A hundred years from now, it is likely that tunnelers will look back at the current era of building in New York City as the Golden Age of Tunneling. The East Side Access project, Second Avenue Subway and No. 7 Line extension, as well as the construction of the Fulton Street Transit Center downtown, represent the first major works in the New York City transit system in more than a half century. Collectively, these projects represent $17 billion in construction value.
The projects bring with them a host of long-anticipated benefits that include shorter commutes, easier access, real estate development and economic opportunities that will re-define entire neighborhoods. They are also not without challenges.
Yet despite the challenges associated with building multi-billion dollar projects in the heart of one of the densest cities on the planet, work is forging ahead. By the end of the decade, New Yorkers will be realizing the fruits of the labor and looking ahead to the next wave of transit projects to meet the demands of the growing, evolving city.
In January, TBM editor Jim Rush visited several project sites in New York City and sat down for an interview with Dr. Michael Horodniceanu (p. 50), the President of MTA Capital Construction, which is overseeing the construction of these projects. MTA Capital Construction was created in 2003 to oversee system expansion projects for MTA agencies, which include New York City Transit, Long Island Rail Road, Metro-North Railroad, Bridges and Tunnels, and MTA Bus. Below is a report of the MTA mega-projects currently under construction
Second Avenue Subway
Tunneling for the first phase of the Second Avenue Subway is nearing completion as crews are winding down blasting activities associated with the connection between the 72nd Street station and the Lexington Ave./63rd Street Tunnel. This marks a major milestone for the project. Station excavation and construction, systems work and finishes remain with the opening of the line for revenue service anticipated for December 2016.
The construction of the Second Avenue line was planned in the 1920s as part of major subway system expansion intended to allow for the dismantling of elevated trains. But while construction moved forward on lines under Sixth and Eighth avenues, the second phase of construction — the Second Avenue line — was never built.
Up through the 1940s, the East Side of Manhattan was served by three commuter lines – the Lexington Avenue subway line and elevated lines (known locally as “els”)above Second and Third avenues. But as New Yorkers tired of the commotion and ungainliness of the elevated lines, those lines were slated for dismantling – in part due to the promise of the coming Second Avenue subway.
By 1942, the Second Avenue el was discontinued, followed by the closing of the Third Avenue el in 1955. Since that time, however, the demand for commuter service on the East Side has continued to increase, with only the Lexington Avenue subway left to shoulder the burden.
Today, the Lexington Avenue line alone carries a weekday average of 1.5 million passengers. To put that into perspective, the line carries about the same number of passengers as the entire heavy rail rapid transit systems in Washington, D.C., and Chicago – combined.
Construction of the Second Avenue Subway actually began in earnest in 1972. Three portions of the line were constructed – but never put into service — before the city’s financial woes put the project on hold again. The current plan is to incorporate the previously constructed portions of the line — between 99th and 105th streets, between 110th and 120th streets and one section downtown between Chatham Square and Grand Street — as part of the full build.
The project is divided into four phases. The first phase of the project involves the construction of twin tunnels under Second Avenue from 96th Street to 63rd Street, with new stations at 96th Street, 86th Street and 72nd Street. The new lines and stations will tie in to the existing 63rd Street station.
When Phase 1 of the new Second Avenue Subway opens, it will provide immediate benefits as passengers can connect to the Broadway line to reach downtown destinations. It is anticipated that the new line will initially serve more than 200,000 passengers daily.