Home Second Avenue Subway Second Ave. change orders pressure December completion

Second Ave. change orders pressure December completion

by Benjamin Kabak

Change orders are just one of the reasons the Second Ave. Subway may miss its December opening date. (Via MTA)

For the MTA, this is the summer of the Second Ave. Subway. News has been slow around the transit space in New York City as the L train shutdown remains a concern, but still a few years off, and the next fare hike isn’t going to dominate headlines for a few more months. Meanwhile, the MTA is trying to open the Second Ave. Subway ahead of a self-imposed December deadline, but as we’ve heard every four weeks, the project is increasingly under pressure as deadlines slip and testing gears up.

During the monthly updates regarding the state of the project, we’ve often heard from the MTA’s engineering consultant on the agency’s change orders. The change orders are a rather technical element to this project, generally a part of a governance process in which one party has to request a change, and justify any associated costs, before the other party accepts and/or implements the change. It could be something as simple as staffing or as complex as a new design. With just six months to go before the long-awaited subway line is set to open, the pace of change orders should be slowing down, but instead, they seem to be steadily adding to the project’s obstacles.

Last week, The New York Post went behind the scenes on these COs, and while I have some questions in with the MTA regarding the details, here’s a snippet:

The Second Avenue subway delays have nothing to do with no-show workers — they’re the fault of the nitpicky MTA for demanding a staggering 2,500 design changes, a rep for the contractors said. Hardhats have even had to go back and rip up completed work on several occasions to satisfy the agency, General Contractors Association of New York Executive Director Denise Richardson told the agency’s board.

A recent delay came when the MTA demanded a new shade of concrete on the sidewalk outside the 86th Street station — after contractors had already installed the completed walkway for two blocks, she said. Contractors also had to tear down and rebuild station entrances, move a pump room three feet, and twice install the pipes for the fire-alarm system between the 72nd Street, 86th Street and 96th Street stations, Richardson said.

There are always changes on projects of this size, said Richardson, but not nearly this many — and they are typically made before work is completed.

I’ve heard from residents on the Upper East Side who have been told of the concrete shading issues by workers, and these residents, who have lived through years of unanticipated construction, tell me the whole is “getting old.” (Of course, once the subway opens, they’ll be a bit happier, but even now, these delays simply add to an unpleasant and long experience while chipping away at what little confidence residents may have had in the MTA.)

An MTA spokesman told The Post that “there are always inconsistencies that need to be addressed as part of the design process.” Yet, the MTA’s low-bid contracting process lends itself to a situation where change orders come to dominate the closing months of the process. It’s worse at Second Ave. where people live and work than it was with the 7 line at Hudson Yards, a relatively underdeveloped area, and now attention has shifted to the Upper East Side. The clock is ticking, and yet, shades of concrete are just one of many obstacles to completion.

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Roy June 27, 2016 - 11:56 pm

But why did the MTA order a change in the shade of the concrete? If it’s because the contractors failed to adhere to the spec in the first place, why shouldn’t the MTA want it fixed? And expect the contractor to pay for the extra work plus penalties if it means the project deadline gets missed.

BoerumHillScott June 28, 2016 - 8:22 am

My guess is that the MTA did not specify the exact shade in the contract, or specified an exact shade that did not match the adjacent sidewalk.

eo June 28, 2016 - 9:20 am

So what? Unless the concrete was red or black, why does it matter what shade of gray it is? Some utility company or such will dig up part of it for some work in a few years anyway. Do you think they will get the same shade as of what was in there?

If the concrete was the required strength and poured as prescribed, they should have left the color issue slide even if the contractor screwed up the color. They should have fined him, but not have it re-poured given the impeding deadline.

This though is a sign of the great bureaucratic machine that we call MTA. Some little beancounter inspector needed to feel powerful and stick it to the big contracting company even though there was no real need for it in this specific case.

AMH June 28, 2016 - 9:57 am

I’ve been wondering about this. It sounds ridiculous (since when does sidewalk concrete match anything?) but if the MTA lets one thing slide, will it hurt their negotiating power? Contractors routinely take the MTA to court to try to squeeze more money out of them.

Marc June 28, 2016 - 9:23 pm

Perhaps people from the adjacent building made a stink about it and someone at the MTA promised that it would be a certain shade. A coop or condo could have hundreds of voters in it and get the attention of local electeds and the governor’s office.

Tom June 29, 2016 - 10:18 am

I’ve worked on another project with a sidewalk pigment issue. MTA likely doesn’t stipulate pigment color, DOT does. In the case that I saw, the construction plans didn’t specify the pigment color, and DOT snuck the pavement pigment requirement deep in a construction permit. No one noticed until the sidewalk was poured, and DOT insisted the sidewalk be redone.

I suspect the contractor rep is putting the blame on the MTA for the change orders to save face, but the reality is that its probably a combination of MTA mismanagement, contractor mess-ups, difficulties with inter-agency coordination, and just general complexity with such a large project.

Spendmore Wastemor June 29, 2016 - 1:33 pm

Nothing is free. They are forcing a re-do of perfectly good concrete, a re-do that will probably not be as good the 2nd time, ‘cuz there’s old chunks left behind and everyone is thinking ‘the city is nuts. Bidders on future projects will see this attitude and increase their bids.

