Home Second Avenue Subway To meet a December deadline, MTA to spend $66 million accelerating 2nd Ave. Subway work

To meet a December deadline, MTA to spend $66 million accelerating 2nd Ave. Subway work

by Benjamin Kabak
The escalators at 86th St. are just one of the many elements of the Second Ave. Subway project that remain outstanding. (Photo via MTA)

The escalators at 86th St. are just one of the many elements of the Second Ave. Subway project that remain outstanding. (Photo via MTA)

There is nothing quite like the fear of missing a looming deadline to inspire anyone to work a bit harder and a bit faster, as the MTA and its contractors are currently learning. Faced with the (for-some-reason) daunting task of delivering a major capital project somewhat on time (but only after years of shifting expectations), with ten months to go before 2016 runs out, the agency is entering acceleration mode and plans to spend $66 million worth of expenditures to speed up to work to ensure the Second Ave. Subway is ready for revenue service by year’s end.

The plan is set to come before the MTA Board during this week’s meetings, and if you read between the lines — or even if you read the lines themselves — it seems as though the agency is worried about that promise made all those years ago by MTA Capital Construction President Michael Horodniceanu to deliver Phase 1 of the Second Ave. Subway by the end of 2016. As the agency board materials note on page 131 of this pdf, “Failure to enter into the proposed Acceleration Agreements and implement the proposed acceleration plans will increase the risk that Revenue Service will not commence until sometime in 2017 which will also have a financial impact on construction management support costs as well as the operating budget and prolong crowded conditions on the Lexington Avenue line.”

That the project could face challenges meeting the December deadline is hardly breaking news by now. While the federal government has long doubted the 2016 date and believes a 2017 opening is more likely, the MTA’s Independent Engineering Consultant first warned of delays in December and reiterated this stance in January. In this month’s update, the IEC again raises concerns. It notes that certain major test dates have been postponed and design and scope change orders continue to be issued this late in the game. With the acceleration work set to reduce the project contingency, the MTA is fast running out of wiggle room.

That brings us to this request for accelerated work. As the MTA notes, perhaps discouragingly and perhaps alarming, in its request to enter into these agreements, opening up four new stations “presents logistical challenges unprecedented in modern New York City Transit operation.” With three different contractors working on three different stations at the same time, the MTA sees “enormous” and “complicated” challenges. That the language is so dire consider the relatively modest scope of Phase 1 of the Second Ave. Subway should give us agita regarding the future of any massive subway expansions in line with those underway by New York City’s international peer cities.

The acceleration work involves some relatively basic elements of the construction. Crews will begin to work extended shifts and some weekends to complete the stations, and the outstanding elements all involve what you would expect this close to completion. Behind-the-scenes power and mechanical rooms need more work; fan rooms, elevators and escalators must be ready; and finishes, testing and commissioning need to be complete before the Second Ave. Subway is certified for revenue service.

Meanwhile, as part of another modification (page 128 of this pdf), the MTA also just realized it is required to install 36 fire dampers at the 63rd St. station and somehow just discovered that the tunnel from 57th St./7th Ave. to 63rd St./Lexington is in bad shape. Here is how the Board materials describe the situation:

The tracks in the tunnel south of the 63rd St./Lexington Avenue Station to north of 57th Street and 7th Avenue Station were built in the late 1970s as part of the “New Routes” 63rd St. Line. These tracks never had regular train service, and have been rarely used, except for occasional re-routes. Currently there is no scheduled revenue service over them however, this will change once SAS service begins with the ‘Q’ train scheduled to operate along these tracks and continuing to the new 2nd Avenue Subway. Given the significant water ingress that has been constantly present in this area since its construction, the northbound and southbound tracks in this section have experienced severe degradation.

NYC Transit has determined that this tunnel section must be addressed immediately including the replacement of track, tunnel lighting, antenna cable, emergency alarms, emergency telephones, etc. The above track replacement and associated signal equipment work will be addressed through a third-party contract and NYC Transit in-house forces will address the remaining work, all of which must be completed in time for SAS Revenue Service. However, in order to perform this work, the water condition must be addressed first. NYC Transit has directed that the specialized chemical grout (NOH2O) and methods that were successfully employed on other MTACC and NYC Transit projects, be utilized in this tunnel section.

Now, you might be wondering how the MTA is only now just discovering this problem in a rather vital stretch of track key to launching the Second Ave. Subway, and for that, I have no answer yet. I will inquire this week as to how this just came to light. Contractors began this mitigation work in early January and should be able to finish in advance to ensure revenue service by the end of the year. The Board materials, however, note ominously that “the schedule impact of these modifications is still under review and any schedule adjustments will be addressed in a subsequent modification.”

This is a sprint now and the hurdles just keep on coming. Anyone out there expect to ride this new subway before we flip the calendar to 2017? With the obstacles, self-imposed or otherwise, in the MTA’s path, that is looking like one tough deadline to meet.

