Home Second Avenue Subway Cuomo faces off against MTA reality as 2016 dwindles

Cuomo faces off against MTA reality as 2016 dwindles

by Benjamin Kabak

For many people, the end of 2016 can’t come soon enough, but for the MTA, the end of 2016 brings with it a promise to open the Second Ave. Subway that may soon prove impossible to meet. With just 25 days left in the year, the MTA hasn’t yet said when — or if — the long-awaited Phase 1 of this new subway line will open this month, and New York politicians are impatiently tapping their proverbial feet.

Last month’s MTA Board update brought more of the same old, same old to the public. Although the pace of testing had increased significantly, the MTA would have to maintain a breakneck pace to complete testing by mid-December to get the approvals to open the line this year, and it seemed likely that the 72nd St. station simply wouldn’t be ready in time. Since the November 14 update that showed escalator and elevator installation lagging and fire safety and communications systems behind schedule, the MTA has gone radio silent on progress. The next MTA Board committee meetings are scheduled for Monday, and by then, the MTA will have to make a public announcement on the immediate fate of Manhattan’s newest subway lines.

If the news is bad, however, expect some unhappiness out of City Hall and Albany. As The Wall Street Journal reported Monday, New York politicos are putting pressure on the MTA to get this thing done. Mike Vilensky reports:

A spokeswoman for the MTA said Friday that the agency is “working around the clock” to reach its goal of opening by 2017, a timeline set seven years ago. “We are making progress everyday,” she said.

While some transit analysts said spilling a month or two past the planned start date would have little impact in the long run, others said the agency’s reputation is at stake.

“This multibillion-dollar project has taken decades to finish and the MTA owes it to residents and small businesses to wrap up construction as soon as possible,” said Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, a Democrat who is chairman of the council’s transportation committee. “The MTA must always guarantee the safety of its riders, but this has taken long enough and they need to keep to schedule.”

Rodriguez may be willing to go public with his platitudes, but he’s far from the only one watching. Those with knowledge of the situation tell me that the Governor is breathing down the MTA’s collective neck as well. Though he’s not in a position to do much if the MTA misses its self-imposed December deadline, I understand that he won’t be happy with the MTA for blowing yet another major deadline on yet another big-ticket item, and with Cuomo’s ultimately goal perhaps a run for an office a little bit higher up on the food chain than New York governor, getting things done on time — whatever that may mean when it comes to the MTA — is important.

All of this public pressure of course leads to another question: What happens if the MTA doesn’t open the Second Ave. Subway until early 2017, as many in the construction and engineering community expect? Most likely, the answer is a big fat nothing. The ribbon-cutting will be grand, the residents weary but happy, and the bureaucratic jobs all will be safe. Opening on time is good for the MTA’s beleaguered reputation, good for a governor suddenly committed to public transit, and good for Upper East Siders who have lived with a decade’s worth of construction. But what’s a few more months between friends anyway?

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Alain December 6, 2016 - 4:35 am

Apart from one man’s political credibility, there’s absolutely no reason to rush the opening of the SAS. Take your time to properly test the line, make sure all elevators and escalators work and that the stations do not leak.

And go for a realistic target date. Jan/Feb 2017 sounds too early still; June/July or even Fall 2017 would probably be better.

Sam December 6, 2016 - 12:52 pm

Perhaps Winter 2018?

I was with you until the June/July. It’s one thing to suggest a few more weeks into 2017, it’s another thing to suggest the Fall. The MTA will look worse each day construction continues past December 31st. And that’s a good thing, there should be some accountability for big project timelines.

Tim December 6, 2016 - 1:04 pm

Cuomo can GSIAH, but you know he’s aiming to hang said hat on this particular project. That said, I walk by the construction area every day, and it’s actually somewhat shocking to see the amount of above ground progress being made every day. THis morning’s surprise was the appearance of the glass framing at the 86th/2nd NE corner.

Honestly, if this is even remotely close to the pace that should be normal, why does it take so long to do it when the rush isn’t on?

