MTA gets a “B” In 2011 Second Ave. Subway report card

Sep 24, 2011
Press Release

New York, NY – Today, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, Assembly Members Micah Kellner and Dan Quart, and Council Members Jessica Lappin and Dan Garodnick released their 3rd annual report card on the construction of the long-awaited Second Avenue Subway.  The report card evaluates the MTA’s handling of the project -- outlining the significant progress that’s been made this year, but urging the MTA not to exceed its current 2016 deadline for completing the subway.  The report gives the MTA a “B” for its final grade in 2011 – a mark that held steady from last year.  A full copy of the report follows below.

“The MTA finished digging all the tunnels for the Second Avenue Subway this week – a huge breakthrough for the project and for our mass transit system.  The MTA should be congratulated for achieving that milestone five months ahead of schedule.  The project continues to score high marks on merit, given that it will serve 213,000 riders on its first day of operation; high marks on economic benefit, since it is providing 16,000 construction jobs at a time of economic hardship; and good marks on communication with the public and on construction management, as more than half the contracts for the subway have been awarded. However, the project continues to have a significant, negative impact on the community, with the emergence of new environmental concerns, and the MTA needs to improve its planning, adherence to budget, completion of entrances and ancillary facilities, and progress toward completion.  But most of all, the MTA needs to stick to its current completion target of December 2016.  Overall, we are awarding the MTA a ‘B,’ buoyed by the completion of the subway tunnels, the economic benefits of the project, and significant progress in awarding contracts,” Maloney said.

“I am thrilled at the progress the MTA has made on the construction of the Second Avenue Subway, but they need to remember whose backyard this project is in,” said Assembly Member Kellner.  “While the construction has snaked its way down 2nd Avenue, the MTA needs to ensure that it isn’t destroying the very community this subway is meant to serve.”

"The progress of the Second Avenue subway construction is essential to creating a modern transportation system on the East Side of Manhattan.  While the construction is necessary to improve our overburdened transportation system, it has created multiple problems for landlords, tenants and small business owners.  To limit the disruption to the East Side's small business economy, tenants and owners alike, I join with Congresswoman Maloney in urging the MTA to meet the current project deadlines," said Assembly Member Quart.

“This report shows that the MTA is moving on the right track. But it needs to go full steam ahead so our community can finally enjoy this subway,” said Council Member Lappin.

"While there is considerable progress being made underground, this report gives us a snapshot of how much more there is to do to meet the needs of residents and businesses at street level. The MTA needs to continue to find ways to reduce the impact of construction on local quality of life.  Thank you to Congresswoman Maloney for keeping the focus on all elements of this project," said Council Member Garodnick.


On Thursday, the MTA completed all the tunneling required for the first phase of the Second Avenue Subway.  A tunnel-boring machine excavating the second -and last- of the project’s two tunnels broke through to existing tunnel at the Lexington Avenue/63rd Street station at approximately 11:00am.  The MTA will still have to complete station entrances, ancillary buildings, and track preparation.  The MTA projects that the subway’s first phase will be completed in December 2016.

The full-length Second Avenue Subway will be an 8 ½ mile, two-track line beginning at 125th street and ending in Hanover Square in lower Manhattan.  The subway’s first segment will include stops at 96th, 86th and 72nd Streets, and tunnels from 99th to 62nd Streets. At 63rd Street, the new subway line will link onto the existing Q-line tracks, providing a one-seat ride from the Upper East Side to Times Square, Wall Street, and Brooklyn.  Construction of the full-length subway has been divided into four phases.  Once completed, the first subway phase will carry more than 213,000 riders each day and relieve massive congestion on the most overcrowded subway routes in the nation: the 4, 5, and 6 Lexington Avenue IRT trains on Manhattan's East Side.

