The Second Ave. Subway will open on December 31 with a ceremonial ride, Gov. Andrew Cuomo told NBC 4’s Andrew Siff on Sunday. The three and a half new stations that bring the Q north to 96th St. and 2nd Ave. will open to the public the following day. As the MTA gears up for this monumental opening, focus is shifting to Phase 2 of the project, a northern swing to 125th St. and Lexington. Even though work won’t begin until 2019, city officials want to secure federal funding, and today’s post is a guest submission from Stephen Smith, the voice behind the @MarketUrbanism twitter account on just that topic. The words and sentiments are his, but the message is one I endorse.
Last week, New York politicians held a press conference making a last ditch effort to beseech the Obama administration to fund the second phase of the Second Avenue subway – taking the line from its soon-to-be terminus at 96th Street up to 125th, to meet up with the Lexington Avenue line – before transit-hostile Republicans assume power over all three levers of the federal government in January.
Unfortunately for New York, the biggest enemies of transit won’t be in Washington, but right here in New York. During the press conference, Vincent Barone at amNewYork reported that Rep. Carolyn Maloney put a price tag of $6 billion on the project – an astounding sum of money, so large that the chances of the second phase being built any time seem very remote. The latest estimate directly from the MTA was $5.5 to $6 billion – whether Rep. Maloney misspoke or accidentally broke some news, the numbers are unacceptable and unsustainable, and the MTA and its enablers are doing more to harm the cause of transit in New York than any Tea Partier could possibly dream of.
Some may have hoped that the MTA would learn a lesson from the first phase’s record-breaking costs, but the only thing the agency appears to have learned is that state and federal officials will not stand up to their waste or ever-rising costs.
At just 1.6 miles, with just three new stations, the second phase of the Second Avenue subway would be Planet Earth’s most expensive subway line on a per-mile basis – by far. Clocking in at $3.75 billion a mile, it would blow the first phase’s $2.2 billion per mile cost out of the water. The MTA’s projected construction costs in East Harlem would be literally 10 times those of Paris’s Line 14, and more than twice as expensive as London’s Crossrail (the costliest on earth, outside of New York). These much cheaper lines in Paris, London and elsewhere are not easy suburban extensions in third-world countries with low labor costs – they are lines that strike through the cores of New York City’s first-world peer megacities, with ancient and complex underground tunneling environments and strong worker protections and good pay.
Compared to the first phase of the Second Avenue subway, the East Harlem phase’s utility per dollar has dropped dramatically. The first phase will host 202,000 weekday riders, the MTA predicts, while the second phase will host half that. While the first phase cost around $22,000 per weekday rider, the second phase is estimated to cost more than $59,000. The higher cost per rider combined with an anti-transit Republican government in Washington makes the chances that the project will be funded any time soon slim, to say nothing of future phases downtown, or outer borough projects like Utica Avenue in Brooklyn, Northern Boulevard in Queens or Third Avenue in the Bronx.
Faced with such long odds, it’s time for New Yorkers who care about transit to stand up and say enough is enough. Supporting transit in theory is one thing, but blind obedience to an agency whose primary goal is keeping labor, contractors and warring management fiefdoms happy is not helpful to the cause of better transit.
Bringing costs back down to earth for New York’s subway projects wouldn’t be about saving money, but about building more transit. For a bit more than the $6 billion the MTA wants to spend on a two-mile, three-stop extension of the Second Avenue line to 125th Street, London built a full 10 new stations on the Jubilee Line in the late 1990s. For €3.1 billion, Amsterdam is driving its six-mile North-South metro line through the city’s core, beneath its 17th century canals, to connect its three main train stations – and that was after a 40 percent cost overrun.
If New York City could build subways at the same cost as its European counterparts, the $10 billion in spent and planned money for the first two phases of the Second Avenue subway could have paid for the entire line, from the Financial District up to 125th Street and Lexington Avenue. At a cost of around $1 billion per mile – still very high by continental European standards – the MTA would even have enough cash left over to head west and dig a crosstown subway to meet the 2/3, A/B/C/D and 1 trains, giving every line in the Bronx a two-seat ride to Manhattan’s dense far east side, and begin work on another line entirely in the outer boroughs. Convincing the state and federal government – and even the city – to contribute money to subway building would be far easier if the return were full new lines serving the entire region, rather than short stubs serving just a neighborhood or two.
