No. 7 subway extension is $500 million and one stop short

Few New Yorkers are aware that there is more to the story of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority extending service on the No. 7 subway line earlier this month to the new 34th Street 11th Ave Hudson Yards station. The original cost of the overall project was $2.1 billion and became $2.4 billion, even though an entire subway station and additional subway cars were dropped from the original scope of work.

Neither New York City nor the MTA could find $500 million to pay for the proposed intermediate subway station to be built at 10th Avenue and 41st Street that was part of the original project. One trick used by transit managers to complete any project within budget is to drop a portion of the original work. Deletion of this second station kept the project cost at $2.4 billion rather than $2.9 billion.

And let’s not forget the project’s missed deadlines. Construction started in 2007 with a planned completion date of December 2013. The anticipated first day of public service slipped several times from this date: first to June 2014, second to Feb. 2015, third to June 2015 and finally to Sept. 13, 2015.

When the project was in the planning stages, several years prior to 2007, the MTA elected not to follow the federal National Environmental Protection Act process. It also did not want to go after the U.S. Department of Transportation New Starts funding, which would have had resulted in its competing against both the LIRR East Side Access and Second Avenue subway projects. The MTA provided virtually no financial assistance and insisted New York City pay for the project.

The MTA could have leveraged the $2.4 billion in locally committed funding to apply for New Starts. Using $2.4 billion as a local share could have convinced the U.S. Department of Transportation to provide $500 million in federal funding that would have paid for the deleted station at 10th Avenue and 41st Street. Offering to pay more than 80% of the total project cost would have made it easier to compete against other transit agencies around the nation that have their own proposed New Starts projects.

Work for the deleted station could have been part of an original construction bid package awarded in 2007. It could have been included as an option to the base bid. This would have afforded MTA the opportunity to add the deleted station as part of the construction contract at a later date if funding were found. Should the MTA eventually decide to build the station, the cost could be significantly higher than $500 million.

At the end of the day, riders and taxpayers have to ask if $2.4 billion for a 1.5-mile extension to one additional station built 21 months behind schedule is worth the cost.