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2nd Ave. Subway History

by Benjamin Kabak

The following timeline is from the MTA. It details the history of the ill-fated Second Ave. subway line.

Early History

1920 Daniel L. Turner of the Public Service Commission published the “Proposed Comprehensive Rapid Transit System,” which included six new north-south lines and eight new crosstown lines in Manhattan. Scaled-down proposals from this report subsequently appeared in plans for a new City-owned Independent (IND) subway system, where the Second Avenue Subway was first mentioned. The IND plan called for a two phase system: Phase I would be the Sixth and Eighth Ave. lines, while Phase II would include the Second Ave. Trunk line.

1929 The NYC Board of Transportation proposed a Second Ave. line from Houston Street to the Harlem River for a cost of $86M. Contracts were expected to be let between 1930 and 1935, with the lines to go into service 1938-1941. In October, the Wall Street stock market crashed.

1931 While NYC suffered the effects of the Great Depression, the cost estimates for the IND Phase I were determined to be too low (by as much as 100%). Plans for the Second Ave. line were postponed. The new proposed opening date was 1948.

1939 The cost of the Second Ave. subway was now estimated to be $249M. New subway construction was suspended for the duration of World War II.

1942 Service ended on the Second Ave. El, and the line was demolished

1944 The Second Ave. subway was back in the planning stage, with some revisions. From Canal St. to 57th St. the line was to be four tracks, with six tracks north of 57th St. South of Canal St. there would be two tracks. Connections were planned for the lines from the Manhattan and Williamsburg Bridges. The planned opening date was 1951.

1949 The Second Ave. subway was now estimated to cost $504M. Queens residents promised not to approve the bond issue until promises were made for subway service improvements in Queens borough. The new R11 “million dollar train” was unveiled as the prototype train for the Second Ave. subway.

1950 The Second Ave. plan was revised again to include a two-track turnoff at 7th St., to 34th Ave. in Queens. A new subway under Northern Boulevard would connect to the LIRR line to the Rockaways. This plan cost $118M, of which $63M would come from deferring construction of the other part of the Second Ave. trunk line. The Korean War starts, driving up material costs.

1951 A bond issue for $500M was approved in November. The start of the operation was planned for 1957 or 1958.

1955 Service ended on the Third Ave. El in Manhattan. The line was demolished the following year. There was now only one rapid transit line (the Lexington Ave. subway) on the East Side of Manhattan.

1957 Transit Authority Chairman Charles L. Patterson used most of the $500M bond issue for improvements to the current system, leaving only $112M for the Second Ave. subway. The New York Times reported on Jan 17, 1957 (page 1): “It is highly improbable that the Second Ave. subway will ever materialize.”

The “First” SAS Construction

1964 The Urban Mass Transit Act was passed making Federal funding available for transit projects.

1965 The Metropolitan Commuter Transportation Authority (which became the MTA) was founded.

1967 A $2.5B bond issue for Transportation was passed. $1B was for urban transit in the state and $600M was for construction in New York City.

1968 The Second Ave. subway cost was estimated at $220 million for a two-track line from 34th St. to the Bronx (Phase One) that would would connect with the planned 63rd St. Tunnel and Central Park line. Phase Two would bring the line down to Water St. near the Battery. On September 20, the NYC Board of Estimates approved a two-track line from the Bronx to Water St., including the 63rd St. connection. To finance the first construction work–from 34th St. to 126th St.–the city applied for $254 million in federal funds, and an initial grant of $25 million was approved by the Urban Mass Transportation Administration. This marked the first time federal money was ever made available for major new subway construction in New York City’s history.

1972 Groundbreaking was held at East 103rd St. and Second Ave., 68 years to the day after the opening of the IRT.

1975 Construction of the Second Ave. subway was halted due to City’s financial condition. Only three non-contiguous sections of tunnel had been completed: between Chatham Sq. and Canal St., 99th and 105th, and 110th and 120th Sts.

The Current SAS Project

1995, MTA New York City Transit began the Manhattan East Side Alternatives (MESA) Study. This project was carried out as a federal Major Investment Study/Draft Environmental Impact Statement (MIS/DEIS). The MESA Study goal was to recommend a course of action(s) to reduce overcrowding and delays on the Lexington Ave. line, and to improve mass transit accessibility for residents on the far East Side of Manhattan.