When Trump was elected, a former Republican congressional staffer tweeted some advice for influencing public policy: call your elected representatives at their district offices. Don’t tweet at them, don’t send them email, don’t send them letters – call them. Tell them that you’re fed up with the MTA’s excuses on its costs, tell them that you love transit too much to let prices spiral into impossibility. Tell them that it’s time for capital construction chief Michael Horodniceanu to move on and for the MTA to find fresh blood. Tell them that it’s time to start standing up to the iron triangle of contractors, unions and management, in cahoots to prevent New York from progressing into the late 20th century, nevermind the twenty-first. Tell them that it’s well past time to address the issue, and they can’t take your vote for granted if they don’t.
To that end, see below for the district offices of New York’s two U.S. Senators, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and the state politicians who are most affected by the MTA’s inability to control costs and build the transit the city needs. Most people don’t have time to get deeply involved in politics, but everybody has time to make a 60-second phone call. Call them and tell them how you feel – it may be the most effective thing you ever do in politics.
To find your U.S. Representative, enter your zip code here, and then search for their district office phone number and call it. Do the same for your state assembly member here, and your state senator here. (These two may be the most important, since they have the most direct influence over the MTA.) I won’t list them all since there are a lot, but the district office numbers are very easy to find – take five seconds to Google them, and look for the number (it’s usually at the bottom of their main web page). If you live in New Jersey, do the same – the Gateway project suffers from the same sky-high costs and questionable design as the MTA’s projects, and your state and federal officials deserve to hear for you about it too.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo: (518) 474-8390
Sen. Chuck Schumer: (212) 486-4430
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand: (212) 688-6262
U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (East Side, Brooklyn north of Grand St., Long Island City and Astoria): (212) 860-0606
N.Y.S. Sen. Liz Krueger (Upper East Side, Midtown East, Murray Hill and Flatiron): (212) 490-9535
N.Y.S. Sen.-Elect Adriano Espaillat (Washington Heights, Inwood and the Far West Side): (212) 544-0173
Asm. Robert Rodriguez (East Harlem): (212) 828-3953
While making a few phone calls is the best way to tell them you care about this issue, don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Do what you can – call one or two, or email them instead. And after you do, call, tweet and email your friends and tell them to the same. Elected officials work for you – the voter, straphanger and taxpayer – and serve at your pleasure. Don’t let them forget it.
“Tell them that it’s well past time to address the issue, and they can’t take your vote for granted if they don’t.”
Votes don’t matter, because we don’t have elections for legislative offices here in NYC. And the only interests who provide a plausible threat of forcing a legislator to face an election are part of the Iron Triangle.
Tell them instead that you are prepared to get together with like minded individuals, and provide signatures to get challengers on the ballot so there will be an election. That might get their attention.
Meanwhile, for the latest data on how the mean work earnings of the executive/financial class and the political/union class have soared relative to the serfs, who have not seen their mean compensation rise adjusted for inflation for decades and decades, you can read about it here.
“In Downstate New York the mean earnings per worker of state and local government workers was 15.3% above the mean for private sector workers (except finance) in 1969, 38.7% in 1995, and 56.2% in 2015. The comparable figures for Upstate New York are 10.5% in 1969, 57.2% in 1995, and 82.8% in 2015.”
I’d expect the trend for government-connected workers outside the government itself, relative to the serfs, to be similar to the trend for government workers vs. the serfs. With the productivity of the serfs rising more than that of the political/union class over the decades, too.
No matter how much members of the political/union class think they are worth relative to the serfs, the bottom line is the serfs therefore are too poor to afford them. And thus cannot afford, among other things, mass transit.
correction: Republicans not anti-transit. But are for some fiscal responsibility, which is actually what the author is arguing for. But his rote partisanship blinds him to that reality.
Nope, I’d say most Republicans are actually anti-transit.
It sort of fits with individualism, self reliance, etc. You are dependent on unionized public employees to get you around. I could see where that is something they would not want.
Of course, they are also anti-bicycle. Which makes no philosophical sense at all, other than “people like us” vs. “people like them.”
