Home Second Avenue Subway Off the cuff, Horodniceanu quotes a high price for future SAS phases

Off the cuff, Horodniceanu quotes a high price for future SAS phases

by Benjamin Kabak
With costs seemingly skyrocketing, will Phases 2 and 3 of the Second Ave. Subway see the light of day?

With costs seemingly skyrocketing, will Phases 2 and 3 of the Second Ave. Subway see the light of day?

With the fallout from the MTA’s decision to cut $1 billion in Second Ave. Subway funding from the current five-year capital plan stretching into this week, the agency engaged in an all-hands-on-deck approach to making nice. Years too late, politicians finally started asking the right questions about the cost and timeline for this project, and MTA officials engaged in some backtracking on the cuts.

“We have,” MTA CEO and Chairman Tom Prendergast said, “committed that if we can speed up the schedule to begin tunneling the East Harlem phase sooner, we will pursue a Capital Program amendment to do so. Governor Cuomo has made clear that he would like us to accelerate work on the Second Avenue Subway, and we are actively looking for ways to deliver the project faster.”

In speaking with reporters during Wednesday’s tour of the East Side Access caverns, MTA Capital Construction President Michael Horodniceanu repeated this promise. “We’ll do what needs to be done to speed up the second phase,” he said. But a vague promise to do something the agency was already going to do isn’t really the story. Rather, Horodniceanu opened the door to a question the agency hasn’t been willing to answer yet. When the MTA initially requested $1.5 billion for Phase 2, the agency refused to say how much the full phase would cost, raising eyebrows among those who have watched NYC’s transit construction costs skyrocket. On Wednesday, Horodniceanu kinda sorta spilled the beans.

While responding to questions about why everything cost so much, Horodniceanu said he expects Phase 2 to cost between $5.5-$6 billion and believes tunneling to south to Houston St. — Phase 3 of the project — will cost $10-$12 billion. It’s not clear if the latter eyepopping figure is the combined costs of completing Phases 2 and 3 or if Phase 3 separately will cost that much. Either way, these dollar figures are astounding and would shatter records for most expensive subway projects, on a per-mile basis, anywhere.

Horodniceanu had no real answer for the expenses. As I mentioned yesterday, he pointed to unionized labor as a cause of East Side Access cost increases, but unionized labor bills transit projects throughout the world. At one point, he tautologically stated everything cost so much “because New York is expensive” and mentioned as well the costs of building “massive underground transit connection in densely populated areas.” Tell that to London or Paris though.

For the Second Avenue Subway, Phase 2 involves old tunnels and a new dig that must cut underneath Metro-North at 125th St. and the Lexington Ave. IRT. The Final Environmental Impact Statement [pdf] claimed that Phase 1 would cost $3.8 billion while Phase 2 would cost $3.4 billion and Phase 3 would cost $4.8 billion. Even accounting for inflation, the new estimates, off the cuff as they may be, blow these 11-year-old projections out of the water. And that’s a big problem for future transit expansion in New York City.

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Phillip Roncoroni November 6, 2015 - 11:10 am

Why aren’t politicians calling for Horodniceanu to resign? He’s obviously incompetent and bad at his job, as every project he’s overseen has been delayed and far over budget.

Nathanael November 7, 2015 - 11:26 am

Since these numbers are obviously wrong — and someone at the contractors is taking Horodniceanu and the MTA for a ride — it’s time for Horodniceanu to resign. In favor of someone who knows how much these things actually cost, and is willing to reject fraudulent bids, reject corrupt contractors, and rebid outside the region.

Stephen Smith November 6, 2015 - 11:15 am

Michael Horodniceanu needs to resign. Either because of his own inability to control costs, or because of Cuomo’s refusal to let him do it. His own finances are not at stake – like Mysore Nagaraja, he’ll land on his feet with a cushy consulting gig either way.

Roger November 6, 2015 - 2:17 pm

And maybe a criminal probe.

al November 9, 2015 - 12:41 pm

Bharara Bharara Bharara Bharara

US Attorney needs to look into this.

Stringer Stringer Stringer Stringer

You might not like NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer, but he has raised the issue of NYC construction costs. Since Mayor DeBasio has just committed $2.5 billion to MTA Capital Budget, this might be a vector for Comptroller Stringer to make a name for himself, and get an angle for higher offices in the future.

