Home Capital Program 2015-2019 On the loud and angry fallout from the MTA’s Second Ave. funding move

On the loud and angry fallout from the MTA’s Second Ave. funding move

by Benjamin Kabak

The 72nd Street station underneath 2nd Ave., as shown here in September. Will the city see future phases of the long-awaiting subway line? (Photo: Metropolitan Transportation Authority / Patrick Cashin)

The MTA has a penchant for angering everyone. Whether it’s rush hour delays or crowded trains or fare increases, the agency is not high on New Yorkers’ lists of favorite things. But rare are the days when a line item in a budget draws as much ire as the MTA’s move to cut $1 billion in funding for Phase 2 of the Second Ave. Subway did on Thursday. Even though the agency still plans to spend half a billion dollars on design prep and real estate acquisition before 2020, lingering doubts over the project’s future have pushed this move onto front pages around the city.

In a certain sense, the MTA is trying to be practical. That there is a gap of at least three years between the expected revenue service date for Phase 1 and the date they can start construction work on Phase 2 is an indictment of other issues with the MTA’s ability to execute on large problems and plan appropriately. The MTA should have ensured that design work for Phase 2 was wrapped by the time Phase 1 opens so that the transition to work on the next section would be seamless. But the opportunity has passed. Instead, the MTA will prep everything necessary to start work during the 2020-2024 Capital Program.

That is, if you take the agency’s word at face value, and few do. As the implication of the $1 billion reduction in spending sunk in on Thursday, no one was happy. Some noted that the MTA would no longer be applying for federal grants that may or may not be available in five years. Others worry that this is the beginning of the end of the Second Ave. Subway. After 100 years, we’ll get three stations and nothing else.

But a funny thing happened on the way to 125th Street: New Yorkers grew aware of the fact that the Second Ave. Subway was actually under construction and would actually open soon, and they want more. The statements on Thursday came fast and furious. House representatives Carolyn Maloney and Charles Rangel issued a joint statement bashing the decision, calling the MTA’s painfully slow construction timeline a “huge mistake.” The two said:

“While we are delighted that the state and city were able to reach an agreement to move the MTA’s Capital Plan forward, we are deeply concerned that roughly one-half of the reduction in the cost of plan is coming from the Second Avenue Subway. The current plan includes only $535 million for the Second Avenue Subway, most of which will be spent for preliminary engineering and design, as opposed to the $1.5 billion originally proposed. The MTA has also dropped its assumption that it would receive New Starts federal funding for the subway during this capital plan. New Yorkers have been promised a full build Second Avenue Subway since the 1920s. Based on the current schedule, one hundred years will have passed and we will still be waiting. This ‘go slow’ approach to the Second Avenue Subway is a huge mistake. ”

Meanwhile, other local politicians hopped on board. Robert Rodriguez, an Assembly representative from Harlem, condemned the move. “The MTA’s vote to drastically cut the 2nd Avenue Subway budget is shocking and indefensible,” he said. “For over a century, New Yorkers from the Lower East Side to Harlem have patiently waited for transit equality to become a reality.Yet, the MTA’s approved plan has dashed those hopes and told New Yorkers north of 96th Street that they don’t matter. This cannot stand. I call on the MTA to correct this mistake, demonstrate fairness and leadership and include funding in the capital plan to complete the Second Avenue Subway up to 125th Street.”

In comments to WNYC’s Kate Hinds, he called the move an “economic injustice.” Relying on Rodriguez’s statements and words from others, Hinds wrote a fantastic and comprehensive rundown of the move which included a look back at how the MTA used the Second Ave. Subway to court money from the mayor and then cut the planned funding once the mayor ponied up the money. It is a must-read on this subject.

In other coverage, The Times wrote about the near-universal condemnation of the funding move, and even the New York Post editorial board, hardly a bastion of bleeding-heart liberals, noted the class issue inherent in the MTA’s decision, even if they used to bash de Blasio again. How do you build a subway line through the Upper East Side while delaying the one through, as Rodriguez put it, “a lower-income community that certainly needs the access as much as the first phase”?

So what exactly can the MTA do here? They don’t have time to restructure the capital program again. In fact, the funding battle between the Mayor and the Governor which led to a delay in approval of the capital plan is a major reason why Phase 2 is being shifted from the 2015-2019 plan to the 2020-2024 plan. The MTA simply couldn’t execute because the agency didn’t know how much money it would have. What they can do is stress a firm commitment to building Phase 2, secure the promise of federal dollars and look to put shovels in the ground as soon as possible. It’s not a perfect solution, and it raises the question of why Phase 2 isn’t ready to start the day after Phase 1 wraps. But it may be the best they can do. Either way, this has become a major flashpoint issue, and there’s no easy way out.