And if favor of the free and wasteful use of private road space, based on who funds them.
And Democrats are not really pro-transit and bicycle either, at least not the kind one finds here in NYC.
The current political parties really aren’t meeting the needs of many people under the age of 60. They weren’t meeting the needs of people under age 50 ten years ago, and weren’t meeting the needs of people under age 40 ten years before that.
“The current political parties really aren’t meeting the needs of many people under the age of 60.”
Quite perceptive. Politicians are generally old, unpleasant people who nobody other than mobsters and celebrities want to be around in person. Younger politicians aspire to be more stylish versions of the same.
You have no idea what you’re talking about. Politicians are overwhelmingly people with good social skills, who are skilled at building connections with the people around them, because that’s what their job requires.
Which Republican Party? The orthodox one or the Trump one?
The orthodox Republican party is busy canceling subway lines in poor neighborhoods (Baltimore Red Line), looking for excuses not to fund commuter rail through-running (North-South Rail Link) even while equally expensive zero-ridership commuter rail extensions are funded (South Coast Rail, South Station Expanstion), or canceling rail tunnels and diverting their funds to highways (ARC).
And those are Northeastern moderates, not Bible Belt assholes (Sam Brownback, Rick Scott) or whatever Scott Walker is.
Northeastern moderate Republicans began to wander off to spend more time with their families a long time ago. The last of them clung on until Chritie Whitman said “the air was good it was the stuff floating in it that was bad”. Even she is spending more time with her family.
Your link isn’t working; I have no idea what it’s pointing to.
What’s the difference? If anything, the Bible Belt assholes are the lesser assholes. They’re dumber, but they’re not typically meaner. There just aren’t moderate Republicans. The last in the U.S. Senate was probably Lincoln Chaffee, who made an attempt to run for POTUS last year on the Democratic line. (I say last year because I think he dropped out by November 2015.)
The crazy part? You’re probably more likely to convince the christers a rail line somewhere could be useful, at least on the grounds that it brings access to jobs or helps poor people work or something. Chris Christie or Larry Hogan are much more thoroughly for making sure nothing they deem “wasteful” happens. They’re part of the wing of the Republikan Party that would poison a city’s water to save a few bucks. They aren’t exactly saner than Trump, they’re just more socially acceptable.
So… I know people in Kansas. Brownback is pretty dreadful. The budget cuts there are more savage than what Christie et al do. Even Rick Snyder may not be as bad in policy (in outcomes he obviously is worse). Give me Baker over that asshole any day.
Example: Kansas passed voter ID laws… and about the same time, Brownback implemented a DMV reform that made the process of getting ID involve sitting 8 hours at the DMV.
You’re talking about what is probably the worst political party in the western world, certainly the worst with a perennial chance of actually ruling a country. They’re all varying shades of dreadful.
Brownback has the wits of the How is Babby Formed caveman, the economics of Ayn Rand, and the morals of a tinpoint dictator.
There are are plenty of worse parties.
Nah, Golden Dawn is actually better, despite being actual honest-to-god fascists and neo-Nazis. At least they don’t attempt to starve, poison, and kill *their own voters*.
From what I hear Kansas is uniquely bad, and Brownback did enough to destroy the state’s economy that Democrats did well in the recent election.
Rick Snyder is not that bad by Republican standards — the way to understand him is that he wants to be King of Michigan. Period. At least he doesn’t want to destroy the state and loot it the way Scott Walker’s owners want him to.
Brownback is unusually terrible because he’s completely insane and actually BELIEVES the Republican ideology. Most of the elected governors know perfectly well that it’s bullcrap which is just used to fool the rubes. Brownback actually believes it like a worshipper.
Scott Walker is a tool.
He’s owned outright by a short list of right-wing extremist billionaires.
He’s very stupid. But then they don’t want their tools to talk back to them.
The goal of these billionaires is to loot and destroy Wisconsin, and leave the ashes behind for someone else to deal with.
So that’s what Scott Walker is. A tool for looters and vandals.
Democrats are probably less anti-transit, but if anything they’re more dogmatically pro-car. And “shelling out x hundred dollars a month to own a car” is a funny definition of self-reliance. Daniel Boone would be impressed!