Peter November 6, 2015 - 11:30 am

It’s troubling that seems Horodniceanu seems utterly uninterested in understanding why his projects are so costly. Indeed he has made comments that suggest he isn’t even aware the costs are inflated (see https://nextcity.org/daily/entry/does-new-york-city-know-it-has-a-transit-cost-problem). What kind of professional doesn’t compare himself to his peers and try to learn from their experience?

And why aren’t his bosses holding his feet to the fire? Part of the problem here is surely that Horodniceanu and his managers have no incentive to do the hard work required to hold costs down if nobody challenges their numbers. (And granted he can’t do it all on his own — dealing with corrupt labor practices, NIMBY neighbors and other budget-busters requires cooperation from MTA leadership and the political establishment).

tacony November 6, 2015 - 12:24 pm

What kind of professional doesn’t compare himself to his peers and try to learn from their experience?

I think a huge problem is that New York doesn’t have many peers in this country when it comes to transit, and too many are quick to reason that we’re incomparable to other countries with regard to labor, construction, and financing.

When it comes to building a highway we have a standard spec we build all over this country, and we understand that an Interstate built in suburban Texas doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel. Just build the thing. So boring! But a subway? Ehhh it’s this special snowflake that only applies to Unique New York and everything is custom-made. Heavy rail transit is basically bespoke in this country. If we acknowledged that there were tons of other transit operators building and maintaining their systems so much cheaper, more efficiently, and more effectively, and decided that we should mimic them, we’d lose a little of that je ne sais quoi that makes New York the capital of self-entitled jerks.

Alex November 6, 2015 - 1:43 pm

We’d also get a hell of a lot more for our money. Imagine the entire 2nd Ave line done for the price of phase 1. The 7 extension complete with the 10th Ave stop and maybe even one at Chelsea Piers with the same money they spent on the single stop that just opened. An extension of the 2/5 down Nostrand AND a Utica Ave line. Triboro RX, N to LGA, I could go on and on. And it would all happen much more quickly, too since being able to build more at once means less political bickering and more bang for your buck.

Oh to dream.

Nathanael November 7, 2015 - 11:30 am

” (And granted he can’t do it all on his own — dealing with corrupt labor practices, NIMBY neighbors and other budget-busters requires cooperation from MTA leadership and the political establishment).”

The fight with the corrupt New York City Department of Buildings — which the MTA lost — is a prime example of this. MTA needs a Mayor who will bash in heads at the Department of Buildings and *make them do their damn job* so the MTA doesn’t have to.

mister November 6, 2015 - 11:36 am

I’ve said this before, I’ll say it again:

Horodniceanu is a Planner, not an Engineer or a Builder, running an agency that does no planning. Until someone comes along who understands construction costs, and what needs to be done to keep them down, this will keep happening.

Perhaps the answer is that MTACC should absorb NYCT’s CPM department and capital departments from MNRR and LIRR. the President of this agency should be the most capable BUILDER. This would cut MTA’s own management costs, as well as concentrate their engineering talent.

Stephen Smith November 6, 2015 - 12:17 pm

If you ask David Gunn, he’ll tell you that the MTA’s ability to carry out capital projects really took a beating when it was all concentrated at MTACC around the turn of the millennium. He said they lost a lot of talent in the transition, which certainly appears to be true when you compare the costs of the 20th century megaprojects (“that’s too expensive”) to the post-2000 round of megaprojects (“holy shit, are you sure you didn’t add an extra zero?”).

mister November 6, 2015 - 12:41 pm

That’s an interesting take on things. MTACC was created specifically for “Megaprojects” only, and most of the talent was not concentrated at all; Capital Program Management has over 1200 employees, MTACC has around 130. Not much talent was lost in the transition; a great deal of it remained with NYCT.

The folks I spoke with who were around back when MTACC was formed said that the biggest justification for the new department was that the existing talent didn’t have the know-how to tackle these huge projects. That would make sense, since NYCT hadn’t built many big projects since the late 80s. The lone exceptions to that were projects like the 63rd street connector and Stillwell Terminal, both of which saw their technical management pulled into MTACC. At any rate, MTACC hires out much of the actual work force; virtually every one of these projects has a consultant designer and a consultant construction manager. The companies being hired for these roles aren’t little NYC centric firms either: Arup, Parsons-Brinckerhoff and DMJM Harris are some of the firms holding these positions. Lack of talent in Engineering and Management doesn’t really seem to be the issue at hand here.