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John October 30, 2015 - 8:23 am

You’re assuming phase 1 will wrap before 2020. I think it’s possible that phase 2 will be funded in the 2020-2024 plan, and still kick off soon after phase 1 is complete. Pessimistic I know.

Herb Lehman October 30, 2015 - 1:21 pm

Was going to post the EXACT same response, John. It took the MTA two years to figure out the escalators at 34th St-Hudson Yards. I would think the Second Avenue stations are going to have the same problem, being as far underground as they are, plus the actual construction work seems to be nowhere near done. I’d consider a full opening before December 31, 2019 a victory. (My prediction is that the full 63 St-Lexington Av station will debut at the end of 2016 and allow the MTA to boast that part of the Second Avenue Subway was finished “on time”.)

Nathanael November 1, 2015 - 10:56 pm

The demands should focus like a laser on 106th St. Station. The tunnels north and south of the station are already built; the city owns a bunch of the adjacent land; there’s lots of open space to put entrances on; it has to be the easiest station of the entire line to design and build.

Everyone should get together and demand that 106th be progressed ASAP.

AMH November 2, 2015 - 1:17 pm

How deep are the existing tunnels in that area? Just wondering if the deep tunnel at 96 St is designed to connect to the existing portion north of there.

ComradeFrana November 5, 2015 - 6:41 am

It is. The existing tunnel between 99th and 105th will actually be renovated and used for tail tracks as part of Phase I.

eo October 30, 2015 - 9:04 am

Forget Phase 2. It will not happen. In 2020 we (the MTA) will be so short on money that they will raise the fares 10-20% just to cover maintenance, pensions and interest (where do you think the states $8B are coming? — more debt to be repaid by the MTA).

As for phase 1, in my opinion it will open some time in 2017. They have learned lessons from the 7 Extension, so the delays will not be so bad, maybe 6 months or so.

Larry Littlefield October 30, 2015 - 9:55 am

Does anyone under age 55 have any moral obligation to pay the MTA debt and unfunded pension liabilities?

Particularly since the retroactively-enhanced pensions and Generation Greed municipal bonds are held by the powerful and rich respectively, and exempt from state and local income taxes?

It’s time to start asking those questions.

The counter argument is that younger generations did nothing to oust every single Generation Greed politician from state government, and thus deserve what they get. Or most of them did nothing.


Roger October 30, 2015 - 1:59 pm

Slavery actually had its merits….

Why aren’t we using inmate labor for SAS?

jj October 31, 2015 - 6:46 pm Reply
Justin Samuels November 1, 2015 - 2:30 pm

Subway construction is very dangerous and they use dynamite and a host of other truly dangerous equipment that could destroy buildings and kill people in the surrounding areas. Using inmates or illegals or other undesirables is simply DOA when no one would want to deal with the massive lawsuits that would arise when these people inevitable make construction mistakes that destroy property and kill people.

Bolwerk October 30, 2015 - 9:05 am

This is Cuomo’s fault, of course, helped by the fact that de Blasio is a kind of shitty politician. An attentive mayor might have noted that Cuomo was happy to help fix Chris Christie’s trans-Hudson mess with a promise of $5 billion.

Nathanael November 1, 2015 - 10:57 pm

Ha. Yep.

Douglas John Bowen October 30, 2015 - 9:21 am

Mr. Kabak has authored one of the best SAS reviews this week, worthy of his namesake website, in my opinion.

Unlike some others, he identifies constituent awareness as a factor. It’s easy to dismiss such a thing in these cynical times. It’s also a mistake.

Larry Littlefield October 30, 2015 - 9:52 am

Question: are the planning to abandon the existing tunnels, and build more deep stations rather than cut and cover?

We now know that Parsons was right, and the cost of the deep stations outweighs the gains from cheaper tunneling. Going deep may be needed at 125th, if the line can’t get over the Lex and has to go under, but not otherwise.

The whole thing should be bid out design-bid for $2 billion or less, open ended, and not built until someone comes in with a plan that makes sense and some guarantees.

Or perhaps $2 billion including a Rutgers-DeKalb connection on the other end, to set up for hooking the southern end of the line into the Rutgers Tunnel.