The Democrats are the conservative party in the USA, in the original sense of the word: whatever the status quo is, the Democrats tend to support that.
Obama would never send money to MTA for this, he knows it’s disgraceful boondoggle
This is’t an Republican-Democrat issue..it’s a waste of $$$$ issue
quit making shit up about politicians all the time , it’s pathetic
Doesn’t this beg the question as to why Governor Cuomo and federal officials, aren’t already examining why the costs of construction for the MTACC are so exorbitant? Keeping costs down isn’t a controversial policy decision requiring the mass mobilization of supporters, and the failure of government oversight is a governance failure at a fundamental level.
I’ve asked this question numerous times, hoping that someone with some inside knowledge can provide a bit of insight. Is there managerial incompetence on the part of the MTA, such that new leadership, perhaps from outside New York or the U.S. would be valuable? Are cost overruns a issue of corruption in which construction companies and unions are working in such a way as to maximize their private benefit? Is there the involvement of organized crime?
Actual organized crime, if it exists, needs to be rooted out, but one assumes that the federal government would be eager to tackle this issue were it to be occurring on this scale.
That leaves MTA management, the contractors, and their employees, and I would be interested to hear an inside view of what is happening.
I think a lot of it is “because they can.”
The MTA has to publish an estimate of how much something will cost as part of the capital planning process. No one is going to do anything for less than that. Instead, they bid higher. And that becomes the basis for the next bid.
Then there is the idea that the MTA adds money and hires consultants every time someone says “boo.” The result, in affluent areas, is a decade of heck instead of a few years of hell.
Don’t forget all those pension increases handed out around the year 2000, and pension underfunding in the 1990s. Construction contractors and their unions did them too, just like state and local governments. And they are looking to overcharge someone to pay, someone other than private customers. There is a vast conspiracy of interests to shift that pension hole to the MTA via higher charges on the capital plan.
“The MTA has to publish an estimate of how much something will cost as part of the capital planning process. No one is going to do anything for less than that.” Why not? The lowest bidder gets the work, right? So if they want the job, they’d bid-down the budgeted amount. Instead, you’re saying it gets bid up. That seems the reverse of classic economic theory. Therefore, something must not be right.
It’s politics driving the action, not economics.
I’m not sure I’m convinced. Politics is all about making as many voters happy as possible. With this article as evidence, pretty much everybody would want more subway built at lower cost. (Except for the NIMBYists, who, yes, do extract a cost in all this.) But I really don’t see a huge mobilized political faction out there saying: “Keep construction costs high!” So, nope, I don’t think it’s politics to blame. If anything, politics should be helping. Unless by politics you mean the Iron Triangle exerting an outsized influence on elected officials who would otherwise naturally want to deliver benefits to their constituents. But, how does that work exactly? I’m trying to envision a scenario here.
The politics is probably an alliance, spoken or unspoken, between people who don’t understand transit, people who don’t understand the wider world, people who actually benefit from the high costs, and people who want to look like they’re getting things done but don’t really care about the outcomes. They overlap like crazy, but those categories cover almost every stakeholder.
If it can lessen the cost of Phase 2 significantly, perhaps the last segment of it could be done as elevated from where the existing tunnels end to 125th with provisions to continue the line further west to Broadway in the future. Sure, there would be fights to do that, but if it can be shown that the cost with the last portion elevated would make the total cost of Phase 2 say half of what it is now, then perhaps enough people can be convinced it would be worth doing that.
Besides being extremely inequitable for the lower income residents along Phase 2 versus the wealthy of Phase 1, there’s little reason we shouldn’t demand more out of an underground Phase 2, especially given the potential reuse of existing engineering and higher use of cut and cover. If they can’t get their act together on this phase, we need to talk about a radical overhaul of the MTA and capital program governance.
I agree. Returning to the 1870s and building elevated trains in Manhattan is not a viable solution. Bringing costs down to earth is the only way. (Speaking of, dear comment reader – you’re this far into the weeds in a comments section, did you make those calls yet??)