Stephen Smith November 6, 2015 - 1:12 pm

Maybe he was saying that the projects MTACC does now would be better handled by NYCT’s CPM department. Which, given the staffing differentials, seems like a reasonable assertion.

Victor November 6, 2015 - 1:18 pm



Delays and cost overruns are nothing new to the MTA, but it does seem like things cost 10x more even when roughly accounting for inflation.

Brian Power November 6, 2015 - 12:02 pm

In my opinion, the more we wait the more expensive due to inflation is gonna cost, tie it to the Nassau street subway which is currently only bring used to half capacity, that way it tie into the Montague street tunnel to Brooklyn, as far as phase 2,I think it’s terrible planning to turn it to 125 st and Lexington av, I don’t see people from the Bronx or metro north getting off at 125 st to transfer to the sas, they should go straight into the Bronx and tie it into a rebuilt third av elevated all the way to gun hill road, whomever planned this obviously doesn’t ride the subway, and that’s also a major problem.

mister November 6, 2015 - 12:24 pm

Phase 2 is supposed to leave stubbed tunnels towards the Bronx as well as a 125th street station under Metro North and the Lexington Line. A 125th street station needed to be built, I think it has far more utility with transfers to Lexington than it does staying over by 2nd avenue.

BruceNY November 6, 2015 - 1:50 pm

What they really ought to do is extend it past Lexington/125th all the way to Broadway with transfers to IRT 7th Ave. lines and the 8th Ave. IND. Imagine how useful a crosstown connector would be for everybody in upper Manhattan and the Bronx.

John November 6, 2015 - 1:50 pm

Phase 4 should definitely tie into the Nassau line. It would allow for connections at Canal, Chambers, Fulton.

BruceNY November 6, 2015 - 1:51 pm


Phantom November 7, 2015 - 9:10 am

A no brainer at this point

Cheaper and more useful, as you have the Brooklyn connection built in

Larry Littlefield November 6, 2015 - 2:25 pm

As I’ve said, I’d just tie the SAS into the Rutgers tunnel east of 2nd Avenue on Houston, and connect the Rutgers Tunnel to DeKalb on the other end.

The goal would be to serve Brooklyn and Queens with an express ride to East Midtown. Downtown already has enough stations and service, and the potential for more via the Montigue Tunnel.

Say you ran the Sea Beach as the T, and split the F with half running down 2nd Avenue. You’d have service to east Midtown from throughout the BMT Southern Division with one transfer, and from the eastern division via transfer at 1st Avenue (L) and Delancey (J/M). Second Avenue Subway riders could continue downtown by changing at Delancey.

Best of all — just three more stations for Phases 3-4 — 55th, 42nd, 14th. Plus perhaps one more at 28th for the medical center. Instead of 10 more stations. We can’t afford them.

mister November 6, 2015 - 6:18 pm

The first part of your post is something I can get on board with. I’ve always thought that a tie-in to existing Brooklyn crossings is the best way to get more use out of second avenue. My thought process was always tying it into the North side Manhattan Bridge tracks, but a tie in to Rutgers might be a better option. Now that the Jay St-MetroTech station connects Rutgers to DeKalb via one transfer, I don’t even think that you need to connect Rutgers to DeKalb anymore.

What I don’t agree with though is the construction of only 3 more stations south of Phase 1. No stations between 42nd and 14th? This seems to be some notion that the only purpose that 2nd avenue will serve is as a destination for outerborough and uptown residents. Of course, the east side is also where many people live, and providing service to these communities is a key part of the project. Failing to provide stations at appropriate intervals will result in a missed opportunity to serve the east side. It’s the same kind of short sighted planning that now has everyone doing an ‘aw, shucks’ shrug about the 41st station that 7 west should of included but now probably never will.

al November 7, 2015 - 1:18 pm

There is still the AM Rush overcrowding problem between Bowling Greene and City Hall on the Lex Ave Express. All the passengers transferring from Staten Island Ferry going northbound and 6 train going southbound cram onto the 4 and 5 trains. There needs to be a line to the east to alleviate that crush, that can continue under the Upper bay and Governors Island to St George SI.