In 2009, Maloney issued a report outlining the jobs and other economic benefits created by the construction of the Second Avenue Subway and East Side Access transit projects.  Both projects are located almost entirely within Maloney’s congressional district.  Maloney’s report found that the Second Avenue Subway will create more than 16,000 jobs and add $4.347 billion to the region’s economy during construction.  Please click here for a copy of Maloney’s report.

In June, the Federal Transit Administration announced that $197 million in funding for the Second Avenue Subway will be coming to the MTA this year as part of the Full Funding Grant Agreement governing the project, which was signed in November 2007 and will provide $1.3 billion in federal funds to build the subway’s first leg.  Full-funding grant agreements are commitments by the federal government to provide a total amount of funding, delivered in installments, over the life of a project.

In the mid-1990s, Rep. Maloney began a campaign to resuscitate the Second Avenue Subway after the project had lain dormant for decades.


Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney
Second Avenue Subway Report Card

During the last year, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) has made substantial progress in building the Second Avenue Subway (SAS), culminating with the completion of the two tunnels for the subway tracks earlier this week.  Despite continued progress, the MTA has been less successful in addressing the concerns of the local community.  The MTA is at its best in finding new and innovative ways to solve construction problems and at its worst in pro-actively taking steps to reduce impacts on residents and businesses.  Nonetheless, roughly four and a half years into construction, there is starting to be light at the end of the tunnel.

There is plenty of good news to report.  Construction is moving forward with measurable progress. The MTA completed the launch box at 92nd Street.  The Tunnel Boring Machine (TBM) was launched on May 14, 2010.  Just over 16 months later, on September 22, 2011, the TBM broke through the wall at 63rd Street to complete the second –and final- tunnel required for the project.  The TBM successfully bored over two miles of subway tunnels at a depth of 70 feet below street level, completing the job 6 months ahead schedule.  Currently, the MTA is proceeding with construction at the site of all four station entrances that comprise Phase 1 and is preparing to commence building the tracks for the subway.

All of the individuals who formerly lived in the 61 residential apartments acquired by the MTA have been moved to new homes (9 were vacant at the time of acquisition).  Only 2 businesses remain in buildings acquired by the MTA for SAS, and those businesses are scheduled to relocate by early 2012.  Demolition of older buildings that are located at the site of proposed station entrances and ancillary structures is currently underway.  The building that formerly housed Century Lumber has already been torn down and some other buildings are expected to come down before the end of the year.

First considered a transportation project, the Second Avenue Subway is also an important jobs creator.  The project is employing thousands of workers at a time when the construction industry is experiencing a sharp downturn.  As a shovel-ready project, SAS qualified for funding under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), receiving $78.9 million in 2010.  As the economy continues to experience difficulties, SAS continues to help the beleaguered construction industry.  The economic downturn has also enabled the MTA to secure contracts on better terms than it would have when the economy was stronger.

On the other hand, 2007 estimates of the time and cost of building the first phase of SAS quickly proved to be unrealistic.  As was mentioned in the Second Annual Report Card, on June 18, 2010, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), the MTA’s partner on the Second Avenue Subway, issued a well-publicized letter confirming that the timetable for completion of the Second Avenue Subway had slipped considerably since the full funding grant agreement (FFGA) was signed, and that cost estimates had risen.  In recent years, the MTA has done a better job of staying within its timetable and budget.  For the last two years, the MTA has consistently maintained that its target completion date of 2016 is achievable, although the FTA also continues to assert that it is more realistic to expect a 2018 completion date.

The construction of SAS has created significant problems for local residents and businesses.  Emanations of dust from construction shafts and other environmental concerns have prompted the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to take a closer look at the project.  The EPA has required the MTA to implement a supplemental monitoring program to further evaluate air quality and to determine whether additional mitigation is necessary.

Construction continues to have a significant impact on Second Avenue businesses and residents, and they are suffering.  While strategies have been developed to assist them, more needs to be done.  Furthermore, engineering concerns at certain buildings have required tenants to hire experts to ensure that the MTA will not damage the buildings’ infrastructure. This is costly for tenants and has a negative impact on apartment value in the community, as does the continued construction.

