Sunday, November 2, 2014

What's wrong with MTA and NYC Transit (along with MTACC) - part 4 - - mega projects

In July, 2003 the Metropolitan Transportation Authority created the MTA Capital Construction Company (MTACC) to oversee all MTA expansion projects as well as the rebuilding of Lower Manhattan's transportation infrastructure, specifically the Fulton Transit Center and the new South Ferry Terminal.  MTACC currently manages on behalf of the MTA five projects including the following:

  • Phase 1 of the Second Ave subway line from East 63rd Street and Laxington Ave station to East 96th Street and 2nd Ave 
  • Fulton Street Transportation center
  • East Side Access (ESA) project, allowing Long Islanders to have a one seat ride on the Long Island Railroad to Grand Central Terminal
  • 7 line extension to the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center and the Hudson Yards area at 11th Ave and West 34th Street - - now scheduled to open on February 24, 2015
  • New South Ferry Terminal (SFT)
All projects, including the "completed" South Ferry Terminal are behind schedule and over budget.    Managing these projects is a complex task which requires coordination with multple entities - - such as Con Edison (utility work), NYC Department of Transportation (roadway closures).  Projects which requires miles of new tunnels and track require intricate planing and execution.  Sadly only one project since 2003 was completed, South Ferry Terminal and that station took a devastating hit from Hurrican Sandy.  Let's take a look at the original estimates (cost and timeable) then see about their current statuses.

Second Avenue Subway:    You cannot lay the entire blame on the MTA for this project - - it was envisoned by the City of New York as far back as 1929 with connections to the IRT White Plains Road (2/5) and Pelham 6 lines in the Bronx (and track modications to the wider guage on these lines - - subway cars on lettered lines cannot run on numbered lines). The MTA was not created by NY State until 1968.  Each time the 2nd Ave line would start construction, it would be halted before the first shovel was dug due to lack of funding by the city and state.  The first phase of the 2nd Ave line started in 1974 but a year later the city of New York experienced the worst fical crisis which put them on the brink of bankruptcy.  The city's 1975 fiscal crisis activated the emergency brakes on the 2nd Ave subway project and constructed was halted until 2003 when the MTA Capital Construction proceeded with Phase I from 63rd Street-Lexington Ave station on the F line, then up 2nd Ave to 96th Street station with two intermediate stations; 72nd Street and 86th Street.  Groundbreaking was made on April 12, 2007 which started Phase I - at an original cost of $3.8 billion and a expected 2013 completion date (that was last year,).  Currently Phase 1 of the SAS is 3 years late (expected "completion" date now December, 2016) at a running tally of $4.451 billion.  These numbers aren't too bad, given the MTA's notoriety in these megaprojects.

Fulton Street Transportation Center:  This Lower Manhattan project requires six different contracts totaling an initial budge of $1.4 billion, including the grand Fulton Street entrance with the infamous Oculus scheduled for 2011 completion.  The Fulton Street transit hub is intended to expand passenger capacity, improve transfer access between the 2/3/4/5/A/C/J/Z lines, make the entire complex ADA accessible (also making the first station in Manhattan on the J and Z lines to be ADA accessible) and create new retail space.  Currently the project is over 3 years late, however it still comes in at the same $1.4 budget originally planned in 2007.  The FTC building was to open this summer - - that season came and went.  Then the building was supposed to open in the Fall, that was delayed.  Maybe they will tell us that he building will open sometime in 2015.  At least that will give the MTA another year to complete FTC.

East Side Access Project:  This project should be called the "Big Dig" of New York State.  The term Big Dig was used for a mind boggling mega project in Boston, MA which was to reconfigure Interstate 93 through a maze of underground tunnels and a new bridge within Downtown Boston.  That project was 8 years late at a total cost of a staggering $22 billion.  The MTA's East Side access project was to bring Long Island Railroad (LIRR) service to Grand Central Terminal for the first time in the railroad's 180 year (as of 2014) history.  The original cost/target date was $4.3 billion with trains running to GCT by 2009  (five years ago).  Now because of "complexities and unforeseen issues" in this project, the target completion date is now 11 years later at anywhere between 2021 to 2023 at a cost now pegged to be nearly $11 billion.  $11 billion to save 30 minutes off a typical commute for 162,000 customers -  which means more trains must be added.  Meanwhile the LIRR's Ronkonkoma branch is going to have a full length second track, eventually, while further west the third track on the LIRR's main line from Hicksville to Floral Park stations won't happen.  And now recently on 10/30, a subcontractor made a nearly fatal mistake by drilling a hole inches away from an northbound F train filled with passengers near the 21st Street-Queensbridge station - - once again the ESA project was shut down while the MTA investigates this bizzare incident.  The drill came very close to shearing the train, averting a tragic incident. 

7 line extension:  This project represents the first major subway line extension since the 63rd Street line to 21st Street-Queensbridge opened in 1989.  The 7 line would be extended from the current terminus of Times Square to a new station at the intersection of 11th Ave and West 34th Street, called 34th Street-Hudson Yards.  There were plans to build an intermediate station at West 42nd Street and 10th Ave but the station plans were scrapped due to budget constraints.  However, the 7 line extension will help foster commercial and residential development near the 34th Street-Hudson Yards subway terminal as well as serving an expected 35,000 passengers who will use this station.  The 7 line project started in December, 2007 with an expected December, 2013 completion date.  The cost of this project was orginally $2.1 billion - - expected final price tag will hover under $2.4 billion.  Problems with escalators/elevators and the ventilation plant contributed to the construction delays of the project.  At least the cost of this project didn't spiral out of control unlike ESA. 

New South Ferry Terminal:  The new South Ferry terminal was designed to replace the 1905 era old South Ferry loop, a single curved platform under the Staten Island Ferry Terminal which could only accomodate 5 cars of a 10 car train.  The loop track was actually the outer portion of a two track, two platform loop station, while the inner loop platform is no longer in use.  The South Ferry loop station was a problem for tourists because they may not be familiar with the subway system and may not know in making sure they are at the first 5 cars of the subway train. Additionally the curved platform constricted train operations (even though it's been there since 1905) when entering and leaving the station, as well as prohibiting ADA aqccessibility.  The new South Ferry was supposed to address these concerns through a 2 track, 10 car straight platform with ADA accessibility and climate controls.   Total original cost was $400 Million.  Final cost was $527 million with minimual delays. 

But as soon as the South Ferry terminal opened and the old SF loop station was "closed and decommissioned", leaks being to appear on the station walls.  The MTA forced the contractor to remediate the problem but that would prove useless when Hurrican Sandy hit NYC and the station was completely submerged in water, destroying all station and electrical components needed to operate this terminal.   The 1905 South Ferry loop station suffered minimal damage from Sandy and reopened in April, 2013 so customers will have direct access to the Staten Island Ferry from the 1 line.  While Hurricane Sandy was a an unexpected storm of gigantic proportions which caused massive damage to the new South Ferry Terminal and other low lying areas in Lower Manhattan, the MTA and NYC Transit were still warned about the water leaks prior to Sandy and did nothing in protecting critical components from damage.  Granted, the process of planning and coordinating this work might have taken years beyond when Sandy happened so the damage was going to happen to South Ferry Terminal anyway.

MTA is planning a across-the-board fare hike in March, 2015 and will hold public hearings related to these fare hikes next month.  Perhaps the MTA should look at MTA Capital Construction and how their lack of oversight caused billions of dollars in waste on tardy mega projects.    Taxpayers deserve better than a mismanaged public authority such as the MTA. 

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