AMH December 6, 2016 - 1:35 pm

The construction industry is essentially at full capacity right now, and contractors rationally prioritize work based on costs and benefits to them. MTA contracts are low on that list because there are few or no meaningful consequences for failing to meet deadlines, and it’s good to have that work on the back burner for a rainy day.

tacony December 6, 2016 - 4:47 pm

I see no reason to believe that by pushing back the opening it’ll somehow result in a better product. Hudson Yards was delayed, opened well past its revised target date, and is still a really poorly-designed station with horrible water intrusion issues among other problems. To top it off, they still haven’t even finished the other planned entrance on the north side of 34th Street. Older materials had listed the completion date for that entrance as “2016,” and that’s obviously not happening at this point. They’ll blow yet another deadline and no one will be fired for the incompetence.

There are no consequences. MTA construction: Everyone charges the highest prices in the world, delivers an inferior product past deadline, and everyone gets paid and pats each other on the back for the fleecing.

JMP_NYC December 6, 2016 - 6:09 am

If politicians are considering holding the MTA’s feet to the fire over phase 1 not opening 3 years after it was originally promised, should we tell them that the FEIS said that all four phases of the project would be done by the end of 2020? I’m assuming that there will be zero movement on even thinking about funding for phases 3 & 4 by the end of 2020. (The FEIS assumed that phases 2 & 3 would happen at the same time, both starting a year before phase 1 was complete. It was a lovely bit of fiction.)

AMH December 7, 2016 - 2:33 pm

Opening Phase 1 without going full-tilt into Phases 2 and 3 is inexcusable.

Larry Littlefield December 6, 2016 - 9:29 am

This whole “on time” thing distracts from the fundamental issue.

The decision to do this was made in 1996. It should have been open from 63rd Street to 125th Street by 2002 or 2004, the latest.

Perhaps the route south would already be built too, or perhaps they’d be debating whether or not to do it now.

Bolwerk December 6, 2016 - 12:35 pm

Part of me hopes they don’t do the southern part right now. Why? It really should be four tracks, and I don’t think willpower for that exists right now.

Better to take a hiatus and find ways for the city to get its collective shit together. There are better places for 2-track subways.

AMH December 6, 2016 - 2:00 pm

Two to the Bronx and two across 125th? I’ve wondered whether there will be a desire to add more tracks later, or whether technology will just fit more trains on existing tracks. Is the line being built with CBTC at least?

Bolwerk December 6, 2016 - 2:06 pm

Yes, but I doubt technology can push the upper limit of 10-car IND trains much past 60 TPH/track. And to begin I doubt we’re looking at anywhere near that many.

Plus IIRC it will share tracks with non-CBTC trains. Or at least will share with trains that share with non-CBTC trains.

Justin Samuels December 6, 2016 - 3:06 pm

A two track subway the full length of Manhattan is fine. The 3rd Avenue El was a three track el that split around 129th Street to form the Second and 3rd Avenue els. So the el’s likely never had that greate a capacity, and the two track Second Avenue Subway would likely be having more runs and more service.

Donald Trump, a NYC developer is now the President elect. He says he’ll spend one trillion on infrastructure. Be assured the MTA will be hitting him up.

Bolwerk December 6, 2016 - 4:40 pm

It’s “fine” for the present. For the future it’d be nice to be able to snake some more lines around the outer boroughs. Each double track pair in Manhattan probably means two pretty hefty branch lines in the boroughs.

Adirondacker12800 December 6, 2016 - 4:44 pm

He was going to prosecute Hillary, that’s gone down the memory hole. The whole building a wall thing has become a fence that may or may not be erected. From the looks of it, repealing Obamacare doesn’t look like it will happen either. And taxes on imports seems to have died a quiet death. the whole tax plan, such as it was, no one is talking about that. He may want to spend at gazillion dollars but just like his charitable contributions, don’t believe it until you see a check.

tacony December 6, 2016 - 5:02 pm

In 1906, the 3rd Ave El ran “Daily trains at intervals of 1 to 3 minutes between 5:34a.m. and midnight, and at intervals of 10 minutes between midnight and 5:34a.m.” http://www.nycsubway.org/perl/.....ide_56.gif

So it had more runs and more service than any tracks of NYC subway/elevated line do today, and even when you consider that the trains were shorter, probably more capacity as far as square footage of train being moved. But maybe less people if they had different, more comfortable seating arrangements back then? Today we force people to stand for their 45 minute commutes each way so we can provide less frequent service.

