015 - 3:42 am

Well, to be honest, the extended Archer Ave subway was not really necessary, and SAS is necessary.

anon_coward October 29, 2015 - 8:40 am

yes it was

Larry Littlefield October 29, 2015 - 7:03 am

They cut “the urban portion” while borrowing money for younger generations to somehow pay back.

While providing full funding for excess PRIVATE SECTOR pension costs left over from the past.

That is the reality.

And in five years we’ll be back defending the “bloated spending” on transit which is really all debt and pensions, and demanding more money.

They realize there is no way out, so they just refuse to solve the problem.

Eric October 29, 2015 - 3:53 am

I was looking at the route of SAS, and wondered if the cost of Phases 3-4 could be lowered by building fewer stops. For example, Grand Street and Chatham Square are only about 400 meters apart in an area that already has many subway stops, so why not omit Chatham Square? (You can’t omit Grand St – it has transfers to the B/D.) Of the 10 planned stops, I think 4 can be safely omitted – 23rd St, Houston St, Chatham, and Seaport. In modern subway construction, the tunnels are dug by TBMs and the dominant cost is the stops. So this would make a dramatic difference in project cost, and not impact ridership very much.

Chet October 29, 2015 - 6:37 am

An alternative would also be to make it possible (easier) to add those stops at a later date.

What I still find amazing is that if building the entire line at once was to cost let’s say $25 billion over 15 years, that’s an average of $1.66 billion a year. While some years would require less money, and some would require more, considering the size of these capital plans, it’s just insane that stuff can’t get done like that; and a 15 year timeline is quite long.

The current plan should have at least a billion in it not just for Phase Two, but for Three and Four as well.

Jose K. October 29, 2015 - 10:23 am

Just a wild guess, but I’m guessing that the inclusion of both a Grand St stop and a Chatham Sq stop was a bone thrown to Sheldon Silver.

tacony October 29, 2015 - 11:00 am

Nah, it’s a bone thrown to the “Chinatown community” as Chatham Sq used to be a major el express station with transfers to both the 2nd and 3rd ave elevated lines, but has been without a station since they were torn down. It’s an effort to right that wrong. Now that we’re finally building the replacement subway after tearing down the els, I think many would be unhappy with skipping the old stop here. Of course there are many other local stops not being rebuilt, but not as many with such prior importance and identification with the neighborhood. It’s a barren, big wide space today, but it used to be dominated by the multi-level el station.

VLM October 29, 2015 - 11:04 am

There must be – what? – 2-3 people left in Chinatown who remember the old el stop at Chatham Square? Will there be any by the time Phase 4 opens? If that’s the reason for an unnecessary stop, it can be ditched from the plans.

tacony October 29, 2015 - 11:53 am

But those 2 or 3 people who remember it are the ones sitting on the community boards, going to neighborhood meetings to complain about such things, etc. The vast majority of the population don’t participate in government in a meaningful way, especially in a neighborhood as transient as Chinatown. City agencies’ attempts to “consult with the community” usually result in odd giveaways to appease non-representative portions of their constituencies. By the time Phase 4 opens Chinatown could be mostly new immigrants from a currently-obscure province or a Chinatown-in-name-only of mostly white yuppies living above faux-Chinese restaurants, as Little Italy has become. Nobody would dare plan for either scenario though.

Eric October 29, 2015 - 4:55 pm

I’m sure you could counter those 2 or 3 people with 50 people who don’t want the disruption of station construction in their neighborhood.

AG October 29, 2015 - 3:22 pm

Yes and of course no one is seriously talking about replacing the 3rd Ave El in The Bronx yet… Only the third most densely populated urban area (and barely because it’s almost the density of Brooklyn) in the nation.

Larry Littlefield October 29, 2015 - 7:15 am

The more I think about it, the worse it is. They will spend $500 million to pretend they are going to add capacity someday, when NYC residents are being squeezed right now.

Elvis Delgado October 29, 2015 - 8:28 am

An even more extreme example of this is the $5 million to study a Utica Avenue subway. Yes, it’s only $5 million, but the chance of this being built is probably less than zero; whereas, there’s still a small chance that SAS Phase II will ever see the light of day.

anon_coward October 29, 2015 - 8:41 am

being that the vast majority of NYC residents live outside of Manhattan, they need to add capacity there first

Larry Littlefield October 29, 2015 - 9:04 am

That makes on sense at all, other than perhaps political sense.

Trips have an origin and a destination. For mass transit, the destination is almost always Manhattan or commercial areas on the way to Manhattan and located close by.

It’s the kind of statement politicians who wouldn’t deign to use mass transit, but want to pander to those who do at low cost, would make.