Riverduckexpress October 30, 2015 - 10:19 am

The 1970s tunnel from 99 St to 105 St is being used as part of Phase 1 (for train storage). The MTA still plans to use the tunnel from 110 St to 120 St (they have to at this point). On the other hand, the tunnel from Pell St to Canal St in Chinatown will not be used under the current plans, since the MTA plans on building deep tunnels in Chinatown. They’re really concerned about damaging buildings/inconveniencing business owners and residents along Chrystie St, and having to work in Sara D. Roosevelt Park.

Larry Littlefield October 30, 2015 - 10:34 am

I’m hardly worried about Chinatown. I’d rather connect the SAS into the 6th avenue line on Houston east of 2nd Avenue, and connect the Rutgers tunnel to DeKalb on the other end, anyway. There is no need for more stations and tracks in Lower Manhattan, and never will be.

I had heard, however, that the MTA was considering going deep and not using the existing tunnels for revenue service. I hope not.

JMB October 30, 2015 - 3:28 pm

I’d rather see it connect to the unused two tracks of the Nassau line, then route through the Montague tunnel. Still connects to Dekalb, helps offset the pressure on the R between Jay and Atlantic, and allows the Chambers Street station to become an easy terminal for services when needed.

Larry Littlefield October 31, 2015 - 8:04 am

Too slow to attract riders from Brooklyn to East Midtown. Better for East Side riders heading downtown, who would not have to transfer at Delancy, but they have other options and a shorter trip.

Eric October 31, 2015 - 3:54 pm

There may not be a need for more tracks to Lower Manhattan in general. But how are you going to get people of the Lexington specifically if you don’t serve Lower Manhattan?

Larry Littlefield November 2, 2015 - 8:02 am

Transfer at Delancey.

The real issue on the Lex is getting people to East Midtown. You look at a map of employment by census tract, and see where the subways are, and that becomes clear.

Another Ben October 30, 2015 - 10:14 am

The $270 million allocated for “preliminary construction/utilities” in 2019 is enough to construct the launch box for the tunnel boring machine. If this happens the MTA could start mining the tunnels in 2021 or 2022. (Remember that it took the contractor almost 3 years to built the TBM launch box during Phase 1 of the project.)

The tunnel and station cavern contracts will be included in the 2020-2024 Capital Program.

The fit out contracts for the new stations will then be included in the 2025-2029 Capital Program.

Once they start Phase 2 it will be politically hard to stop it, unless there is a major fiscal crisis.

Opening date for Phase 2 should be about 2027 +- 1 year.

With political will they could start preliminary design work for Phase 3 during the 2020-2024 Capital Program, since the ESA project should be wrapped up by then.

JJJJ October 30, 2015 - 10:32 am

If a hole was built for the digging machine, why do we need another hole?

Larry Littlefield October 30, 2015 - 12:55 pm

Why do they need a TBM to build the two stations? I hope they are only talking about 120th Street around to Park Avenue.

Another Ben October 30, 2015 - 4:58 pm

My understanding is that the TBM will be used to mine the tunnels between Second Ave/120th St and 125th St/Park Ave – including the curve. They will mine the tunnels and then excavate the 125th St station area around the tunnels, just like that did during Phase 1 for the 72nd St and 86th St stations.

The section of tunnel that was built in the 1970s will brought up to current standards and used during Phase 2.

Larry Littlefield October 31, 2015 - 2:04 pm

That would make sense.

Nathanael November 1, 2015 - 10:59 pm

They should be able to build the whole of 106th St. station with the money they already have in the current plan. Why don’t they do so?

AMH October 30, 2015 - 10:16 am

This is terrible. Construction should have proceeded north and south from 96 St at the same time. Now it will cost even more money to start again from a new hole in the ground. We are tired of wondering whether we will see a real Second Avenue Subway (not just three stations) in our lifetime. Thanks, Cuomo and Prendergast.

Larry Littlefield October 31, 2015 - 2:06 pm

“Phase I” originally went to 125th Street, but Sheldon Silver demanded that the southern half of the line be “studied” before the SAS went forward. He later called for the project to be killed.

Pataki was more than happy to move forward with ESA while delaying the SAS.

The problem is the old politicians are like the new politicians. Heck, Pendergast might have been in on both ends.

g October 30, 2015 - 10:32 am

Just pass Move NY already, combine phases 2 and 3 into one package, cut phase 4 except for Grand , and send the line into Brooklyn.

Anonymous October 30, 2015 - 12:06 pm

This is not just a class issue, but also a race issue. What are the Title VI implications of cutting a project that will benefit minorities in Harlem and the Bronx and using that money to cover cost overruns for a project that will benefit a much smaller number of rich white suburbanites? If I were a politician or minority rights group in the Phase 2 area, I’d be in consultation with my civil rights lawyers right now.