Who cares about CBTC? We have “only” 9 million people in NYC today but we just can’t afford the luxuries of the pre-suburban age to run the trains very frequently outside of the heart of rush hour.

Larry Littlefield December 7, 2016 - 8:32 am

The Els were built without signals. Just line of sight. They were added later — not sure about 1906.

Spendmore Wastemor December 8, 2016 - 9:56 am

If they could do that without signals, meaning in fog or rain there was restricted visibility, then with signals and stop-then-key-past they should be able to do at least as well.

AG December 7, 2016 - 6:33 pm

Yes – what you described is very annoying. Even regardless of extra capacity per line (which is needed) – I’m sick and tired of being late for work because this old signal system malfunctions so often. I wish someone would quantify how much productivity is lost. It’s the same with platform doors on the underground stations. That helps several ways. It also helps with boarding/unboarding times. Finally it also could help prevent track fires by preventing most trash from getting on the tracks.
For some reason the wills of the politicians are weak. The subway system is probably the single most important part of NYC’s economic strength since the ports moved across the harbor.

AMH December 7, 2016 - 2:38 pm

More like a trillion $ in subsidies to contractors and developers in exchange for them taking over MTA bond revenues, or something like that. But most likely it’ll all go to new toll roads and *maybe* some high-speed rail.

JEG December 6, 2016 - 9:35 am

For a three month period of time covering August, September, October, and November, very little work was being undertaken along the blocks between 68th Street and 73rd Street. There were of course significant items of the project to complete, including interior and exterior components of the ventilation towers, the entrances at 69th Street and 72nd Street, and repaving streets and sidewalks. Nonetheless, each morning few, if any, workers were visible around the project site as the days rolled into months, and no one was working in the evening.

Now, with only weeks to go, the MTACC has contractors all over the site, working simultaneously on each of these elements. Indeed, workers are at the site working until well after 9:00 p.m. Where were these workers during the summer and fall? Where was Governor Cuomo or City Counsilman Ydanis Rodriguez during that time?

I’ve asked these question before, but is this an issue of managerial incompetence? Were contractors and union members slow boating the completion of the project to extract more compensation in the rush to finish before year end?

In any event, I’m looking forward to seeing streets and sidewalks return to normal over the next few weeks, after 7 years of construction.

tacony December 7, 2016 - 10:05 am

I would hope that there was work going on elsewhere or work that needed to be finished before the more visible work was going on here. I’m being charitable.

Aren’t there also rumors that the MTA submitted some “change orders” at the last minute which slowed things down? We know they built the tunnel wall curves too narrow to fit the trains and had to be modified, right? That seems like a totally baffling thing to screw up, but I’m no engineer.

Eric F December 6, 2016 - 9:58 am

The problem is that once you miss a key self-imposed deadline, you start missing lots of them serially. And let’s not kid ourselves that a delay will ‘get things right’. I’ve seen the South Ferry Station open after long delays only to leak, the 7 extension station open with delays only to see malfunctioning systems and the PATH station at WTC open after a decade of delay only to see two of the five platforms now closed yet again for unspecified continuing work. My preference would be to just open the thing and fix stuff as it comes up.

Bolwerk December 6, 2016 - 2:09 pm

This deadline seems like a distraction to me. Getting within a month or two of a deadline set years ago seems pretty good!

OTOH, it doesn’t excuse things taking as long as they did. 80 years? :-\

JJJJ December 6, 2016 - 11:08 am

Across the world, it is common to open new lines on a part-time basis until theyre fully done.

IE: Monday to Friday, 7am-7pm, Weekends 10am-6pm.

This allows the opening date to be met, serves the highest demand times, and allows for continued work to put in the finishing touches.

Tim December 6, 2016 - 1:07 pm

That assumes that the MTA gives a rat’s behind about worldwide best practices…

tacony December 7, 2016 - 10:17 am

Out of curiosity, what are the “finishing touches” that could be installed after the station opens on a part-time basis? I’m trying to think of what this would include but can’t really imagine. Painting the walls? The components of a NYC subway station seem to me that they would kind of all be necessary from day 1. They can’t open without elevators due to ADA. I don’t think they’d want to open without signage, railings, ventilation, lighting, etc. They wouldn’t want to take gambles on safety. Have people using the new stations sign a waiver for access while they “beta test” things? Not going to work.