The premise of your comment, that there are “wealthy” subway riders or “lower income” riders is to me false. The wealthy residents of the Upper East Side aren’t riding the Lexington Avenue line today, as these residents were quick to point that out a few years ago when the MTA discussed creating new subway entrances at East 69th Street as part of a renovation of the 68th Street station. And in the future, they won’t be riding the Second Avenue Subway either.
You may be thinking of college educated professionals, but these residents aren’t “wealthy” living in New York City. Certainly not while payoff a six figure student debt, paying market rates for housing, supporting a family, and saving for retirement. According to the New York Times, a household income of $200,000 doesn’t put someone into the 10 percent of income earners throughout the New York Metropolitan area. So that sounds like a lot of money, and does make these people better off than other residents, but being better off than someone else isn’t the threshold of being “wealthy.”
But subways don’t just go through the streets of the classes riding subways. Imagine the uproar if an elevated had been proposed in Phase 1, regardless of who actually rode it.
And NYT notwithstanding, $200k IS a lot of money (top 10% seems an awfully strange threshold for measuring equity). It’s a lot more than most people using a stop at 116 St probably make, and with it comes a lot more political sway. Being better off economically and politically is exactly the point I was attempting to make.
This comment is the definition of metaphorically tin eared. The median household income in NYC is $55,752 (2015 ACS). Those households making $200,000+ comprise 8.6% of total households in NYC. That is, by any reasonable definition, wealthy. The 2.9M households of your fellow NYers whose income is below that level would certainly love to have your level of “wealth.”
Ya know, I’m not even really sure what the point of your comment is.
There’s a difference between the well-to-do and the genuinely RICH.
Bloomberg & Trump are genuinely RICH. Billionaires.
Any group which comprises more than 1% of the population isn’t.
Eliminate one station… Merge 106 and 116 into a 110 Street station…
Sorry, that would save millions, perhaps hundreds of millions given the current rates for digging glorified holes in the ground. It would also make perfect sense. For that reason alone it will never happen.
So is Gov Cuomo on the right track fiscally with the new TZ Bridge?
HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA…
I noticed that Phase 4 has been eliminated from the map, Is that just an oversight or has Phase 4 officially been eliminated from the project. Not that at 62, I expect to live to see Phase 3 or 4 ever completed, but I am just curious.
There are 4 versions of this map, one for each phase.
Why this version was used and not the one with Phase 4, I dunno.
Here’s the map with Phase 4: http://web.mta.info/capital/sa.....re3-18.pdf
I just called the offices of Cuomo, Schumer, Gillibrand, Davila and Dilon. So if you call any of them, it won’t come as a surprise, and they’ll know what you’re talking about.
The fact that even an average-to-expensive sunbelt light rail project can get better cost per rider should definitely raise eyebrows.
Yeah. Basically, subways should only ever go above $20,000-25,000 if something went deeply wrong. Beyond $40,000, just don’t build them – it’s not worth the money. New York is not Cairo, Nairobi, Delhi, or any of a number of third-world cities with extreme pollution levels and extreme overcrowding due to poor transportation. It can live without additional subways.
Something I’ve been wondering about for quite a while – particularly, after the 7 extension – is whether their penchant for excavating/blasting out the station shells (well, caverns, really) is one of the reasons why costs are so high. I don’t really A) know how common this is and B) whether other agencies (e.g. those mentioned above) also use this method.
In other words, it appears some stations simply use the actual ‘tunnels’ for the platforms and simply put the ‘station boxes’ on the sides of this, which would appear to mitigate the amount of blasting and other excavating (beyond using TBM) needed.
I’ve always felt the stations are the lowest hanging fruit, as it were.
A better rhetorical strategy might be speeding up projects. It has the same effect as reducing their costs, but doesn’t attract as much notice.
We should be building at a rate of a km or three a year. And, well, we needed SAS decades ago anyway.
Thanks for all the hard work. There appear to be scaling problems in the casual per mile or per km cost comparisons across very different domains. Such analysis is attractive, but alone, is not exactly useful. Assuming a megaproject is undertaken in any domain, a 4km project will certainly be more xostly per mile than a 40km project because the costs are not evenly distributed across all km. This is the nature of construction and manufacturing–your first unit is always the most expensive. Why should we compare this short distance MTA project on the UES, using this tool, to other megaprojects in other domains, and hope to find useful conclusions based on that measure alone?