Roger October 30, 2015 - 2:03 pm

But not every WASP in UES is supporting SAS, actually a lot of NIMBYism down there. So I would be hesitant to play the race card.

Bolwerk October 30, 2015 - 4:20 pm

The racists usually are the NIMBYs. Or maybe the NIMBYs are the racists.

Either way, it’s probably no coincidence that the place with poor, Democrat-voting blacks got its extension put on the chopping block.

Guest October 30, 2015 - 5:27 pm

Tappen Zee and Hudson River Tunnels seemed to get funded much more easily. I also believe that Anonymous was describing ESA.

Slant-40 October 30, 2015 - 12:07 pm

With all these nouveau-riche folks in Manhattan, including foreign nationals, you would think an Emergency Transportation Tax could be enacted on individuals worth more than $250K, including nonresidents. Perhaps we could raise a billion dollars or so within a year. Yes, the right will scream, and yell that their precious money is being used for ordinary people’s needs…but at this point, they need to step up and pay their share.

David Brown October 30, 2015 - 12:24 pm

The reality is the Mayor cares about Brooklyn and little about Manhattan. I am disappointed in him. As a Conservative, he was the first Liberal I ever supported. Why? His “Two New York’s” quote. He was dead on about that, basically no room for the middle class (which is why I am in Arizona). What is important to note is that Manhattan is the lifeblood of New York, and helping it grow will help the other Boroughs( see parts of Brooklyn and Queens like Long Island City and Greenpoint). Going on speaking trips, bashing cops and ignoring SAS is showing that I was wrong and he is even more clueless then Bloomberg about the Middle Class, and more unaware about economics and setting priorities then the MTA itself.

Bolwerk October 30, 2015 - 1:10 pm

Those have to be some of the more bizarre broodings I have ever seen about Bill de Blasio. First of all, did de Blasio make many pro-transit motions before he was elected and I missed it? In the first year in office? No? So why did anyone expect he’d be a pro-transit mayor? Streetsblog’s political arm, StreetsPAC, got hilariously, but predictably, suckered by him.

Basically his only major interaction with citywide transit policy is, this year, he got snowed into funding more of the capital plan, something no mayor has had to do in recent administrations and I think going back at least to the 1960s. The consequences of Cuomo’s cuts to the transit plan were merely kept hidden from the public until yesterday or the day before.

Re the middle class, Bill de Blasio lives (well, lived) in Park Slope, drives everywhere, and leads a comfortable, relatively worry-free upper middle class lifestyle. And that’s what he, and most so-called liberals, think middle class means. When they talk about expanding the middle class, they mean more people will live in single-family homes, make six figures in a managerial/professional/sales role, and drive everywhere. It’s naive.

Bolwerk October 30, 2015 - 1:14 pm

Oh, and a few mild criticisms of the NYPD followed by basically no action to correct their behavior is “bashing cops”? How far down his own throat does de Blasio have to jam the PBA’s penis to satisfy the police state crowd? These people actually think police falsely accusing, beating up, and/or extrajudicially murdering blacks somehow prevents crime. They don’t want to say it, but that’s what they’re thinking.

So-called conservatives in Arizona play with guns a lot because they think, at least in part, the government might start treating them the way police forces across the country, at the behest of so-called conservatives and some dumber so-called liberals like Bill de Blasio and Martin O’Malley, treat blacks and other disenfranchised groups.

Roger October 30, 2015 - 1:55 pm

Democracy means no one understands what responsibility means. Down with democracy.

Please do it now! October 30, 2015 - 2:13 pm

Why aren’t we using inmate labor for SAS? We need to implement this now! A great way to save money and the inmates can pay back their debt to society instead of being parasites!

Larry Littlefield October 30, 2015 - 3:58 pm

I don’t know what kind of troll you are. But if we paid NYC’s poor men a decent wage to build it with picks and shovels, chances are fewer of them would end up as inmates.

Instead we pay $billions and in the end get very little.

Seth R October 30, 2015 - 3:54 pm

I’m assuming that the reason we’re not hearing Sturm und Drang from the Mayor about this is because it’s about time, not money. I assume that even if a billion dollars dropped into Prendergast’s lap today he still couldn’t get shovels in the ground before 2020, so instead he gave the Livonia/Junius transfer and the Utica avenue study as a concession prize.

Benjamin Kabak October 30, 2015 - 4:28 pm

I think this is a key point that’s hard to get across. It’s about time, but the MTA should probably shore up the politics here by committing to Phase 2.