Larry Littlefield November 7, 2015 - 3:40 pm

“My thought process was always tying it into the North side Manhattan Bridge tracks, but a tie in to Rutgers might be a better option.”

After a 20-year outage on the bridge, frankly, I want a tie in to the tunnel on both ends to make sure it is never that bad again.

“There is still the AM Rush overcrowding problem between Bowling Greene and City Hall on the Lex Ave Express.”

More BMT service to Lower Manhattan, perhaps terminating at 9th Avenue, would solve that problem. People transferring to the IRT would take the cross-platform transfer instead. BMT service via the Montigue Tunnel is a fraction of what it was. If there were a need, it could be increased.

mister November 7, 2015 - 5:21 pm

“After a 20-year outage on the bridge, frankly, I want a tie in to the tunnel on both ends to make sure it is never that bad again.”

I don’t know that a Rutgers tie in to DeKalb really improves things all that much. If the South side bridge tracks are closed, then a Rutgers tie-in just allows you to connect to the same trunk line that the Manhattan Bridge ties into. On top of this, while there is excess capacity in the Rutgers tunnel, there is very little room north of 2nd ave/south of W4th, where the F and M currently merge. Such a scenario would mean that the M would have to return to its less popular Nassau St routing, and something would need to be figured out for the Queens Boulevard line’s 2nd local service.

lop November 7, 2015 - 8:21 pm

> something would need to be figured out for the Queens Boulevard line’s 2nd local service.

If it runs on 6th have it terminate at 2nd where the V used to.

mister November 7, 2015 - 9:37 pm

Not possible, since it would have to use the local tracks to access the terminal tracks at 2nd ave.

NYCT November 6, 2015 - 2:12 pm

Has anybody thought of getting hamas to build the tunnels? They are very efficient, and it would give them something useful to do!

Eric November 8, 2015 - 4:33 am

They’re efficient because they use disposable child labor.


Nathanael November 8, 2015 - 5:10 pm

The drug dealers on the Mexican border are also very efficient at building tunnels. Maybe we could hire them instead.

Of course, they have very profitable freight traffic for those tunnels.

Roger November 6, 2015 - 2:15 pm

Do 125 St crosstown before Phase 3 and 4.

smotri November 6, 2015 - 3:12 pm

I live a block away from the future 72nd Street 2nd Avenue Subway station. I’ll therefore benefit from this very limited and very needed new subway line. A whole of people are going to put a whole lot of pressure – without letup – on these public officials and MTA personnel to get anything more done.

Chet November 6, 2015 - 6:29 pm

A relatively simple thing to do would be to bring the team that designed for example, Crossrail, over in London; or any other urban rail project in Europe. Have them look at the SAS project and come up with cost estimates. Let’s see what they say.

g November 6, 2015 - 6:50 pm

It would be cheaper just to rebuild the 2nd Ave elevated and run steam locomotives that literally burn currency.

Will November 6, 2015 - 8:43 pm

Phase 2 of Sas should not turn towards the Lex.No one I going to transfer to the sas if its going to midtown. The Sas should go in to the Bronx towards Yankee stadium to or more towards coop on the Northeast corridor

Eric November 8, 2015 - 5:02 am

Actually, the Northeast Corridor should be served by Metro North trains with more frequent stops and subway-equivalent fares. (Similarly for the other Metro North corridors within the city).

A northern extension should go to a location which currently has no rail service. I would suggest an elevated line ending in Throggs Neck. Specific alignment: north on Lincoln/Morris/Park Ave to Melrose Metro North station, then east on 161/163 to Hunts Point Avenue, then on Lafayette Ave through Soundview, then over the Cross Bronx Expressway to Throggs Neck.

Will November 7, 2015 - 9:28 am

Has any thought about contucting new elevated lines in New York since construction for subways are too dammn high

al November 7, 2015 - 1:20 pm

How about high speed cable cars ala Aerobus? Or get the Tokyo Monorail people here to build A REAL High capacity Monorail line.

Bolwerk November 8, 2015 - 2:28 pm

It’s not just subways. It’s everything. The Woodhaven Boulevard bus lane project is being proposed at nearly light rail prices. And lanes for the buses basically already exist.

Nathanael November 8, 2015 - 5:11 pm

Graft. Honestly, at this point, that’s the only explanation for stuff like that.


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