Many residents have complained about the choice of an industrial look for station entrances and ancillary buildings.  Residents near 63rd Street have reportedly been able to secure some design changes to one of the buildings, and this has encouraged residents in other locations to hope that the MTA will heed their concerns as well.

Under the FFGA, the FTA committed to provide $1.3 billion in federal funds for the SAS.  In addition, the MTA received more than $71 million in federal Congestion Mitigation Air Quality (CMAQ) funding and the $78.9 million in ARRA funding mentioned above.[1]  Finally, while the federal government has already contributed nearly all of its $1.3 billion commitment, the State has obligated only about half the amount needed.[2]  While the current MTA Chair has been committed to completing SAS, a new Chair will be coming in and it is impossible to gauge that person’s commitment to this project.  Furthermore, the state has a $10 billion gap in funding for the MTA’s capital projects, suggesting that there is reason for deep concern about the State’s ability to fund all of the capital projects, including East Side Access, the 7 Train extension and SAS.[3]  Accordingly, there is concern about the State’s ability to provide the funding during this time of fiscal crisis.


Project Merit – A+                                        (2010: A+, Grade: A+)

All the characteristics that led the FTA to consider this project one of the best in the nation remain strong factors.  The subway will relieve overcrowding on the Lexington Avenue line, which continues to be the most overcrowded subway in the nation.  Indeed, the MTA estimates that once the first phase of SAS is completed 23,500 daily riders, or 13%, will move from the Lexington Avenue line to the new subway.[4]  When SAS is completed, it is expected to carry roughly 213,000 passengers a day[5], more than any other ‘New Start’ project in the nation.  New Yorkers continue to rely on mass transit to commute to work, more than any other Americans[6], and ridership continues to grow.  The Second Avenue Subway will provide much-needed capacity in a system that has not grown in more than half a century.

Economic Benefits – A+                               (2010: A+, 2009: A+)

When this project was first proposed, it was viewed as an economic development project, crucial for New York City’s ability to continue to attract new businesses and keep existing ones.  Today, we also recognize its significance as an effective and efficient jobs program.  All told, the Second Avenue Subway is creating 16,000 jobs, most of which are well-paid union jobs.  At a time when the construction industry is in crisis, infrastructure construction such as the Second Avenue Subway provides vital jobs for thousands of construction workers.  These workers spend their hard-earned dollars in local businesses, and pay taxes locally.  Economists like Mark Zandi tell us that every dollar spent on public infrastructure increases Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by an estimated $1.59.  Using that formula, the Second Avenue Subway will generate nearly $7 billion in GDP.

Communication with the Public – B+         (2010: B+, Grade: B+)         

In general, the MTA has been extremely accessible to local residents and elected officials, and willing to make data available.  However, there have been many complaints this year about the MTA’s failure to warn residents about blasting, failure to warn residents about utilities disruptions and failure to provide information about air-quality monitoring.

The MTA continues to meet with local community groups and to provide periodic updates through Community Board 8's Second Avenue Subway Task Force (CB8 Task Force), the newly-created Second Avenue Subway Construction Advisory Committee (SAS CAC), its website and weekly e-mail updates.  Following the next task force meeting this coming Monday, September 26th, the task force will have held 4 meetings in 2011, and could hold a fifth before the end of the year.  That compares favorably with the 3 task force meetings held in 2010. Additionally, the SAS CAC has already held 3 meetings in 2011. The MTA maintains an office in the community, staffed with individuals who are tasked with addressing local concerns immediately.

The MTA has an excellent website that makes many pertinent documents publicly available.  In mid-2009, the MTA began posting its quarterly reports to the FTA, which provide a wealth of information about the timing of contracts, progress toward completion, budgeting for the subway and what the MTA is doing to try to address problems.