As I noted in the post, it’s also pretty surprising that Phase 2 can’t begin the day after Phase 1 is substantially complete.

Brian Howald October 30, 2015 - 4:42 pm

Can Mayor DeBlasio just renege on the funding agreement claiming that the state pulled a bait and switch? I still don’t get why New York City alone was being asked to contribute extra money, as the suburban counties weren’t asked for anything else, but I guess no good deed goes unpunished.

AlexB October 30, 2015 - 5:01 pm

As an aside, I’m interested in anyone’s opinion about the 125th St station. It will be built very deep underneath the Metro North and 456 stations. Every other transfer station is to be built at some distance away from the stations being transferred to (except the L which will be very close and the F which will was designed for this eventuality). I’m worried the 125th station will end up costing $2-3 billion all on its own.

Larry Littlefield October 31, 2015 - 2:10 pm

It will be expensive, no doubt, but there is no excuse for it to be anything close to that.

The decision to sweep around to Lex/Park was the right one. It provides alternative for Bronx riders in case of a shutdown on the Lex, for maintenance (and signal replacement) or worse. And allows Westchester residents of the Northern Suburbs to use transit to get to the job centers along the East River on the Upper East Side. In 1990 there were 200,000 people working on the Upper East Side, as I recall. And many of the suburbanites drive.

Move the cordon for Move NY up to 110th Street where it belongs. And use it to build this improvement right now.

Brooklynite November 1, 2015 - 11:48 am

I disagree. If there is an issue on Lex, it’s virtually impossible to have enough IRT trains serve 125 and turn around for Bronx > IRT > 125 > SAS to be a viable option for passengers. It still creates a single chokepoint, the Harlem River tubes, which kills overall capacity. If the SAS went under the river, stopping at 3/138 and Grand Conc/149, perhaps even continuing to Yankee Stadium, it would truly take the load off of Lexington trains.

Guest November 2, 2015 - 2:17 am

I would run it to replace the Third Ave elevated.

Eric November 2, 2015 - 3:24 am

The real chokepoint is the Manhattan Bridge where the N and Q share tracks, limiting the Q to ~14 trains per hour. It doesn’t really matter if people get on those 14 trains at 125th, 138th, or 149th. Once Phase 3/4 of SAS are finished, the capacity at 125th will be ~28 trains which is about the capacity of 125th as an IRT terminal.

Brooklynite November 2, 2015 - 9:16 am

The Q currently runs less than 10tph and there are delays around Dekalb during rush hours. The situation is not going to get any better when SAS opens. One resolution to this is adding F trains and running them up SAS, but that’s another discussion altogether.

There is a major difference between people boarding the SAS service at 125th or in the Bronx. If there is a problem on Lexington and service has to be rerouted, people will be able to board SAS services in the Bronx. 125th will no longer be feasible as a transfer point. And no, there’s no way 28tph are terminating at 125th on the IRT. The switches on the express tracks are about midway under the river and on the local tracks they are just outside 3/138 station.

smartone October 30, 2015 - 11:47 pm

So Dumb of de blasio he should have earmarked the city contribution to MTA specifically for phase 2 of 2nd Avenue Subway
it would have put cuomo in a corner and forced him to put up the rest of money needed

De blasio got played ..

Shawn October 31, 2015 - 12:09 pm

People are starting to wake up to the fact that there is no 2nd ave subway and no serious plans for more than 3 stops servicing the richest neighborhood in the city – UES.

Tim November 2, 2015 - 3:08 pm

Well, they put the connection location to the rest of the system at 63rd and Lex, so where exactly were they supposed to start?

Smotri November 2, 2015 - 12:25 pm

What should be done is to speed up, rather than to slow down the Second Avenue Subway construction. All the major projects, such as the East Side Access, the removal of Pennsylvania Station to the 9th Avenue Post Office building, drag on and on, are postponed. These delays and postponements do not inspire any confidence in the riding public and in the general population that government or quasi-government can get anything done. Our society needs government that can get things done! We can’t do it on our own!

John November 12, 2015 - 9:32 am

They need to find a way to lower costs and get stuff done faster. What they should do, and what has been mentioned here, is study similar projects and work backwards to figure out why construction costs are so inflated in New York.

Perhaps they should contract a private company to build it; put up a bid for money and time, and whoever can build the line in the least amount of time and for the lowest cost, can. Perhaps exchange it for the right to rent store spaces or profit from ad revenue in stations.

As mentioned here, it’ll be crippling to New York’s continued vitality if the MTA can’t expand it’s rail network.


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