The portion of the SAS that served Manhattan is the portion already built. The next phase would connect at 125th, providing a back-up to the Lex for Bronx residents and access to all the medical jobs on the Upper East Side.

The subsequent phases, which could lose most of their Manhattan stations, would provide more capacity to East Midtown for residents of Brooklyn and Queens. I’d suggest just three stations, at 55th, 42nd and 14th, then hooking into the 6th Avenue Line/Rutgers Tunnel between 2nd Avenue and Delancy.

anon_coward October 29, 2015 - 10:30 am

and there are still a lot of people living in parts of queens and brooklyn not served by subways who rely on cars. and the interconnections are already slowing the system down to the point where adding new lines won’t do anything because trains will be waiting at the switches. they need to finish upgrading to new signaling first before adding any new lines.

they finally fixed the queens blvd line where the trip into manhattan is faster, but now the wait is in manhattan itself for trains having to wait at the switches when the lines merge.

and they are finally looking at interconnections and trips between the boroughs that don’t involve manhattan.

Guest October 29, 2015 - 9:18 am

SAS dramatically effects the Bronx. Areas directly affected are more dense than the Utica Ave corridor and have greater potential for growth.

Rezoning Jerome Ave and existing rebuilding and zoning modifications within the Bronx and East Harlem are going to place substantial additional stress the Lexington Ave. It makes more sense to invest in phase 2 than almost anywhere else in NYC right now.

anon_coward October 29, 2015 - 10:31 am

hurrying up switching and signaling upgrades will help the bronx more than SAS. no point building a new line with the same ancient signaling

AG October 29, 2015 - 4:27 pm

Well switching and signaling goes for the whole system… Still – more track miles are needed.

AMH October 29, 2015 - 11:31 am

The capacity crunch is mostly in Manhattan, so additional riders that would be drawn from new outer capacity and development need somewhere to go in the core.

anon_coward October 29, 2015 - 12:12 pm

and new signaling and switches to run more trains during peak times will do more to ease capacity than adding new switching to new lines

pete October 29, 2015 - 5:34 pm

New signals and switches will never add capacity. It takes 30-45 seconds before a switch can move after the last train car goes over it. It is then another 15 seconds after the switch moves before the light goes green. Try taking the E train manhattan bound into Queens Plaza, watch the sea of red lights with no train ahead. All those slow as molasses signals were installed in 2001 when the 63rd street connector opened. Nothing has changed since then. The MTA’s design book is still the same.

Nick Ober October 29, 2015 - 8:47 am

How will the MTA add countdown clocks systemwide by 2020? I was under the impression that doing so on the lettered lines would require new signaling.

Are these going to be dumbed down countdown clocks akin to what some stations have now where you’re notified that a train is a couple stations away?

Eric F October 29, 2015 - 9:46 am

If you look at page 145, you’ll see that the MTA has determined that LIRR trains won’t reach Grand Central until December 2022, which I’ll refer to as 2023. So about another 8 years. Assuming there is no “rescheduling” over the next eight years, which seems unlikely. This project has become more performance art than infrastructure.

Benjamin Kabak October 29, 2015 - 3:29 pm

I’d have to go revisit the old deck but I think it’s part of staging for Phase 4. There’s not a lot of space in Lower Manhattan for all the equipment they would need.

Eric F October 29, 2015 - 4:08 pm


I never thought about that but now that you mention it the spatial constraints on staging would likely be a big(ger) point once the construction gets below midtown.

Alex October 29, 2015 - 11:09 am

Not impressed with the tidy sum of $29B. The Ravitch/Kiley $18B from the mid-late 1980s, while directed more at renewing the fleet than expanding, upgrading and maintaining infrastructure, translates to $40B in 2015 dollars. If you take into account the great reporting by this site on the high costs of MTA contracts and the nature of the of the plan, it would seem that spending at least 30% more is necessary here. The plan should arguably be 50% greater than it currently is to properly account for expansion and necessary maintenance. It currently fails to do so, and is not enough.

Larry Littlefield October 29, 2015 - 5:41 pm

I just checked your numbers. I don’t have an MTA document, just a NYCT document for the revised 1987 to 1991 plan. It was $6.62 billion for NYCT, which is $13.8 billion in today’s money.

Can you provide me a link for your numbers? I have an actual NYCT document.

Alex October 30, 2015 - 9:10 am

Can’t track a link down at the moment. Ravitch proposed a 14B ten year plan for the 1980s (~43B in 2015 btw). It’s possible that by 1987 that was the amount needed to fill it and that 18 were spent overall. You do get to the 18B number if you backwards convert from 2014 dollars to 1991 dollars in slide 12 here: http://www.pcac.org/wp-content.....150206.pdf
Hope this helps.

JJJJ October 29, 2015 - 11:41 am

Slightly off topic:

Why did they choose to build stations on the exact same cross street as the existing line, rather than fill in between?

