Readers Write: No surprise with delays to 2nd Ave. subway

No one should be surprised by recent news from McKissack, who is the Metropolitan Transportation Authority independent engineering oversight construction consultant, that the Second Avenue Subway opening service date of December 2016 may not be met.

This is based upon continued delays in testing and commissioning of system components along with backlogged and new change orders to contracts.  The MTA “corporate party line” claim (based upon the most recent project recovery schedule that has changed numerous times during the life of the project) calls for a December 2016 opening day service.

Based upon previous history of delays, changes in procurement strategy, re advertising of contracts, change orders to contracts, re sequencing of work, recovery schedules, cost overruns and budget issues, don’t be surprised if the first day of service occurs in 2017 or later.

In February 2015, the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Transit Administration and the MTA executed an amended Full Funding Grant Agreement for the Second Avenue Subway Phase I project reflecting the changes in cost and schedule to the project.

The amended FFGA includes a cost of $5.57 billion and a revenue service date for no later than February 28, 2018.

As in the original FFGA, the $1.3 billion of Federal Grant funding remains unchanged with the MTA as local sponsor having to cover the $1 billion in cost overruns.

The MTA reminds me of Captain Renault from “Casablanca” who said “I’m shocked…shocked to find that gambling is going on…”

Riders who have been waiting since construction restarted in 2007 with an original service date of 2013 may not be able to pick up their “winnings” until 2017 or 2018.

As a result of the MTA’s $15.2 billion dollar shortfall in the original proposed $32 billion 2015-2019 Capital Program, the next phase for construction of the Second Avenue subway will be delayed to the 2020-2024 Capital Program is nothing new.

A trip down memory lane will help explain why progress has been so slow for construction of the long anticipated MTA Second Avenue subway.

The first of four segments for the new Second Avenue Subway (consisting of three stations between 96th Street and 63rd Street on the east side of Manhattan) currently cost $4.5 billion.

When this first phase is complete, don’t be surprised if the final cost comes in several hundred million dollars higher.

The original start of construction took place at 103rd Street and Second Avenue in 1972.

Work was completed between Chatham Square and Canal Street, 99th and 105th streets and 110th to 120th streets.

Based upon the master grant agreement between the MTA and federal government, if these portions of work do not go into transit use — Uncle Sam has the legal right to ask for its money back.

NYCT since the 1970s has had to maintain and protect these unopened tunnels. The federal government has considered this work part of an active ongoing project.

If the MTA does not proceed with future phases of the Second Avenue subway, Washington may have no choice but to ask for its money back for these unused tunnels.

The MTA could owe the federal government millions of dollars.

Work was suspended in 1975 due to the municipal fiscal crises faced by the late New York City Mayor Abe Beame.

This resulted in a financial shortfall in funding. A second ground breaking took place on April 12, 2007. The opening day service date of 2013 within a year was revised to 2014.

It was announced at a later date due to cost overruns delayed until 2015.

The MTA “Corporate Party Line” is still promising opening day service in December 2016. Don’t bet on it.

One trick used by transit managers to complete any project within budget, is to drop a portion of the original scope of work.

This saves the necessary dollars which were not available to deliver 100 percent of what was originally promised.

The dirty little secret no one will talk about is that in an attempt to save costs, a decision was made early on in the project to delete a third center express track which was part of the original proposed project scope.

This saved having to construct a third tunnel which would have easily cost well over $1 billion.

The purchase of 68 new subway cars at a cost of $136 million was also deleted from the original scope of work, New York City Transit claimed they could provide this new service using existing equipment. What nobody is aware of is that most subway cars are purchased using federal forumla as opposed to New Starts funding provided by grants from the U.S. DOT Federal Transit Administration.

It will take several decades and easily up to $20 billion or more could be required to include an express track for completion of the next three segments of the 2nd Avenue Subway north to 125th Street and south to Hanover Square downtown in the Financial District.

Canceling construction for the second  phase until the next 2020-2024 Five Year Capital Program also means giving up hundreds of millions in potential federal transportation New Starts funding.

This would have paid for a significant portion of the project. Without providing local matching dollars toward the project costs, you forfeit the opportunity to leverage these dollars for additional federal funds.

Transportation planners and some elected officials for decades have advocated extending the proposed Second Avenue subway north to the Bronx and south to Brooklyn. In today’s dollars, you would have to double the complete project cost to $40 billion! It¹s only 87 years since the Second Avenue subway was announced (in 1929) with an anticipated cost of $86 million.

In 1939, the estimated cost was $249 million. In 1942, the Second Avenue El ended service and was quickly demolished.

Steel from the El structure was used to support the war effort. It has been only 66 years since the full-financing bonds were issued for it (in 1950) with an estimated cost of $504 million and only 61 years since the Third Avenue Elevated subway known as the Third Avenue El was demolished with promises of an Second Avenue subway to replace it “soon” (in 1955).

In that time, the proposed Second Avenue subway has been reduced from a six-track plan to a two-track plan.

Replacing six tracks worth of Elevated subways or Els on 2nd and 3rd (both lines had center express tracks).

Who knows if anyone living today will still be alive to ride the full Second Avenue subway from uptown to downtown Manhattan. Time will tell.

Larry Penner

Great Neck

(Larry Penner is a transportation historian and advocate who previously worked in the transportation field for 31 years)



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Toronto Transit Commission unveils 2016 customer charter, pledges to reduce subway delays

The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) last week released its 2016 customer charter that includes pledges to reduce train delays and enable WiFi at more stations.

The charter has a total of 35 “time-bound” commitments aimed at improving customer experience, TTC officials said in a press release.

Under the charter, the agency will provide additional train service on subway Line 1 to reduce delays during off-peak hours, make WiFi available at 32 additional stations, and run accessible vehicles along three streetcar routes.

By the fourth quarter, TTC plans to reduce subway delays by 10 percent, according to the charter.

Additionally, the agency plans to enable its entire system to accept PRESTO fare payments, which use smart-card technology to store funds in a secure account.

Every year, the TTC’s customer charter makes a list of customer service improvements and holds the agency accountable for fulfilling them.