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Why We Can't Have Nice Things
Is the Second Avenue Subway Behind Schedule?

Is the Second Avenue subway behind schedule? Given that the line was first proposed in 1919 and has repeatedly been delayed since then, the answer is, well, yes, it’s very delayed. But just months before the planned unveiling of the first stage, an expert working on the project cautions it may miss its next deadline too. The New York Times:

After a presentation to the authority’s board in which several problems that could delay the opening date were outlined, the agency’s chairman, Thomas F. Prendergast, said he believed the work could be completed by the end of the year.

“There is still a ways to go, and we’re still hopeful at this time for Dec. 31,” Mr. Prendergast told board members.

An independent engineer for the project, Kent Haggas, was less optimistic. With just two months left, he warned, two of the three stations scheduled to open, at 86th and 72nd Streets, were not ready and that a rigorous testing schedule was not being met.

“Basically, the progress to date needs to be almost tripled on a weekly basis to give us confidence we’ll finish everything by the end of December,” Mr. Haggas said of the testing. “The program definitely needs to ramp up.”

Count us unsurprised. Even since serious construction of the tunnels and stations got underway in the last decade, the Second Avenue subway has repeatedly blown by cost projections and deadlines. At over $1.7 billion per kilometer, it is easily the most expensive urban mass transportation project in the world. In Europe, metro line construction generally costs something closer to $300 million per kilometer. Some of this cost disparity has to do with difficulty of drilling through Manhattan schist and under a heavily-developed street flanked on every block by high-rises. But much of it comes from an assortment of consultant fees and exceptionally high labor costs. Many of the workers tasked with boring the tunnel earned over $100 an hour, for instance.

The complexity of building the subway in the United States doesn’t just add costs; it adds delays (delays, meanwhile, add further costs). Coordinating between all of the consultants who have to be hired because of a web of city, state, and federal mandates simply makes it very difficult to meet deadlines. Meanwhile, union mandates often require that workers only be on the job for certain days, or at a certain time of day, or under certain conditions. Sometimes these restrictions make sense, but sometimes they just add headaches and complications. In Europe, things are generally more centralized and streamlined. Here in the United States, even getting a few extra miles of subway underground costs a fortune and takes decades.

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  • Andrew Allison

    Your government at work!

    • f1b0nacc1

      Well, your government spending money. I think describing what they do as ‘work’ is a bit generous, don’t you?

  • Jim__L

    Don’t feel bad, it took 102 years (from 1872 to 1974) for Emperor Norton I’s decree to build tunnel under San Francisco Bay to come to fruition. His decree for the Bay Bridge from SF to Oakland (now proposed to be named after him) went rather better, taking only 64 years (to 1936) to complete.

    A drive to be remembered like Emperor Norton is probably what keeps Governor Brown going in these trying times, as his attempts at high-speed rail may have to be de-scoped, with only the current San Joaquin Valley stages ever being developed, to form the Fresno Area Rapid Transit system.

  • JR

    NYC is one of the most, if not the most, taxed jurisdictions in America. But have they tried confiscatory levels of taxation above a certain random number pulled out of the hat by FG? That will raise whatever funds you need. Next problem!

  • LarryD

    The Erie Canal, first proposed in the 1780s, re-proposed in 1807, surveyed in 1808, started construction in 1817, opened in 1825.

    The bureaucracy is functioning as intended, the project goes on forever, and everyone involved gets paid.

    • Frank Natoli

      And all the government bonds that went into the canals went broke because just at the moment the canals were finished, this unexpected invention came on the scene: stream power railroads.

  • Frank Natoli

    There are 186 miles of existing track in the NYC subway system, virtually all built in the first two decades of the 20th century, almost entirely with manual labor. Here we are, a century later, fantastic advances in drilling technology, and we can’t add a few lousy miles in Manhattan. Wherever this happens, or more precisely wherever this doesn’t happen, the people have chosen to have a one party Democrat state.
    Coincidence, correlation or causality?

  • ljgude

    It is high time to bring back the 3rd avenue El. It is a lot easier to drill through air than it is schist and besides the resurrection of the El would recreate a lot of traditionally affordable housing for the poor on the Bowery s well as upper 3rd Avenue. Why, for goodness sake, cater to the Second Avenue petit bourgeoise?

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