The concept of opening some stations and skipping others that’s already been floated seems more realistic to me.

We know that when they do officially open the new SAS stations there will still be work to complete anyway. Hudson Yards’ northern entrance is still not done!

AlexB December 6, 2016 - 11:09 am

I recently moved around the corner from the 86th St station. I did not have to sit through years of construction disruption, noise and annoyance and I’m already irritated by it every day. A LOT of progress has been made in the last few weeks, but it’s time for 2nd Avenue to become normal again and for relief to finally arrive to people riding the 4/5/6. If the subway opens in January rather than February, it’s not a big deal for most people, but it’s one less month of watching packed 4 or 5 trains roll away too full for me to get on and one less month of pedestrians being diverted away from local businesses by the construction zones. Please do hurry.

victor December 6, 2016 - 12:19 pm

How desperate would the Democratic party be if Cuomo gets the nomination for president?

Bolwerk December 6, 2016 - 12:32 pm

I don’t think he has a path to getting the nomination, but just saying he does, what’s the problem for the Democrats? He’s perfect for the Hillary wing of the party: popular, indifferent to the needs of anyone who makes under $200k, greedy, acquisitive, dogmatically neoliberal, and, unlike Hillary, seemingly made of Teflon.

I don’t know if that translates to an automatic victory in 2020, but there’s always a chance that the Democrats could retake the cinders of the White House in 2020 by simply not being Trump. This is exactly how milquetoasty right-wing Democrats like Obama and de Blasio get elected, and Cuomo is in that club too.

Tim December 6, 2016 - 1:08 pm

Cuomo may be in prison by then. Trump was wise to keep on Preet Bharara.

JEG December 6, 2016 - 1:12 pm

Your analysis is woeful. Starting with the fact that the “Hillary wing of the party” is the vast majority of Democrats, and getting worse when you suggest that Cuomo is popular.

Bolwerk December 6, 2016 - 1:46 pm

Maybe you’re right, but I wouldn’t consider <55% of Dem primary voters a “vast majority.” For someone with rockstar fame in her own court, that’s kind of bad. But you’re absolutely right that the establishment/insider ideology is much in line with Hil, so if you’re referring to power brokers, I agree, it is the vast majority of them. And they have probably 30% of the decision-making power, more if you count indirect influence, so that can be tough to overcome. Superdelegates might really love Cuomo.

Re Cuomo’s popularity, unless something has changed since I last paid attention (September?) he’s basically liked and popular. Personal popularity is high with the public and very high with other Demonkkkrats. I did read a poll a few months ago suggesting Cuomo fatigue is setting in – most New Yorkers wanted someone else. I’m not sure what to make of it, if anything.

Cuomo has another advantage: name recognition. National name recognition, with the national voter base having little negative to say about him.

Really I just don’t see him winning the nomination because he’s not particularly pugnacious, and rather charmless. Bill Clinton’s policies, but not his personality. Then, he’s also pretty unaccomplished. Annd then beating a New Yorker in a POTUS primary still might come down to pointing and screeching “HE’S FROM NEW YORK!”

Adirondacker12800 December 6, 2016 - 4:37 pm

It didn’t seem to bother Trump voters – being from New York.

Bolwerk December 6, 2016 - 4:46 pm

Didn’t it hurt Daddy Cuomo pretty badly when he entertained presidential ambitions? The only high-profile attempt I remember to tarnish Trump on that point was Ted Cruz’s “New York values” bit.

In the general the sense was both candidates were basically from New York anyway. Bernie used his status as a rural representative subtly against Clinton, though he has NY roots too.

JEG December 6, 2016 - 7:41 pm

HRC had the support of over 50 percent of Democrats at a time when Joe Biden had 22 percent, Bernie Sanders 10 percent, and Martin O’Mally and Jim Webb about 5 percent each, and the remainder undecided. Ultimately, Sanders collected the not-Hillary vote as others dropped out of the race, which brought his total up to ~43 percent of Democratic voters, but the reality is that a much smaller percentage of Democrats supported his views.

