Monday, September 21, 2009

Second Avenue Subway Construction in the 1970s


With this posting, I'm going to take a look back to the Second Avenue subway construction work that was done in the 1970s.

But before I focus of the 1970s, I thought it would be useful to provide a very brief overview of the plans for the Second Avenue subway, that have been around since the late 1920s.

The first formal plan, in 1929, called for the construction of a 4-track Second Avenue Trunk Line, that would run from Houston Street to the Harlem River - with 6 tracks between 61st and 125th Streets. All of this was to be built at a cost $87,600,000 (in 1929 dollars).[1] The stock market crashed in October of 1929 and the project never got off the drawing board.

The plan gathered dust until the 1940s when it was revised and introduced again. The New York City Board of Estimate approved $500,000,000 for the project on September 13, 1951.[2]

Work was to have begun in the fall of 1952, but that was not to be. In the end, most of the funds that had been allocated for the new line of Second Avenue were used to maintain and modernize the then-current system.

In early 1968, the city proposed [again] that the Second Avenue subway be built, as part of a larger plan to expand service in Queens, Manhattan and the Bronx.[3]

The Board of Estimate approved construction of the full Second Avenue subway, and 11 other new transit lines, on September 20, 1968 - with construction to begin within in the next 10 years. The Board of Estimate, at the same time, changed the New York City Transit Authority's Second Avenue subway plan from a four-track line to a two-track-line.[4] The project was then delayed - until 1970 - by a controversy over an extension of the route to the financial district.[5]

In August of 1970 the Transit Authority (TA) awarded an $11.5 million contract to the engineering consulting firm DeLeuw, Cather & Co., for the design of the full Second Avenue subway. It was estimated that the section from 34th to 125th Streets would cost $151 million, in 1970 dollars.[5]

In 1970 The New York Times reported,"In approving the contract, Mayor Lindsay said that the design work should be completed in about 18 months and construction finished [for the section between 34th and 125th Streets] by 1976. A target date of 1979 has been set for the completion of the entire Second Avenue subway beyond 125th and 34th Streets."[5]

In August of 1970, the TA proposed a new plan for the Second Avenue subway - with a station stop at 72nd Street, but no stop at 96th Street. The revised cost for construction, for the section from 34th to 125 Streets, was now estimated at $371 million, in 1971 dollars.[6]

By late 1971, the TA agreed to provide a stop at 96th Street, after intense pressure from the community.[7]

In September 1972, the TA awarded the first Second Avenue subway construction contract to the firm Slattery Associates of Maspeth, Queens. The contract, with a low bid of $17,480,266, covered construction of section 11 of the project, from 99th to 105th Street.[8]

Ground was finally broken for the Second Avenue subway on October 27, 1972, near 103rd Street. This groundbreaking marked the start of construction for the section between 99th and 105th Streets.[9]

Ground was broken again on October 25, 1973, for a downtown section of the project. This time the groundbreaking took place at the Canal Street end of Manhattan Bridge in Chinatown. "Committed to a 1980 completion date, the city, Mayor Lindsey said, will undertake various sections of the line, knowing that it has Federal help to finish them."[10]

And ground was broken yet again - this time at Second Street in the East Village - for another section of the project, on July 25, 1974.[11]

At the height of the construction effort in the 1970s there were 27 blocks under various stages of construction:
- Chatham Square to Canal Street
(Horn-Kiewit Construction Co. JV, $8,300,000)
- 2nd Street to 9th Street (Slattery Associates)
- 99th Street to 105th Street (Slattery Associates, $17,480,266)
- 110th Street to 120th Street (Cayuga-Crimmins, $34,450,000) [11]

A contract for the section between 50th and 54th Streets was awarded in 1974, but apparently construction was never started.[11]

(continued below)

And here are a few pictures of the actual construction work, which I came across during a visit to the New York Transit Museum archives earlier this year.

Please Note:
The images shown below may not be reused in any format
without the written consent of the
New York Transit Museum.
The caption under each picture was provided to me
by the Transit Museum.