In the original post on this topic, Alon Levy did some qualitative analysis of the difficulty of the projects. It wasn’t just per-mile costs “alone.”
And sure, the first units is cheaper, sure. But the cost chasm here is vast – we’re talking about 5-10x cost differentials, not 20% or 30% – and our short projects cost the same or more as many countries’ long projects. Not the same per-mile, but the same in absolute terms.
If costs were actually going to go down as the length of the project went up, then what was the purpose of splitting the work into 4 phases? Why not condense it into two phases, or one phase and reduce mobilization, excavation, traffic control, etc. costs? I imagine that someone had to have had that thought, and then reconsidered for some reason.
I think the speculated price tag of Phase 2 ($6 billion) is evidence enough to suggest that current cost control measures are ineffective at best, and that part of the decision to split the work into phases was to mitigate even more ridiculous expenditures than what we already ended up with. Comparisons to projects of different lengths are all we have, but I can’t fathom using “scaling” as an excuse for the cost of Phase 1 as being reasonable.
Easy answer—allow contractors worldwide to bid on a project. I can’t help but think China could build these infrastructure projects for 10% to 20% of what we pay for them. There’s no reason we have to limit them to local contractors and accept cronyiswm, featherbedding, kickbacks, all the other nonsense which drive costs up 5 to 10 times.
This is almost certainly the core solution. There appears to be a construction *cartel* in New York City, and it seems to specialize in overcharging, doing shoddy work, and being lazy (spending weeks doing nothing when they should be working).
Bluntly, we get projects done faster, cheaper, and with better quality upstate (and I don’t mean Westchester, I mean *really* upstate, Rochester, Buffalo, etc.). There’s something deeply wrong in NYC construction.
Am I the only one wondering why phase 2 is from 96th street and up? Based on the map, if the ridership is indeed the lowest of the 4 current phases, I recommend that either phase 3 or phase 4 be upgraded to phase 2. Let’s be honest here, no one is going to ride up to 125th street but a new line from Houston to 56th street can certainly ease up the congestion of Midtown.
The idea is to pull passengers off the overcrowded 4-5-6 at 125th St.
So let me get this straight. Europe has a highly paid militant union labor force that negotiates terms and conditions, but in New York they are to be targeted as part of an iron triangle of intransigence. Trump’s Washington and the GOP agenda of utter hostility to urban infrastructure investments (deemed a local affair), gets a pass, and we are all instructed to direct our wrath on the very Democratic New York politicians, flawed as they are, that are our sole voice in Washington to secure investments for our mass transit system. Full disclosure, I’m union, TWU Local 100. We want these projects done on time and on budget, incorporating best practices, while respecting the rights of labor to negotiate the terms of our employment. We’re at the table right now trying to make that happen, so these capital projects can be a success. But I’m surprised and a little disappointed that transit advocates would fall for this transparent right-wing sleight of hand.
So you don’t dispute any of the numbers then? All you’ve got is bluster and accusing people of being Trump supporters?
I usually support unions.
TWU 100 has been uniquely awful among transit unions — the maintenance falsification scandal — trying to keep station agents hiding in booths rather than interacting with the public — refusing to shift towards one-person train operation —
But it’s not the problem here.
The LIRR unions are much, MUCH worse than TWU 100, with documented fraud by maintenance workers, a campaign to let them not use timeclocks so that they can keep committing fraud, etc….
But they’re not the problem in this case either.
The construction companies are the problem which is inflating construction costs for the MTA.
And this is all unique-to-New-York. Every other TWU local in the *country* has my respect. Nearly every other railroad union local seems to be honest. And construction companies in other parts of the US (Los Angeles, Seattle, etc.) seem to get things done much closer to on time, and much cheaper — even with worse conditions.
There’s something wrong with New York City. This isn’t right-wing or left-wing. This is something rotten in the City.
Boston had construction companies robbing them blind on the Green Line extension — they fired them, penalized them, prohibited them from bidding again and are trying again.
The MTA needs to grow a spine and do something similar.
Boston, by the way, has implemented one person train operation. The union grumbled, but it worked out fine.
Want to be helpful? Push MTA management to actually MANAGE.