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John-2 February 22, 2016 - 1:47 am

This being an MTA project, as opposed to the 7 extension being a New York City project, it will be interesting to see how much extra money the MTA is willing to spend here to assure a 2016 opening for the Second Avenue Subway, compared to the more ‘relaxed’ attitude they took about getting the Hudson Yards extension done before Mayor Bloomberg left office (i.e. — Not making the 12/31/13 deadline was mainly an embarrassment for Mayor Mike, who had only limited power over the MTA; not getting the SAS open by 12/31/16 would be an embarrassment for Gov. Cuomo, and he doesn’t like to be embarrassed).

Brooklynite February 22, 2016 - 10:40 am

Cuomo (wisely) hasn’t attached his name to the 2016 deadline, so I suspect it will go well beyond deadlines just like the 7 line did.

Streater February 22, 2016 - 4:54 am

Still makes no sense why they had to contract out every piece of this project… design and build is so much more efficient.

And it’s just crazy that they couldn’t build it all in one phase. I think the excuse I heard once is that no contractor would be willing to handle a project of that size. Well if a US firm can’t handle it, I’m sure a more experienced foreign firm could.

Jeff February 22, 2016 - 7:28 am

The reality is that international firms like Skanska are already working on it. Simply put, it’s not just a matter of getting firms experienced in subway construction to work on it, it’s getting a firm familiar with working in NYC and with NYC agencies and unions.

Fool February 22, 2016 - 8:10 am

Translation: “By our own devices we are a needlessly difficult partner to work with.”

adirondacker12800 February 22, 2016 - 9:30 am

By the people in New York who will sue at the slightest provocation.

SEAN February 22, 2016 - 7:35 pm

Or microagression. Are you looking at me?

Roger February 22, 2016 - 10:34 am

That’s simply the way US economy creates jobs today.

Mike M. February 22, 2016 - 6:55 am

Suddenly they’re concerned about crowding on the Lex?

Mike February 22, 2016 - 7:31 am

3 cheers for this comment.

Larry Littlefield February 22, 2016 - 7:20 am

Worst case: this isn’t new work.

Since the MTA on record with a deadline, contractors are doing everything they can to not get the work done. And then saying that they can get it done on time — for extra money. So this is $66 (more) million in extortion.

The fact that the MTA is trying to finish this project in the middle of a construction boom is not encouraging. Anyone who has had a kitchen renovated knows the drill — they grab as many deals as they can and don’t do anything until they have to. Not doing the work has consequences in the private sector. But if the MTA goes through a disbarment procedure, they just reorganize and insist on their right to bid on future work.

And the state legislature is on the payroll of everyone sucking money out of the MTA. Except the riders.

pete February 22, 2016 - 1:20 pm

The CPOC reports love to use the word “low productivity” as the reason for delays and rebidding work.

Beebo February 22, 2016 - 7:46 am

No, they don’t care about the Lex one way or the other. They’re giving YOU a reason that you’ll immediately kneejerk with, “yes, 66M to alleviate Lex overcrowding!” — except, until the subway GOES SOMEWHERE you want to go to, I have to question that, too.

Jeff February 22, 2016 - 9:31 am

The bottom line is spending the money now to try to get this over with earlier, or letting this drag and spending the same amount in operating costs. The first option has the benefit of alleviating crowding on Lex earlier so they prefer that.

It’s not the greatest excuse in the world to spend additional money on this project but at this point that cost is basically sunk.

Phillip Roncoroni February 22, 2016 - 8:26 am

Let the completion date slip, and use the money to pay down the debt, or increase service levels.

eo February 22, 2016 - 9:15 am

I agree. Nobody is really going to die because this was not finished by the deadline. Everyone knew it could not be done, so why spend more money? It is not that 3-6 months are going to make that big of difference. Maybe they could use the $66M for more trains given that now they are crying “train shortage”. Why pay unions overtime? I realize that we cannot just go out in the street and hire workers such as electricians, plumbers and so on, but why pay overtime? So that a few lucky souls can pad their pensions and receive $100K in retirement? Not worth it!

Jeff February 22, 2016 - 9:20 am

Eh, it’s not that simple though. Its either finishing this year and wrapping everything up or letting it slip and having to renew contracts with consultants and construction managers, leases for construction office space, general conditions for contractors, etc. All that will add up and you end up not getting jack for paying down debt or increasing service levels.

Roger February 22, 2016 - 10:46 am

MTA has to complete SAS Phase 1 by Dec 2016. If they cannot, given their dismal track record of on-time performance, how can they convince L train riders that the rehab will be done in 13 months?

John February 22, 2016 - 11:56 am

Why do they need to be convinced? The tunnels will be fixed and the L train curtailed whether they like it or not. Also, the L train work is federally funded with Sandy money. All Sandy projects so far have been completed on time and under budget.

Roger February 22, 2016 - 1:50 pm

Your mentality is wrong, and unfortunately this is the mentality MTA has been suffering from.

Train riders are not serfs who have to blindly obey MTA’s sacred orders. MTA has to talk to L train riders to sort out what the best solution would be. A “short” term full shutdown or a long term partial shutdown? How would the replacement bus service be scheduled? etc.

