Tuesday, November 15th, 2011

New York: The State of the MTA’s Mega-Projects by Carson Qing

[ New York has a number of ambitious major transit expansion projects underway. While these aren’t perfect projects, feature grossly inflated price tags, and are being financed with bonding that has put the MTA in a tough spot, they are critical investments for a city that is at an all time high in population, near an all time high in employment, and in which the transit system is groaning under the load. I’m happy to be able to present this construction update courtesy of the NYU Rudin Center. If you like this you may be interested in checking out their blog – Aaron. ]

On October 25, Dr. Michael Horodniceanu, President of MTA Capital Construction, provided an update at the Rudin Center for Transportation at NYU Wagner on the statuses of the MTA’s four ongoing transit “mega-projects,” each of which are scheduled for completion within the next five years. These projects will each have an enormous economic impact on both New York City and the surrounding region, by shortening commutes, relieving traffic congestion and overcrowding in existing transit lines and hubs, improving transit connections, facilitating accessibility to job locations in Manhattan, and supporting transit-oriented development projects.

The New York City economy is far more dependent on its transit systems than any other urban economy in the country: half of Manhattan commutes are taken by subway and almost three-fourths of such commutes are taken by transit. More than 5 million riders take the MTA subway on a daily basis, which is more than the populations of Chicago and Houston combined, and approximately 560,000 riders take the MTA suburban rail lines each day. Modern, efficient, and reliable rail systems will be key to the continued economic competitiveness of New York City in the 21st century, and the MTA’s investment in the following ambitious infrastructure improvements illustrates their unwavering commitment to the city and the region’s future.

Fulton Street Transit Center

The planned Fulton Street Transit Center will serve as a major transportation node in Lower Manhattan, with connections to the 11 MTA subway lines and 6 stations, New Jersey-bound PATH trains, and the new World Trade Center site.

The plan calls for construction of a modern transit facility with improved street-level access at Fulton Street and Broadway, and an underground pedestrian concourse (the Dey Street Passageway) linking the redeveloped World Trade Center site and PATH transit hub with the E and R trains and the Fulton St. hub. This will facilitate transfers and connections between subway lines, provide more access points to the Lexington Avenue 4 and 5 trains, and integrate the Corbin Building next door as a neighboring retail hub. The $1.4 billion project is expected to be completed in 2014, and should play a key role in maintaining the economic vitality of Lower Manhattan with the improvements in access to and from the World Trade Center site and the Financial District.

Second Avenue Subway

According to Dr. Horodniceanu, the crowded 4-5-6 subway lines along Lexington Avenue on the East Side of Manhattan have more daily passengers than the entire CTA subway system of Chicago, with an estimated 1.3 million daily riders. A subway line along the Second Avenue corridor has been discussed for decades as a means to relieve overcrowding on the Lexington Avenue lines during rush hour commutes.

These plans have become reality, as the MTA broke ground in April 2007 for a new “T-train” extending from Hanover Square in Lower Manhattan to 125th Street in Harlem, and the extension of the Q-train from 57th Street to 125th Street. Construction of the Second Avenue Subway will proceed in four phases, with the first phase consisting of the extension of the Q-train from its present terminus at the 57th Street-7th Avenue station northward to the new 96th Street-2nd Avenue station. New, state-of-the-art subway stations at 63rd, 72nd, 86th, and 96th will be constructed during this phase, and are scheduled for completion in 2016. By then, the $4.4 billion project is expected to have a significant impact on reducing crowds on the 4-5-6 trains (projected 13% decrease) and travel times for those living in the Upper East Side.

7-Train Subway Extension

Like the Second Avenue project, the extension of the 7-Train to Manhattan’s West Side will provide subway access to a part of Manhattan that has long been in need of it. The extension is designed to serve the transit needs of the Hudson Yards redevelopment project, which will feature a mixed-use, medium-to-high density development extending from 42nd to 30th Street along Manhattan’s West Side and the expansion of the Javits Convention Center. As Dr. Horodniceanu noted, the extension of the 7-Train from Times Square to its new station at 34th Street-11th Avenue in the heart of the site will make the Hudson Yards a “transit-oriented development,” which will be crucial to its future success.

The 1.5-mile extension was originally proposed for the purposes of New York City’s 2012 Olympics bid and the construction of a West Side football stadium for the New York Jets at the Hudson Yards site; while both the Olympics bid and the Jets stadium proposal fell through, plans for the 7-train extension remained intact, and the $2.1 billion project is expected to be completed by 2013.

East Side Access

One of the largest mass transit infrastructure projects in the nation, the East Side Access project will have the greatest regional impact among all four of MTA’s ongoing “mega-projects,” as it will connect the Main and Port Washington lines of the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) to Grand Central Terminal, which currently only serves MetroNorth commuters from the Hudson Valley and Connecticut. Currently, the Park Avenue corridor near Grand Central has emerged as a major hub of corporate headquarters and high-paying jobs, as many financial services and corporate management jobs have moved there from Lower Manhattan in recent decades.

The East Side Access project will enable the 157,000 Long Island residents currently working in Manhattan to take the nation’s busiest commuter rail directly to Grand Central Terminal, potentially reducing commutes by 40 minutes. This would be a significant asset for suburbs in Nassau County such as Great Neck on the Port Washington line, where currently more than 20% of residents commute by rail to work, one of the highest rates of any municipality in the nation. Shorter and more attractive transit commutes can not only increase property prices in suburban Long Island, but also provide additional opportunities for transit-oriented development (T.O.D) near key nodes. The project would also relieve congestion at New York Penn Station, thus reducing delays for Manhattan commuters from New Jersey.