The MTA has tried to be responsive to community concerns, but it could improve its efforts at outreach.

Completion of Tunnel Construction – A+              (2010 N/A, 2009 N/A)

Finished markedly ahead of schedule, the tunnel boring has been a significant success.  The 485-ton, 450-foot-long TBM used a 22-foot diameter cutterhead to mine 7,789 linear feet, averaging approximately 60 linear feet a day.[7] The Manhattan schist rock from 92nd Street to 63rd Street proved to be the perfect substance for a TBM. Initially, the MTA projected a March 2012 completion date.  By June 2011, the MTA had moved the projected completion date up to February 2012.[8]  When the TBM broke through the wall at 63rd Street on September 22, 2011, it was a stunning six months earlier than initially projected.

Construction Management – B                    (2010: B-, 2009 Grade: B)

By finishing the subway tunnels in just over 16 months, six months earlier than projected, the MTA has proved that it is capable of meeting its timetable.  The MTA has taken other positive steps as well: In 2009, the MTA got the permission of the MTA board to allocate federal funding so that contracts could be bid more quickly.  It has subdivided contracts into smaller chunks to allow for more competitive bidding to bring costs down.  It has created a schedule of contracts so that the public can follow its progress to make sure that contracts are being bid on time.  The MTA has tried to make up for time lost as a result of structural issues with buildings adjacent to the SAS construction and unexpected problems in locating utilities in the roadbed.[9]

On the other hand, there are concerns that could slow the project as time goes by: failure to do due diligence on a contractor at 72nd street has delayed demolition of the Falk buildings; problems with environmental mitigation have sent dust clouds onto the streets near 72nd Street; and problems with engineering of an entrance at 69th Street has residents concerned about possibly experiencing damage to their heating system and other utilities.


Planning – B-                                     (2010: B-, 2009 B-)

The Second Avenue Subway is a complex project, and it requires a lot of coordination to bring all of the elements together.  The MTA appears to have performed reasonably well at those aspects of the project involving actual construction, but less well at anticipating problems that were foreseeable.

Anyone with experience with New York City’s utility grid knows that there are few roadmaps for where utilities and water pipes have been laid, and that there are surprises.  The MTA says it lost several months on the tunnel launch box and elsewhere because of problems locating and moving the utilities.[10]  Delays of this type should have been expected and built into the schedule.  Instead, the MTA has had to adjust existing plans in order to try to get back to its initial timetable.

In 2011, the MTA has held many meetings with residents to discuss engineering problems uncovered by engineers hired by the residents.  One building is concerned that its utilities could shut down as a result of station entrance construction.  They believe that the issue could do serious damage to their building and be extremely costly.  The MTA’s engineers disagree.  This issue needs to be resolved as quickly as possible to everyone’s satisfaction or it could cause serious delays.  The MTA should have met with the building and its engineers earlier in the process to resolve these problems before there was a risk that construction could be delayed.

Local residents continue to express dismay about the MTA’s insistence that buildings related to the project must have an industrial appearance although the Final Environmental Impact Statement suggested clearly that the buildings could look residential.  Others have concerns about lost windows, placement of cooling towers and louvers and other design elements.  These designs should have been available earlier in the process to allow more effective community input.  The MTA has reportedly shown flexibility on design and has made some changes to one building in response to community concern.  Timely dialogue with residents could have led to less controversial design choices and more community acceptance.

In 2009, the MTA was criticized for failing to investigate the structural integrity of local buildings before masonry started falling, leading to delays in blasting.  Some people had to be temporarily relocated while repairs were made, which affected the project’s cost, but did not impact the timetable.  The MTA learned its lesson and subsequently investigated the other buildings along the path of the subway to determine whether frail buildings required additional support.  The MTA deserves credit for taking steps to anticipate problems beyond the area of the launch box.