And as of now it is pretty clear that there is little trust between L train riders and the MTA. People don’t kick the MTA representative out of the town hall meeting without a reason. MTA today is easily the least reputable organization in New York City, and something has to be done to improve its image. Finishing SAS Phase 1 by Dec 2016 as promised would be a huge first step.

The vast majority of riders do not care whether the money comes from the Feds or from the state or from crowdfunding, and it is not their duty to care about that. They just need a ride. And they do need to be convinced that the MTA projects can finish in the time frame they had promised. Even if the riders have no power to alter the MTA’s decisions, a subway rehabilitation project that takes many years affects will affect many people’s career decisions or even investment strategies, and these people deserve some credibility from the MTA hierarchy.

And let’s look beyond the L train rehabilition. There are SAS Phases 2-4 and more future projects that are not funded by Sandy relief money in the future. If we allow SAS phase 1 to drag on and on, how can we convince future NIMBYs along these lines that the project will indeed finish some point in their lives? Do you really want to live next door to a construction site for more than 10 years?

A good public image might not be an item on a balance sheet, but it is a public good that goes a long way.

Benjamin Kabak February 22, 2016 - 1:58 pm

Train riders are not serfs who have to blindly obey MTA’s sacred orders. MTA has to talk to L train riders to sort out what the best solution would be.

They can solicit feedback on how riders would feel less inconvenienced, but ultimately, the nature of the work and the fact that a full bench replacement, necessitating a long-term shutdown of some length, is required will dictate the “best” solution. But for the public image aspect of this decision, yes, clearly the public should be consulted. That doesn’t mean what the public requests is the final outcome.

BoerumBum February 22, 2016 - 4:11 pm

^ Truth

Giving the public an outsized voice in how transit improvements are implemented is what delayed the M60-SBS for… I don’t even remember how long. Years?

aestrivex February 22, 2016 - 4:13 pm

Yes you are completely right, riders are “not serfs blindly obeying MTA’s sacred orders”. The thing that the MTA doesn’t understand is that L train riders come from America, the greatest and most free nation on earth, and if they want to take the L train even when it is not running, they have an inalienable, god-given right to do so.

The platforms might get pretty crowded though. Just saying.

Stephan C February 24, 2016 - 1:54 am

They do come from America, but not NYC. There’s something about people who move here from someplace without transit being the most whiny and entitled subway riders, especially as concerns the L, that makes me wish that the full closure lasts at least two years.

I do feel for all the poor folks along the L, but I’m sure they’ll have an easier time coping, since they don’t expect the world to revolve around them.

SEAN February 22, 2016 - 7:53 pm

MTA today is easily the least reputable organization in New York City, and something has to be done to improve its image.

Agencies that serve the blind such as Lighthouse & the Jewish Guild are far worse than the MTA when it comes to wasting money & it’s both shocking & shameful. I say that as someone who is visually challenged & who has been involved with both of them & related organizations.

Serge February 22, 2016 - 11:47 am

This is silly. It it takes a little longer, so be it. We’ve waited this long.
Use that money for other purposes…like building far more cost-effective surface streetcar lines.

Matthew February 22, 2016 - 1:03 pm

Any idea how much additional contingency funds will be left in the 2nd avenue project budget after the $66 million is spent?

Benjamin Kabak February 22, 2016 - 1:56 pm

At the Board committee meetings today, Horodniceanu said around $50 million will remain.

matthew February 22, 2016 - 4:33 pm

So to summarize: The stations are still planned to open on time and under budget.

SEAN February 22, 2016 - 7:55 pm

But will the trains be there?

Larry Littlefield February 23, 2016 - 9:08 am

“The stations are still planned to open on time and under budget.”

Which budget is that? The one that would have been in place in the 1990s if Sheldon Silver had not blocked the project until the MTA planned for a “full length subway?”

What the MTA used to say about its exploding costs is they were the price of rebuilding a system while it was operating 24/7. Most of the time was spent setting up for and clearing up from a brief window of actual construction.

Which makes these expansion projects even more frustrating. To my knowledge there are no trains rolling down Second Avenue.

Ike February 22, 2016 - 7:57 pm

If it turns out that the tunnel from 57th St./7th Ave. to 63rd St./Lexington is even worse shape than is currently being reported and if it can’t be fixed by December, but if the SAS itself is done on time, couldn’t the MTA theoretically run the M train up 2nd Ave. instead of the Q?

The M wouldn’t go to Queens Blvd. anymore, but the G could replace it there. Too complicated? #railfanwank

Nathanael February 24, 2016 - 2:41 pm

I hereby volunteer to run MTA Capital Construction. I will require discretionary budget to get *accurate assessments* of the status of the infrastructure, and I’ll need to hire two full-time assistants on a temporary (several-year) basis in order to figure out what the hell is going on with contracting, since something is seriously wrong there.

All you need to pay me is rent & food money.


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