The project will consist of the excavation of tunnels in Manhattan and Queens and the construction of an underground passenger concourse at Grand Central Terminal with eight train tracks, four platforms, and mezzanines and concourses. Overall, the East Side Access is the MTA’s most ambitious mega-project with a cost of $7.3 billion, and is slated for completion in 2016.

This post originally appeared in the NYU Rudin Center blog on November 7, 2011.

Topics: Transportation
Cities: New York

11 Responses to “New York: The State of the MTA’s Mega-Projects by Carson Qing”

  1. damenhandle says:

    As a Chicagoan, I am absolutely jealous and angry reading all this. Why can’t the CTA/RTA ever get their act together when it comes to expansion? (The Circle Line project especially).

  2. damen,

    I was saying the same thing to someone the other day, and he brought up a great point. Chicago has lost about a million people in 1950. In a city that has declining population, it’s hard to justify major transit expansion.

    Alas, Chicago is probably going to struggle just to figure out how to pay for the Red Line repairs that it needs on the north main. Don’t expect many transit expansion projects in Chicago.

  3. damenhandle says:

    True, but CTA rail ridership has increased steadily for the past 5-6 years, including through the recession. I think some great cost effective expansion could be done using BRT, especially on Western Ave, but still- something like the circle line would transform the L into a system that went beyond commuter purposes, and could really breathe new life into the system.

  4. dreamking says:

    Don’t be too jealous.

    1) That 2nd avenue line commentary neglects to mention that only Phase 1 is actually funded. They’re nowhere close to stretching that tunnel down to 23rd street, much less Hanover Square. Even if it were funded (it’s not), it would be sometime in the 2030s before it could happen.

    2) In 60 years, we still haven’t managed to bridge a 3 mile gap from the subway system to one of the busiest airports in the country (LaGuardia). The worst of it is that it’s not even really a 3-mile gap. Much this length is over Con Ed land, who’s been willing to make accommodations for decades. We have hundreds of miles of right-of-way just sitting around.

    3) The 7-train extension is a good thing. What would be cooler is the AMAZING proposal to extend the 7 train to New Jersey. Two states, one-fare zone. As with many things mass-transit related, the Port Authority stands in the way.

    4) The real pain is in realizing NYC sits on hundreds of miles of priceless right-of-way. For a taste of what’s truly possible, look at this: http://www.vanshnookenraggen.com/_index/futurenycsubway/

  5. dreamking, obviously more needs to be done. The first phase of the 2nd Ave. subway will bring some needed congestion relief, however. Rep. Mica (republican transport committee chair) recently visited the site and promised to keep federal funding rolling for the project.

  6. AC says:

    [Please note that my comment is as an MTA user, not transit expert!]

    I appreciate MTA’s and NYC’s recognition of the value of a conveniently-connected metro area, but I’d be thrilled to see MTA make some adjustments to the lines already running. Particularly: reconsidering the policy of night schedules beginning at midnight. The cross-borough traffic has increased, not just on the L as the recent NYT article suggests but on every line. More people live and work in different boroughs, and do so at different times. Extending day schedules to 2 am (instead of ending at midnight) – even just for Friday and Saturday night- means less crowded subway cars, more money going to the MTA rather than cab drivers (some who refuse to take you anywhere outside of Manhattan), and more mobility for populations.

    Considering the explosion of growth in Brooklyn and Queens, it’d be nice if there was a line that went from South Brooklyn north to Queens without first having to go through Manhattan, and another north-south Brooklyn line that wasn’t the G. And as I’m apparently making an MTA wishlist: the B should run on weekends.

  7. Beta Magellan says:

    AC, the RPA came up with an outer-borough line called TriboroRX in the nineties. Michael Frumin worked out a rough sketch of how such a line would work and perform here:


  8. the urban politician says:


    Mayor Emanuel at least has brought a fresh new perspective that was absent during the Daley years. Unlike Daley, he sees investing in transit as vital to the city’s health, unlike Daley who saw investing in transit as a waste of good money that could instead be spent giving your buddies lucrative contracts.

    Thank God for that. I agree that expanding transit makes no sense until the city starts to see growth, perhaps with the exception of extending the Red Line to 135th. BRT is the way to go–make the existing system work better, connect better, and encourage more ridership.

    New York’s system is so successful for that one reason. One can go seamlessly about one’s day without ever needing a car, or even a bike (in Manhattan at least).

  9. AC says:

    @BetaMagellan: thanks for the info and link! What an intriguing proposal, though sadly it seems like it will remain just that: a proposal.

    Going off @urban politician’s comment: NYC’s system is successful because most people’s lifestyles allows for pubic transportation – or is it that public transportation makes NYC lifestyles possible? By “lifestyle,” I mean the basic understanding by every person/institution in the city that everyone uses transit, and the city’s development accommodates that fact.

    That’s the question other cities have to ask themselves as they consider the future of public transportation: do they need to provide transportation and expect changes to follow, or do they need certain structures in place (plenty of regular users, dense development) before expanding public transportation options?

    I haven’t used public transit in many cities so I don’t have much for comparison though in my experience, Milwaukee’s bus system is pretty convenient but only for those who live and work within city limits. I visited San Francisco for the first time a few weeks ago to visit a friend and was pleasantly surprised by the cleanliness of the BART stations and trains. Yet the BART doesn’t seem nearly as convenient to get around the Bay Area via transit as it does to get around NYC. My friend doesn’t have a car and relies solely on transit to get around the city and to work and has no problem with that, yet we still took more cabs in that weekend in SF than I’ve taken in the past few months in NYC.

  10. TUP, I agree – Rahm is showing much more love to transit than Daley did.

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