Mitigation of Construction Impact – C-      (2010, C-, 2009 Grade: C-)

Construction impact continues to be the most negative aspect of the project.  In 2011, environmental concerns have become paramount.  Clouds of dust from the 72nd Street construction have alarmed residents.  The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) became involved and has initiated a supplemental monitoring program to further evaluate air quality and to determine whether any additional mitigation measures are necessary.  An independent testing company has been hired to determine the nature, extent and source of the particulates in the air near the construction site.  In addition, the EPA required the MTA to move existing monitoring stations to locations that would be more likely to collect useful data.

Residents have complained about lack of warning about blasting, and about blasting and warning whistles that occur late at night.  The MTA has promised to abide by a 7 pm blasting cut-off time.  Residents have also complained that workers on the night shift are not respectful of their need for quiet.

Complaints about sanitation problems continue.  There are frequent concerns about the number of rats in the community because of construction, inadequate signage about street crossings or closings, poor visibility of traffic lights and other problems.

The MTA has been diligent in meeting with local businesses, and they have hired people who genuinely appear to want to work with the community to address individual concerns.  These employees have earned plaudits for their responsiveness. Further, the MTA did a good job of minimizing the number of buildings that have been condemned for the subway and as a result residents of only 61 apartments had to move.  

The most serious issue addressed in 2010 was the deterioration of older buildings along the construction route.  The MTA initially failed to recognize that many of the older buildings along the construction route were not being properly maintained by the owners and could not withstand vibrations related to construction.  In 2009, masonry fell from several buildings and blasting had to be halted while tenants were relocated and emergency repairs were made.  The MTA applied for a waiver of federal statutory limits that allowed people to receive enough compensation to relocate to decent temporary accommodations.

Businesses have been significantly affected by the construction, losing sidewalk cafes, pedestrian traffic, and signage, experiencing narrowed sidewalks, constant construction noise, barricades and poor visibility.  Unexpected losses of utilities such as water and electricity have added to the concerns.  Virtually every business has reported a significant loss in income.  The MTA created a Shop Second Avenue campaign to try to drive customers to affected businesses, and has extended it to all areas where construction is impacting businesses.  In addition, in 2011 the MTA began implementing its Model Block concept to try to make blocks within the construction zones more attractive and inviting for potential customers.  Among the efforts is the installation of Urban Canvas artwork. Unfortunately, dozens of businesses have closed along the subway’s construction zone despite these efforts.

While the MTA's efforts to meet with and address the concerns of businesses and residents are welcome, the bottom line is that construction impacts remain a heavy burden for people who live, work or own businesses in the community.

On Time Record - B-                                    (2010 Grade: C+, 2009 Grade: C)

While the completion date slipped significantly during the first two and a half years of construction, the MTA now reports that the project has not slipped further behind in 2011, and it has taken steps to mitigate delays in existing contracts.[11]   The MTA’s completion of the two tunnels early has caused this grade to rise since last year; however state funding issues continue to raise concerns that the project will experience further delays.

When this project went into Final Design, the MTA was projecting a completion date of 2012.  By the time the project broke ground in 2007, they projected a completion date of 2014.  In 2009, the MTA began projecting a 2016 completion date.  The FTA believes the project will not be finished until 2018, and sent a letter to Congress on June 18, 2010 expressing that view.  Further delays are simply unacceptable.

Staying on Budget - C+                                (2010: C, 2009: C)

When the full funding grant agreement was signed, this project was supposed to cost $3.8 billion.  Today, the MTA is projecting $4.45 billion,[12] which is identical to the 2010 projection.[13]  It is not going to be easy to find the extra funds, particularly when there are so many other competing projects and the State’s fiscal crisis continues.  The longer this project takes, the more it will cost.