IE: why 86 and 96 instead of, say, 81 and 91?

People in the middle still have a longish walk.

AMH October 29, 2015 - 11:52 am

86th and 96th are the major crosstown streets with connecting bus lines.

Tim November 2, 2015 - 8:45 am

Also, the stations themselves have multiple exits located three blocks apart, as opposed to one exit based on the major cross street. Enhances the walking catchment basin around the stations.

tacony October 29, 2015 - 12:06 pm

Staggering the locations of stations to provide additional walkshed coverage is an interesting idea, but ultimately I think it’d cause a firestorm of NIMBYism. 86th and 96th were designated as the wider crosstown streets in the Commissioners Plan of 1811 and summarily these wider streets were zoned for commercial use while the standard crosstowns are residential districts. You can bet that the Ninety-First Street Block Association and the Neighbors for a Peaceful, Quiet Existence would be out with their pitchforks at the mere suggestion that a subway entrance be placed in their residenchaal neighborhood!!! [sic], even if it were on the commercial avenue.

Joe Steindam October 29, 2015 - 4:59 pm

The walk is slightly ameliorated by the size of the stations, larger and longer than the Lexington Ave stations and have entrances at the ends so as to spread out the walkshed. 86th St has an entrance at 83rd, 96th St has an entrance at 94th. It’s not a perfect solution, but it makes it slightly better than leaving the same gaps in service on the UES. I’ve got a hunch that when the current version of the SAS was being planned and the decision was made to make a two-track subway instead of a line with express and local service, the decision was made to retain express stops and the stations that offer the connections to buses, like AHM and tacony mentioned.

David Brown October 29, 2015 - 11:53 am

I now live in Arizona, and still things remain exactly the same. No SAS Phase 2, and I find it amazing that the WORST subway stations in Manhattan (East Broadway, West 4th St and of course, Chambers St (J)) are not being fixed up. Chambers, because it is by City Hall, should be a priority. They want to make it ADA compliant, but why not save money and time and get it fixed up while making it ADA compliant? But that makes too much sense.

tacony October 29, 2015 - 11:57 am

Maybe they figure continuing to forgo basic maintenance and cleaning of Chambers will eventually earn the MTA more money in the end if enough film scouts pick it as the ultimate location for filming post-apocalyptic horror film?

Benjamin Kabak October 29, 2015 - 12:00 pm

Chambers St. is due for a full rehab and ADA compliance in the 2015-2019 plan. The spending is anticipated for 2017.

David Brown October 29, 2015 - 12:45 pm

Ben, thank you for the correction, and happy to be wrong. I used to live in Lower Manhattan, and since the Essex Street Area (especially the ugly parking lots being put to better use), Hudson Square and Kenmore Street (West of Delancey) are being fixed up, I considered the previously mentioned Stations (and 550 Washington Street), to be the biggest eyesores South of 14th Street. I think 550 Washington will be renovated as well. I hope West 4th, East Broadway, and Bowery (J) are next.

AMH October 29, 2015 - 11:56 am

Why would we convert a perfectly good railroad ROW to a busway? Is that in any way less expensive than reactivating it? I’m sure it needs major work in any case, but spending money to convert it to a low-capacity/high-cost roadway, which would cost even more to switch back to rail later, seems totally pointless.

Kevin October 29, 2015 - 1:16 pm

I believe the intention is to have buses from the southern half of the island use the busway as a quasi-express bus to St. George.

The argument against rail is primarily that ridership along the line would actually be worse; which seems reasonable to me. The corridor already has bus service to St. George, and while the trip would be faster on rail, I feel it would make a bigger difference to speed the commutes of those farther from the terminal.

Lastly, we all know how hilariously over-budget pretty much all rail projects end up being, but my impression is that road projects for whatever reason have better cost control (inb4 big dig).

Ralfff October 29, 2015 - 10:10 pm

It’s part of a backdoor deal to subsidize the failing Teleport complex, which is a suburban-style office park in the uninhabited roadway-plagued western wastes of Staten Island. I have no proof of this, but last CB 1 Staten Island meeting I went to had the members vote on a resolution to ask the city to move offices they were vacating in Manhattan to this otherwise obscure and irrelevant location: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teleport,_Staten_Island As Alon Levy pointed out, the MTA sandbagged the study on this ROW, not least by positing that the heavy rail option, and only that option, have two operators for a two-car train (the existing SIR has four cars, I think). It terminates in a strip mall in an industrial area separated from everything else by a highway and a freight rail, it’s economic development by people who don’t understand economics or development. It’s another expression of Staten Island exceptionalism and neither residents nor elected officials having any understanding of how transit works, because this plan will fail terribly. It’s not a good ROW to begin with (the existing part, not the implied extension south). The only advantage to be gleaned from it is by using it as part of an economy of scale to either extend the SIR down it or as an extension of a subway connection.

