Thursday, January 26, 2012

MTA Decides To Fast Track East Side Access Project

One has to wonder why the Department finally came around to fast tracking the long-delayed East Side Access project considering that such a move would have helped save costs over the life of the project and would have provided much-needed facilities access for commuters.

The East Side Access project allows LIRR trains to access Grand Central Terminal through newly constructed tunnels bored beneath the East River from Sunnyside Yards. Previously, LIRR trains would have to go to either Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn or Penn Station on the West Side of Manhattan. For those commuting to Midtown on the East Side, it would result in a far longer commute that was less reliable.

By building the East Side Access, LIRR and MTA officials could improve reliability, expand commuter options, and upgrade facilities at Grand Central Terminal.

The scope of the project is daunting in its complexity:
Upon completion of the project, which is expected to happen by 2016, the new terminal will have eight new station tunnels — each with a diameter of 22 feet — will expand the total number of tracks from 67 to 75, and will add another four platforms taking the total number in the Terminal to 48.

A new mezzanine will provide stores, restaurants, bars, food halls, public amenities and other facilities.

The tunnel length will stretch approximately 7,200 feet — from 37th St. up to 63rd St. The area of the mezzanine will take up to 60,000 square feet, an MTA spokesman said.

The lower platform levels will take up to nearly 48,000 square feet, while the upper platform sections will measure out to 46,000 square feet and the concourse itself will take up 350,000 square feet.

The project is considered perhaps the most ambitious and challenging one undertaken by the MTA in recent years, and comes as other major transportation projects across the city have been mired with budget constraints, including Moynihan Station, which is one day destined to become a gleaming rail hub.
Not for nothing, the project has been behind schedule for the past couple of years and wasn't expected to be completed before 2016. Now, it appears that the project is on schedule for completion in 2013.

Yet, when the project was originally conceived, it was expected to be in revenue service in 2012 (that would be this year). The Federal Transit Administration believed that the project would not be completed before the fourth quarter of 2018 as the MTA noted a 2016 completion date just a few months ago. And it doesn't begin to go into the spiraling costs of construction. East Side Access is now expected to cost $7.4 billion when completed, though the FTA thinks it will be over $8 billion. The project was originally sold to the public on a cost basis of $3 billion when initially proposed to more than $7 billion.

Part of the issue is that the costs are purposefully minimized so as to get the project started, and additional funding will come later. It also is the result of unanticipated issues that arise during construction and other related issues. However, it is also the result of the MTA inability to manage projects of this size and scope and keep them on budget and on schedule. Mind you that the Sunnyside Yards are the focus of several high profile projects to upgrade rail access in and out of New York City (upgrading and separating the interlocking to permit high speed rail for Amtrak to Boston, additional capacity for subways and commuter rail, and the East Side Access project).

It is curious that the MTA now finds that they can proceed with the fast tracking of East Side Access at this time.

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