Duke June 29, 2016 - 9:49 pm

Regardless of who is making the call… why are we regulating the color of the concrete in the sidewalk? Pointless rules like this just drive costs up.

Matthias Hess July 5, 2016 - 9:36 am

You’ll have to forgive me for doubting the existence of any regulation at all. The sidewalks in my neighborhood are a complete patchwork.

Peter L July 2, 2016 - 1:39 pm

I really want to hear the details behind this. I suspect that there’s more to it than just color, like the contractor tried to cheap it out and got caught by MTACC. Maybe they caught the cheaping out because the correct concrete would have been a different color. Need more details before anyone here can blame either side.

Nathanael August 8, 2016 - 7:09 am

Based on my knowledge of construction contractors, I expect that most of the stuff they had to rip out was simply done wrong and that the MTA is forcing them to do it to spec. I’d require proof before I believed otherwise.

Tim June 28, 2016 - 9:17 am

I live just off 2nd by the 83rd st. stop, and while it’s been annoying to have this all dragged out, you can see the signs of progress slowly emerging. I rode by the aux building on the NW corner of 72nd, and it’s finally getting fitted out with the outer coverings.

The HVAC looks to be in place there and at 83rd st, and the west side of 2nd between 82/86 now has its fully rebuilt sidewalk sticking out. They’re finishing building the east side sidewalks in the stretch now, and those ought to be open by the end of the summer.

Once thath appens, you’ll see a lot less street-level disruption. The nascent share bike lane on 2nd does look like it’s going to be awesome.

SEAN June 28, 2016 - 9:43 am

Dumb question – Is the Denise Richardson being quoted the same person who hosted a morning show on channel 9 a few decades ago?

Larry Littlefield June 28, 2016 - 9:55 am

I’m sure the state legislature, city and state Comptrollers will grandstand and blast the MTA for incompetent management, using that as an excuse to force the agency’s debt to continue to soar.

And then head off to fundraisers were they and lobbyists will toast the state’s prohibition on design-build contracts.


No one will pay attention, the evil ones will continue to be re-elected by a small number of votes after running uncontested, and they be replaced by their designated successors. Things will continue to get worse for the serfs as they laugh and sneer.

Michael Romero June 28, 2016 - 4:34 pm

And then the key players from MTACC will scurry off quietly, only to join with the handful of AEC players who get into this work, to go after the next phase of work, and the cycle will continue.

Jerrold June 28, 2016 - 1:41 pm

On a similar issue – Look at the Calatrava Center. Aside from the billions that were wasted on the ugly above-ground part of it, notice how the direct entrance to the actual front of the terminal from Church St. is not open yet.

Eric F June 29, 2016 - 9:36 am

It’s getting there. Funny, how you can now access the oculus through several means, but not the ‘front door’ at street level! You can access it now via the stump that will eventually be 2 WTC, and through 4 WTC and 1 WTC. Elements of the center are really being rolled out consistently this year. Front door access will be the last to come on line, I’ve heard it’s a late 2016 deliverable, but we’ll see. You can see work now progressing on the area in front. When the ground level is completed, the entire complex will look vastly better.

On a typical day, the oculus is now full of commuters. Many of the stores are due to open in August, which should cause increased foot traffic. The most significant underground work remaining is the completion of the final two platforms, for which I’ve heard both August and year end as deliverable dates.

neil lopez June 28, 2016 - 2:07 pm

until at least phase 3 is completed, I dont see this as anything more than an extension, like with the 7 line. Its hard to get excited over 3 stations. Phase 3 is the real beast of this project.

stan June 28, 2016 - 2:40 pm

exactly. i’m feeling that i will never see phase 3 in my lifetime. sad and pathetic, really,

Jerrold June 28, 2016 - 2:44 pm

THAT is exactly how I feel.
Now is there any hope for us late middle-aged people to ever see Phase 2?

Jerrold June 28, 2016 - 2:48 pm

P.S. The above was NOT a typo.
I MEANT “will we even see Phase 2?”

SEAN June 28, 2016 - 9:05 pm

I hope so, but I wonder if the vampire economy will allow it to happen.

Marc June 28, 2016 - 9:34 pm

If I had to wager, I’d say that we will get Phase 2 by 2040. It will cost too much and, along with some LIRR and Metro North projects, will hobble the next few capital programs as to prevent any other line extensions or construction that could be considered and delay needed station renovations. I am one of the few who think that Phase 1 will be a success, mostly because the Lex is such a nightmare during rush hour. Phase 1 will offer relief, an alternative, and will help justify building Phase 2. I am probably in the minority on both of these opinions.

Justin Samuels June 30, 2016 - 7:22 am

Phase 2 is actively funded and construction work will start by 2019 (utility relocation will start before then). Phases 3-4 have no funding yet, but we will have to see what the next Congress does because if they pass a big transportation bill we may get more funding for transit.

Eric July 2, 2016 - 6:46 pm

Phase 1 will offer temporary relief. At the pace subway ridership is growing, the Lexington will be just as crowded in 10-15 years (with SAS Phase 1) as it is now.

Manuel June 28, 2016 - 10:48 pm

Poll the whole city and I am pretty sure NOBODY gives a rats a$$ about contrete

Manuel June 28, 2016 - 10:49 pm

Phase 3 and 4 will be DONE but it’s gonna cost 500 billion

Ian June 29, 2016 - 8:46 am

$500 billion each


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