For instance, when given the option of universal healthcare in Colorado, over 80 percent of voters rejected such a plan, whereas Clinton received 48.2 percent of the vote. That was a caucus state that Sanders carried 60 percent to 40 percent over Clinton, and was his best performance in one of the 13 swing states that decided the general election.

In short, the Democratic party is more centrist that you want to believe.

Bolwerk December 6, 2016 - 9:32 pm

If the Dems are more centrist than I want to believe, whatever that means, that can only mean they’re less right-wing than I suspect. They are quite literally to the right of the American public* these days. A vote for a typical Democrat is a vote for someone to the right of a goon like Theresa May.

I’m not even sure what you’re objecting to. I said Cuomo should please the Hillary wing of the party (agreed that’s most of the power brokers) if he won nomination. I don’t see why many of the primary voters would mind him either, so why would he be symptomatic of desperation? I just don’t see him running, and if he does run I don’t see him winning the nomination for reasons that don’t really have anything to do with ideology.

Maybe if Cuomo has a problem, his low-key style would be a poor match against Trump’s stage theatrics? That, at least, few Dems besides Sanders are equipped to cope with.

* The American political spectrum isn’t left-right. It’s authoritarian-submissive.

JEG December 7, 2016 - 9:10 am

They are quite literally to the right of the American public* these days.

Seriously? Then where do the 45 percent of American voters who voted for Republicans fit into your spectrum? You sound like the “American public” are limited to the people you’re hanging out with in Brooklyn.

As for Cuomo, he’s been governor of New York for six years and has had zero accomplishment he can point to over that time. Meanwhile, close associates and others were indicted after he shut down the Mooreland Commission. Only Cuomo can think that Cuomo has a shot at higher office.

And Theresa May? Unless you’re from the U.K. and recently in the U.S. why even bother bringing her into this conversation?

Bolwerk December 7, 2016 - 12:22 pm

Ya think this obsession with an imagined “spectrum” and where people fit on it might be why Democrats are not capable of even the basic discernment necessary to win what should be a shoe-in election against an orange orangutan? I don’t know what “people” I hang around with in Brooklyn, but Brooklyn’s newly settled whites at least are probably well to the right of the American public on economics. Perhaps not social issues. Trump extended on the Romney base with with promises of public investment, stimulus, and job creation – all traditionally center-left interests. The Democrats attempted to offer nothing but stay the course, and presumably much of their base stayed home for it. They didn’t even put much effort into down-ballot races, assuming Hillary would have coattails. Haha, oops.

I repeatedly said I don’t think Cuomo has a shot, at least not much of one. But I see no reason to believe the Mooreland Comission is a bigger deal than Hil’s emails or a mountain of Trump shenanigans that only has four years to grow. I personally agree he’s quite unaccomplished or even anti-accomplished, but propaganda would massage Cuomo into the most accomplished person on the planet if he chooses to run. What I was getting at is, assuming he wins the nomination, which I think he won’t do, where’s the problem electorally? Why could Cuomo be impaired over some other Democrat when trying to secure a winning electoral vote majority? Mostly going back to profile and media connections, Cuomo has some advantages on that front.

Bolwerk December 6, 2016 - 9:43 pm

I’m not sure I would take seriously any of your metrics about ideology. I don’t see why someone would lose the option of voting for Biden or O’Malley and automatically jump to Sanders over Clinton. Webb supporters migrating to Sanders is maybe a bit more believable for reasons that could probably fill an essay in TNR. But in practice, O’Malley’s only actual run at the polls got him, what, 1% support?

Whether you think single-payer is a meritorious idea nationally or not (I do, in fact), on the state-level I’m almost tempted to deem it objectively stupid. The most likely outcome is encouraging corporate rent-seeking. Do it nationally or don’t do it.

JEG December 7, 2016 - 9:17 am

You might not like the metrics, but clearly a visceral dislike of Hillary Clinton played a significant role in the primaries and general election, which had nothing at all to do with policy considerations. And Sanders was behind Biden in the polls for six months – at a time Biden had not even declared he was in the race. Whatever you think of Clinton, Biden and O’Malley were ideologically similar to Clinton, and together their poll numbers dwarfed Sanders. It seems fair to me say that is where the majority of Democrats are on the political spectrum.