In August 1999, the MESA Study issued a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) proposing a subway under Second Avenue from 96th Street to the 63rd St./Lexington Ave. subway station. At public hearings for the DEIS, strong support was expressed for evaluation of a “full length” Second Ave. subway.

On March 22, 2001, the SAS Study published a Notice of Intent in the Federal Register to undertake a Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement (SDEIS) to evaluate a full-length Second Ave. subway.

On April 19, 2001, a public meeting was held to describe and discuss the new subway alignment, the project schedule, and next steps.

In October 2001, NYCT published a Summary Report describing the full-length alternative and outlining the process by which the full-length alternative was selected.

In April 2003, the Second Ave. Subway Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement (SDEIS) was published. Public hearings on the SDEIS were held on May 12 and 13, 2003.

In April 2004, the Second Ave. Subway Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) was published.

In July 2004, the FTA issued a Record of Decision (ROD), which stated that the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act have been satisfied for the Second Ave. Subway Project.

In July 2004, Preliminary Engineering for Phase One was completed. In December 2004, Preliminary Engineering for Phases Two, Three and Four was completed.

In April 2006, Extended and Final Preliminary Engineering was completed. In April 2006, The Federal Transit Administration authorized the MTA to begin Final Design of Phase One of the project and the Final Design contract was awarded.


joseph menasce August 13, 2007 - 11:16 am

Can you please inform me on the design impact of the 2nd ave near 108St . This area is below the east river water level. Will it impact Franklyn ave apartment complex or the utility underground.
I am w/ a consulting engineering firm and we intend to make a boiler plant across the street. Please fill me in on the design impact on our client. Will the interruption of the utility service qualifies that complex to some grant.
Tel 212-675-8844 X 231

grownANDsexy August 31, 2007 - 12:46 am

@ joseph menasce:
You should probably call the MTA about that one. There are also a number of city agencies that can help with that as well (or at least tell you who you should talk to)

@ 2nd Ave. Subway History:
You know what’s really F’ed up about this? is that there were elevated lines on all 3 avenues on the east side. They took down the elevated lines and then just “forgot” to replace any of them.

Do you know how cheap it would have been to do it way back when? Why bother even taking down the lines in the first place? why not leave it up (I can only imagine the property values if they did) as the ONLY working elevated train below 110 street?

Man… I wish I was born rich and powerful back then lol. I would have kept the elevated 2 avenue subway until money was promised for a subway line… and I would have kept the A line in Brooklyn elevated just to connect to Broadway Junction… man all those trains in one place would have been a sight! LOL

Joepho September 2, 2007 - 3:05 pm


The problem was in the 1950s (when most passenger railroads were ceasing operations), no one thought 50 years ahead that these rail lines might be needed to relieve congestion on the Lex Ave line. These lines were considered eyesores and dangerous to auto traffic and hence were demolished as the operators were bankrupt. Westchester county has a similar problem with the old “Put” line which was scrapped in 1980: it would have been an outstanding commuter railroad, but most of the stations had no parking facilities, and the freight carriers had no more businesses on the line.

Now to try to condemn private property to build a railroad or to attempt such a feat in a short amount of time would be near impossible, thanks to lawsuits and other fanatical environmental/ACLU groups who oppose everything.

If you’re interested, look how Moscow is continually expanding their subway/metro system. NYC should take the lead from them and expand existing lines, in addition to studying and building new lines where feasible.

Julius K. McIntyre September 19, 2007 - 7:13 pm

Will this new proposed subway extension line system under 2nd Avenue in Manhattan have a connection to the BMT 14th Street Canarsie Line “L” Train, the Crosstown IND “GG/G”
line at the Broadway Station in Brooklyn , and the
abandoned line which the station still exist across the
8th Ave “A” Train of the 8th Independent Line at “Utica Ave” in Brooklyn? The station runs across the Utica Ave Station of the 8th Ave Independent Subway Line.

mike October 16, 2007 - 8:08 am


Those “fanatical” environmental groups are looking out for you, and they don’t oppose everything.

As for the ACLU, I’m not sure what they have to do with building railroads. They are busy defending your Constitutional rights, which you may have noticed, are under attack by a president who thinks that he should be Supreme Leader. You should be thanking the ACLU every damn day for their defense of this fragile democracy.

mike October 16, 2007 - 8:09 am

Anyway, I’m very excited about the SAS, and would love it if old train lines were revived!

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