Roadgeek Adam October 29, 2015 - 12:28 pm

The headline I like there is the Junius/Livonia connection. Having done it myself with a bicycle, it’s a class-A pest.

Eric F October 29, 2015 - 12:37 pm

In the map at the top of today’s post regarding the SAS alignment, offshore of the southern tip of Manhattan, there is a point identified as a “barge facility”. Does anyone know what that is and what it would have to do with the Second Avenue subway?

Brooklynite October 29, 2015 - 4:34 pm

The barge facility is probably for removing the soil that is excavated from the line.

Clarke October 29, 2015 - 8:13 pm


See around page 3-30 (or Find for “barge”)

Eric F October 29, 2015 - 12:41 pm

The map at the top of this blog post identifies a “barge facility” off the southern tip of Manhattan as part of the SAS project. Does anyone know what that is and what it has to do with the subway line?

AG October 29, 2015 - 3:02 pm

Well they absolutely need to pare down their budgets – but not this way. Cutting Waste and ridiculous rules are the way to go. As an aside – and irrespective – it’s time to if not fully embrace Move NY – the free major east river crossings need electronic tolling. The good news is that Queens politicians who didn’t want to let it go – realize the congestion and pollution it causes in the neighborhoods near (at least the 59th street) the bridges do more harm than good.

Joe October 29, 2015 - 3:41 pm

I honestly think that when the plan gets sent to the Gov he will come back and tell the MTA that they have too find funding for SAS phase 2 ( and offer to maybe pay half the cost or a quarter ) everybody knows NYC needs
More tunnels for more trains. They just want to finish East Side Access before they start any other major tunnels.. They also want to start the ARC tunnel which will go under the Hudson to jersey.. I actually work on the East Side Access project and I’ve been there for about 5 years.. The amount of rock that we Blasted and the amount of work that was done is unbelievable. You might say it’s ” over budget ” but you will never understand until you go down and see it.. Men lost their life building these

Larry Littlefield October 29, 2015 - 5:35 pm

It makes no sense to discuss Phase 4 when it is little more than PR, and in any even unnecessary. NYCT has a tunnel to Brooklyn and two subway lines in lower Manhattan that are heavily underused — Broadway and Nassau. It could add all the capacity it wants. And Second Avenue is in the flood zone.

The should just hook up the Rutgers Tunnel, also underutilized, to the DeKalb interlocking, and provide a branch off to the SAS on the other end, with an existing transfer stations at Delancy, another transfer station at 14th, and destination stations at 55th and 42nd. Plus the connection to Queens.

The could run the “T” as Sea Beach service and split the F during rush hours, with half running down Second Avenue.

Otis Boone October 29, 2015 - 11:13 pm

Can someone explain why SAS is using TBM instead of cut-and-cover? Seems like a waste of money to me.

Tim November 2, 2015 - 11:06 am

Cut and Cover would decimate 2nd ave and make it almost impassable. Even doing the TBM solution led to huge retrictions and reroutings by 96th St.

Tower18 October 29, 2015 - 11:23 pm

One thing that surprised me was the switch of CBTC implementation from 6th ave to 8th ave, but then still doing Culver. I guess doing 8th ave allows the E to actually utilize CBTC over the whole route, where doing 6th would not provide full-route coverage for the F. But why Culver and not 6th?

David Brown October 30, 2015 - 12:03 am

Doing the West Side first (because of the new residents and businesses makes more sense then 6th Avenue). As for Culver, I think a lot of it was politics, mixed with a love of the “F” by the MTA. Elected officials from South Brooklyn wanted something done with the “F” because of the increased traffic to and from Coney Island, which is why Culver is being taken care of. Also one thing we have learned down through the years, is some construction is always going on with the “F” (its like the MTA wants it to be the model line (the opposite of the “G”)), so the odds are CBTC will be coming to 6th Avenue soon enough.

BingBong4 October 30, 2015 - 2:37 pm

No, the Culver line is being used as a CBTC testing demo for the letter lines.

shagmag3 October 30, 2015 - 4:44 pm

This compromise for funding makes sense in my opinion. It allows MTACC to complete the current projects SAS Phase 1 and ESA, compiling all the lessons learned, which I’m sure are many! The NY Contracting community is known for it’s competiveness and quality of craft, but when it comes to contracting with an agency like MTA, the bureaucracy of design changes and claims begins to pile up, making it tough to finish a job on time and within budget. During this capital program, MTACC should make that their priority. Ask your contractors what should MTA do different to be able to build this faster and cheaper. I bet you will be amazed at the answer you get!!!


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