R132AS13_1A
Photograph shows subway construction on the Second Avenue Subway at the corner of 111th Street and Second Avenue looking Southeast. Workers are digging in hole, 5/11/1973
Courtesy of New York Transit Museum



R132AS13_1.3
View of subway construction on Second Avenue Line. Photograph shows excavation of east side of Second Avenue looking South from 111th Street, 11/19/1975
Courtesy of New York Transit Museum



R132S13_4.1
Aerial view of intersection of Second Avenue and 115th Street looking North showing construction of the Second Avenue Subway. Photograph shows construction crane over opening in street and temporary wood planks covering roadway. 6/11/1974
Courtesy of New York Transit Museum



R132AS13_4I
View of Crimmins trailer in vacant lot on 112th Street near site of Second Avenue Subway construction, 7/19/1973
Courtesy of New York Transit Museum

(Crimmins was one of the contractors for the section between 110th and 120th Streets.)



R132AS13_31
Aerial view of Second Avenue looking North from 113th Street showing construction on the Second Avenue Subway, 5/5/1976
Courtesy of New York Transit Museum



R132AS13_4H
View of Second Avenue and 112th Street showing construction of the Second Avenue Subway. Photograph shows workers in trench working on 12-inch pipe, 7/19/1973
Courtesy of New York Transit Museum



R132AS13_6
Aerial view of Second Avenue Subway looking South from 115th Street showing construction of the Second Avenue Subway. Photograph shows trenches cut in street and temporary wood planks covering roadway, 4/4/1974
Courtesy of New York Transit Museum


A New York Times article, in 1973, said about the subway construction:
"under Second Avenue between 98th and 99th Streets, for example, the crews recently found: one 30-inch and two 10-inch gas mains; a four foot water main and a 12-inch water main; and a box sewer three and one-half by two and one-third feet; 16 three-and-one-half-inch ducts for electrical wires along with 43 three-inch ducts; 64 three-inch ducts for telephones and 30 four-inch ones.

In addition they found footings for the old El; house connections for sewers, water and gas; cables for street-light poles, cables for traffic lights, cables for fire alarm-system boxes, cables for police call boxes and Transit Authority cables"[12]
(Which is basically what the contractors building the current version of the Second Avenue subway are dealing with today.)



R132AS13_36S
Photograph documents construction on the Second Avenue Subway. View of tunnel looking South from beam 256, 12/1/1975
Courtesy of New York Transit Museum

(The Tunnel Boring Machine Launch Box in the 90s [under the road decking] will soon look something like this.)



R132AS13_8
View of tunnel showing construction of the Second Avenue Subway. Photograph shows view from beam 138 looking North, 6/2/1975
Courtesy of New York Transit Museum



R132AS13_36G
View of tunnel looking South from beam 90 showing sewer pipe, 12/1/1975
Courtesy of New York Transit Museum



R132AS13_13.1
Photograph documents construction of the Second Avenue Subway. View of tunnel looking South from beam 230, 11/19/1975
Courtesy of New York Transit Museum



R132AS13_16.1
View of tunnel showing roof beam 245 looking North. Photograph documents construction on the Second Avenue Subway, 5/5/1976
Courtesy of New York Transit Museum



R132AS13_34H
View of tunnel showing construction on the Second Avenue Subway. Photograph shows tunnel looking North from beam 180, 10/28/1975
Courtesy of New York Transit Museum



R132AS13_60.3
View of subway construction on West side of Second Avenue between 115th and 116th Streets showing trench and utility lines. Photograph documents construction of Second Avenue Subway, 1/30/1978
Courtesy of New York Transit Museum

The date of this image, very late in the project, would suggest that newly constructed tunnels have been covered over and the contractor is the process of restoring the utility lines and road surface.



R132AS13_45.14
Photograph documents construction on the Second Avenue Subway. View of East track at 112th Street looking North, 8/13/1976.
Courtesy of New York Transit Museum

(You can left-click on any image for a larger view.)


By 1974, just two years after ground was first broken, cost overruns and the city's fiscal crises were starting to have a significant effect on the project.

On December 12 [1974] Mayor Beame proposed that $5.1 billion in Federal, state and city funds be reassigned - for modernization of the existing routes, stabilization of the fare and construction of some new routes - but not along Second Avenue.[13]

By September of 1975 the mayor ordered the TA to terminate work on one of the four active contracts. The New York Times reported that the mayor's action was taken due to the unavailability of funds that had been promised by the state. Then in December [1975] the TA released a six-year transit construction plan, which included no further funding for the Second Avenue Subway. Work was to be completed on the four segments that were already under construction, and then they were to be sealed. [14]

Governor Mario Cuomo made an attempt to get the project moving again, in the early 1990s, when he proposed spending $22 million to prepare designs and plans for renewed construction of the line. However, the $22 million was cut from the MTA's 5-year construction plan in 1993.[15]

And so the old tunnels, built in the 1970s for a Second Avenue subway that has been decades waiting to leave the station, still sit today waiting for a train.