Bolwerk December 7, 2016 - 12:52 pm

I don’t know what to say of early polls. Sanders was virtually unknown in mid-2015, so that alone would make me question any validity of the comparison. I don’t think he ever quite escaped also-ran status either. In a general matchup, his poll numbers topped anyone in either party, which is part of why I said the Dems are well to the right of the American public at this point.

Visceral dislike of Clinton seems a quite plausible impairment in the general, but in the primary anti-Clinton voters mostly had their policy reasons. And I’d submit a large number of people supported Clinton for non-policy reasons too. African Americans, for instance, had a long history with the Clintons. Hillary is well-known, knowledgeable, effective with the levers of state, etc.. So, superficially, from the standpoint of beating the other party, maybe she looked pretty good? She just happened to suck horribly at campaigning, but she started off with many advantages – early on, maybe even popularity!

Adirondacker12800 December 7, 2016 - 1:22 pm

Purely anecdotal, around half of the people who are gleefully telling me that they are ecstatic the Orange One won then go on to tell me how he is going to implement Bernie Sander’s platform. That’s one of the charms of running on a vague slogan like “Make America Great Again”, anything can be read into it.

Bolwerk December 7, 2016 - 6:15 pm

I agree. Trump was largely an empty vessel. Neurotic and/or stupid and/or crazy and/or naive people poured all their hopes and dreams into it. A lot of his supporters just (wrongly) think he’s a competent businessman, but fascists think he’s going to halt or turn the tables on an imagined white genocide.

Jason Glass December 7, 2016 - 7:25 pm

Joe Biden didn’t drop out until mid-October 2015, by which point, Bernie Sanders wasn’t exactly an unknown figure. And while you suggest that you didn’t like the figures I cited, you’re going to reference a hypothetical match between Sanders and Trump to suggest that Sanders would have won? The polls had Clinton winning the day before the general election. It’s also funny that you suggest that African Americans supported Clinton, not for policy reasons, but their “long history.” That suggests that African Americans were savvy enough to vote for the candidate that best represented their views and spoke to their policy agenda, but were taken in solely based on personality.

Bolwerk December 20, 2016 - 5:12 pm

The polls were pretty predictive right before election day too. The problem is they were looking at the wrong metric. If I can think of a comparative handicap for Sanders over Clinton it’s that he’d maybe have had a worse time of it in Florida and Virginia? He’ would have had made up for it with some combination of PA, OH, MI, WI, and IA.

What’s funny about that? Many demographics support certain politicians, sometimes for generations. The Clintons may be a little unique in that it happens at a national scale, but it’s far from unusual. It’s not even necessarily a bad thing. It’s just reality.

AG December 7, 2016 - 6:35 pm

Trump is from NY… Hillary has lived and represented NY for over a decade – and Bernie Sanders grew up in NY. Those were 3 of the 4 finalists for President.

Larry Littlefield December 9, 2016 - 8:41 pm

And the best I can say for any of them is that they were better than Option 4.

Bolwerk December 6, 2016 - 12:24 pm

The agency’s reputation for finishing projects late is at stake? 😀

Beebo December 7, 2016 - 5:14 am

Hardly. They’ll finish late and find some way to have leak problems!

tacony December 7, 2016 - 10:31 am

A good question I just thought of: what is the newest station to not have leaks? We know Hudson Yards and New South Ferry do/did. The 63rd St and Archer Avenue stations from the 80s have leaks that were also identified during construction and the federal government briefly withheld funding ’cause they felt the construction was of such poor quality and being poorly managed (see: http://www.nytimes.com/1985/08.....-work.html). Have every station the MTA’s built had leaks? The only good ones are the pre-MTA stations? What are the best (least bad?) MTA products?

Spendmore Wastemor December 8, 2016 - 10:04 am

” The only good ones are the pre-MTA stations?”

Seems that way. The IRT stuff seems to be the best. After Sandy, the pumps on ONE line were still running and saved the line from flooding (an East River tunnel on that line may have flood, idk) That was the Lex, built by a private business run by crafty old Yankees.

Larry Littlefield December 7, 2016 - 5:50 pm

OK, here is the drop dead date. April 19. My daughter will be having surgery at the Hospital for Special Surgery that day. Given how far away from the Lex that is, for her last surgery we drove and paid to park.


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