On the positive side, the MTA is taking advantage of the dip in the economy to bring some of the costs down.  It reports that the bid for 86th Street Station Cavern Mining and Heavy Civil/Structural Work (Contract C-26008) came in $100 million under budget.[14]  In 2008, the MTA scrapped plans for a three-track system to reduce costs further.[15]  The MTA has also restructured contracts and broken them into smaller pieces to attract a broader range of bidders.  Nonetheless, unless the MTA continues to meet its projections and stay within its timetable, it will be very hard to find the resources to complete this project.

Progress on Station Entrances and Ancillary Facilities – C-

While the subway tunneling has moved forward quickly, progress on the station entrances and ancillary facilities is limited.  Not one single entrance or ancillary facility has been completed and most are at very preliminary stages. These parts of the project were always intended to be built toward the middle and end of the project, so the lack of progress is not surprising.  Problems with a contractor have reportedly caused delays in demolishing the Falk buildings at 72nd Street.

Demonstrable first steps are apparent. The MTA is now excavating station caverns, relocating utilities and moving forward with construction at all four station locations.  The MTA has erected an enclosed muck conveying system at both 72nd Street and 69th Street, and has completed breakthrough into the TBM tunnel from the top heading at both the 69th and 72nd Street shaft areas.[16] The MTA appears to be making progress at the cavern mining, asbestos abatement and utilities relocation, suggesting that there may soon be signs of greater progress.

The MTA has time to improve its grade here, however, ongoing concerns over the impact of construction and uncertainty over the MTA's ability to install entrances in existing buildings suggest that that there could be problems and delays down the road.

Progress Toward Completion - B-               (2010 Grade: C+, 2009 Grade: C+)

As of September 22, 2011 subway tunneling was finished.  A year ago Final Design was 96% complete.[17]  By June 2011, Final Design was 100% complete and construction was 16.3% complete.[18]  Presumably that percentage has increased over the last three months, particularly since the tunnel boring is done.  As of June 2011, the MTA had awarded 7 of 11 contracts, with an award value of $2,287 billion or 51.4% of the total budget.[19]  It had invoiced $1.281 billion or 28.8% of the total budget and 65% of the contracts that have been awarded to date.[20]  That is significant progress since June 2010 when the MTA had awarded 5 of 11 contracts, with an award value of $1.532 billion.[21] The MTA expects to award two additional contracts in 2011, 86th St. Station – Mining and Lining (C-26008) and Systems – Tracks, Signals, Traction Power and Communications (C-26009).[22]  We have a long way to go, but we are starting to see definite progress.  Nonetheless, this is the fourth time ground has been broken for the Second Avenue Subway, and tunnels have been built before.  Until construction is farther along, there will always be a valid concern that the project could be derailed.


Overall Grade - B                                          (2010: B, 2009: B-)

The MTA has made real progress since last year, completing tunneling, relocating residents and businesses to allow construction of station entrances and ancillary facilities, starting demolition of buildings and moving forward with construction at all four tunnel entrances.  The MTA has succeeded in staying within its timetable and budget.  While skepticism remains about their ability to do so over the next few years, it has been heartening to hear senior officials reiterate their commitment to this project.

The Second Avenue Subway’s economic contributions to the city cannot be understated. The Second Avenue Subway is an important job generator at a time when the construction industry has been hit hard.  It will generate significant economic activity following its completion and will provide much needed capacity on an overcrowded subway system.

The MTA has an ambitious construction schedule, and it needs to put its full attention to making sure that this project is moving forward with all deliberate speed.  However, without a new Chair who is committed to complete the subway and without assurance that state funding will be forthcoming, this project may never be finished. The completion date for the project has been extended significantly over the years, but there were no further delays in 2011 or 2010 – a welcome development.  Future delays would make this project more difficult and costly to complete.   The MTA must take all steps necessary to ensure that it does not exceed its current project completion date.

Completion of the tunnels brings great hope that early problems are being resolved and that this project will stay within its current timetable and budget.  There is a lot more work to be done, but there is also a growing sense that a Second Avenue Subway may soon be a reality.

September 24, 2011