For Further Information:

"Second Avenue Subway" - an on-line exhibit
New York Transit Museum

"Second Avenue Subway: Bumpy Road Ahead"
New York - 2/8/1971

"The Saga of the 2nd Avenue Subway" (8:00)
The 51st State [Episode 24]
Transportation in New York
Thirteen/WNET - 1975

"Is That Finally the Sound of a 2nd Ave. Subway?"
The New York Times - 4/9/2007
Includes a multimedia video that talks about the various groundbreakings over the years.

Completed Portions of the 2nd Ave. Subway
nycsubway.org


References:

1. "100 Miles of Subway in New City Project; 52 of Them in Queens - Second Av. Trunk Line to Be Hub, Linking With Bronx and New River Tubes to East". (September 16, 1929). The New York Times. p. 1

2. Crowell, Paul. (August 18, 1952). "City's Huge Debt May Delay Start of 2d Ave. Subway". The New York Times. p. 1

3. Witkin, Richard. (January 2, 1968). "Routes Outlined for New Subways". The New York Times. p. 1

4. King, Seth S. (September 21, 1968). "City Approves 2d Ave. Subway And 11 Other New Transit Lines". The New York Times. p.1

5. "Design Pact Set for New Subway - $11.6-Million Contract Let on Plans for 2d Ave. Line" (August 17, 1970). The New York Times. p. 56

6. Frial, Frank J. (August 28, 1971). "M.T.A. Adds a Stop, 72nd St., To Its 2d Avenue Subway Plans". The New York Times. p.29

7. Spiegel, Irving. (October 4, 1972). "M.T.A. Agress to Station at 96th St. on 2d Ave. Line". The New York Times. p. 1

8. "Slattery Is Low In Bid On Subway". (September 14, 1972). The New York Times. p. 34

9.
"Rockefeller and Lindsey Break Ground for 2d Avenue Subway". (October 28, 1972). The New York Times. Sec. Sports, p. 35

10. Burks, Edward C. (October 25, 1973). "Ground Is Broken for 2d Ave. Link". The New York Times. p. 51

11. Burks, Edward C. (July 26, 1974). "Beame and Wilson Man the Jackhammers To Start 4th Segment of 2d Ave. Subway". The New York Times. p. 10

12. Seigel, Max H. (February 18, 1973). "Network of Uncharted Utility Lines is Found in Digging for 2d Ave. Subway". The New York Times. Sec. GN, p. 69

13. Montgomery, Paul L. (January 10, 1975). "2d Ave. Tunnelers Push On, Despite Potential Futility". The New York Times. p. 78

14. Burks, Edward C. (September 26, 1975). "Work Is Stopped on Subway Line - City Lacks Funds to Finish Part of 2d Ave. Project". The New York Times, p. 41

15. Finder, Alan. (April 19, 1994).
"A Tunnel Waiting Two Decades for a Train; Shafts for the Second Avenue Subway Are Maintained, in Case the Line Is Ever Built". The New York Times. p. B1

5 comments:

Dan said...

Great essay. But could you please update by showing the 2009 equivalent amount for all dollars. And please add a table showing year and estimated cost in 2009 dollars. It would be fascinating to see how the cost has exploded far faster than inflation. You can find the adjustment by searching for historical cpi. Or email me. Thanks.

ErickMcG said...

Really excellent article, and superb historical pics, good work. Thank you, I enjoyed reading this very much.

LizC said...

Thanks for posting this. My father was a project manager for Cayuga-Crimmins Joint Venture on the 110th-120th St. section. He's 80 now and I'll have to pass this on to him. He's got lots of stories and plenty of his own pictures--might be able to verify what's up with that '78 date too.

Susan Crimmins said...

I worked on that Crimmins site the summers of 1973 and 1974. Bob Crimmins was my father. Liz, what's your dad's name?

The Launch Box said...

Susan,

Please drop me a note using the "Contact me" link on the blog and I'll get you in touch with Liz and her father.

Ben