Wednesday, September 30, 2009

September 30, 2009

Here's a copy of the Second Avenue Subway Project "Report Card" that Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, State Senator Liz Krueger, Assemblyman Micah Kellner and City Council Members Jessica Lappin and Dan Garodnick released on Friday, September 25th.

The "report card" gives the MTA an overall grade of "B-" in connection with its performance on the project.


Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney
Second Avenue Subway Report Card

On April 12, 2007, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) celebrated the most recent groundbreaking for the Second Avenue Subway. At the time I expressed the wishful hope that the fourth groundbreaking on this project would be the charm. And it still may be, but there’s been a lot of sobering news since we celebrated the subway line’s most recent resurgence.

At groundbreaking, the plan was for the subway line to be completed in 2013, with three tracks at 72nd street and at a cost of $3.8 billion. Today, the MTA and the Federal Transit Adminstration (FTA) are discussing whether the subway will open in 2016 or 2018, projected costs are now estimated at $4.4 billion and we’ve lost the third track. Meanwhile, construction is having a dramatic impact on local businesses, residents and traffic. Roughly two and a half years into construction, it is time to take a look at the project and see how well the MTA is doing. Just as the City has found that report cards help evaluate the schools, this report card is intended to gain a better understanding of how the MTA is doing in moving forward with construction. This is a mid-term report, and the MTA has plenty of time to make up for early deficiencies.


Project Merit: A+

All the reasons 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. When it is completed, it is expected to carry roughly 202,000 passengers a day, 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 area of the country, and the Second Avenue Subway will provide much needed capacity on a system that has not grown in more than half a century.

Economic Benefits: A+

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 slowing down, infrastructure construction like the Second Avenue Subway provides a vital source of income for thousands of construction workers. It has generated $842 million in wages and produced $2.87 billion in economic activity. Economists like Mark Zandi tell us that every dollar spent on public infrastructure increases GDP by an estimate $1.59. Using that formula, the Second Avenue Subway will generate nearly $7 billion in GDP.

Communication with the Public: B+

The MTA has held numerous public hearings during the environmental review portion of the project, and before property takings were approved. The MTA has also worked with Community Board 8, and other community boards, and has participated in Second Avenue Subway Task Force Meetings at least quarterly. As construction moves forward, they have agreed to attend meetings as frequently as monthly. In addition, the MTA has attended frequent meetings of the Second Avenue Business Association, and has worked with the City to mitigate impacts relating to sanitation, signage, traffic, utilities disruption and other matters. The MTA has hired Claudia Wilson who received plaudits at a recent Community Board 8 Second Avenue Subway Task Force Meeting for her availability and her willingness to solve individual problems. The MTA has also been willing to meet with local residents to resolve individual concerns relating to particular buildings. Nonetheless, despite these efforts, many community residents seem to know little about the project until construction begins in their neighborhood. Further, some details have not become public until it was considered too late to address the problem. For example, residents of buildings adjacent to ancillary facilities are being told that their windows will be covered by the new buildings. The likelihood was long known, but the MTA never told the neighbors until the designs were finalized.


Planning: B-

The Second Avenue Subway is a complex project, and it requires a lot of coordination to bring all of the elements together. It is surprising, therefore, to find that there has been so little progress in two and a half years. Anyone with experience in New York City’s streets knows that there are few roadmaps for utility pipes, and that there are surprises. The MTA says it lost several months on the tunnel launch box because of where utilities were located. Delays of this type should have been expected and built into the schedule. Further, the MTA should have investigated the structural integrity of local buildings long before masonry started falling. If there had been better coordination between the MTA and city agencies, blasting would not have been delayed in order to allow adjacent building to be appropriately shored up. All of this should have been done much earlier in the process.

Construction Management: B-

The MTA is working on many large projects simultaneously and it needs to ensure that this project is getting the attention it deserves. The 7 train extension (which does not need federal approvals and is being constructed in a less dense area) began long after the Second Avenue Subway, and the tunnel boring machine is already in the ground. The MTA has recently taken steps to pull up its grade by getting permission of the MTA board to allocate federal funding so that contracts can be bid more quickly. It has broken 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.

Mitigation of Construction Impact: C

The MTA seems to want to try to mitigate the impact of construction on local residents and businesses. They have been diligent in meeting with local businesses. They have hired people who genuinely appear to want to work with the community to address individual concerns, and some members of the community have complimented their efforts. They have reduced the number of buildings they have condemned to limit the number of people who will be losing their homes. They have created a Shop Second Avenue campaign to try to drive customers to affected businesses. Unfortunately, more than a dozen businesses have closed along the subway’s construction zone despite these efforts.

On Time Record: C

When this project went into Final Design, the MTA was projecting a completion date of 2012. By the time the project broke ground, they projected a completion date of 2014. This summer, the MTA began projecting a 2016 completion date. Some argue that the project will not be finished until 2018. Others suggest that the MTA could get its act together and move forward more aggressively, finishing earlier than December 2016. There’s a lot of room for improvement here.

Staying on Budget: C

When the full funding grant agreement was signed, this project was supposed to cost $3.8 billion. Today, the MTA is projecting $4.4 billion. It’s not going to be easy to find the extra funds, particularly when there are so many other competing projects. The longer this project takes, the more it will cost. The MTA is taking advantage of the dip in the economy to bring some of the costs down, and it has scrapped plans for a three track system to reduce costs further. But unless the MTA meets its projections, it will be very hard to find the resources to complete this project.

Progress Toward Completion: C-

Thus far the MTA has bid 3 of 11 contracts. It has completed some of the preparatory work for the tunnel launch box, including building the slurry wall, but no blasting has begun. Thus far there has been no tunnel dug, no shafts completed, no station entrances built, and no ancillary facilities built. It’s early in the project and preparatory work does need to be done before we should expect to see tangible results. Two and a half years into construction, we hoped for greater progress.


Overall Grade: B-

The Second Avenue Subway is crucial to the economic future of New York. It needs to be built. 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. Up until now, the project has been marred by missed deadlines, cost overruns and a harsh impact on local businesses. There is a lot of room for improvement, but also the possibility that the project is now starting to gain momentum.


And here's a link to the story that Pete Donohue, of the New York Daily News, filed last Saturday, September 26th, on the report:
"2nd Ave. Subway May be Delayed, Again, and Gets B-minus in Report"

In the story the Daily News also reports that the MTA Inspector General's office has now opened an "all encompassing" review of the delays and cost overruns.

One could assume that the MTA's Inspector General got in to the act after Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer released this press release - back on July 22nd when he called for the Inspector General to, "open an immediate investigation of what has caused this latest delay."

- - -

In other news,

The MTA confirmed, at last week's Community Board 8 Second Avenue Subway Task Force meeting, that plans for blasting inside the TBM launch box are temporarily on hold.

They have also posted this notice on their "Construction Look Ahead" web page:



Controlled blasting activities are temporarily on hold due to stabilization work that is required to correct pre-existing structural deficiencies in buildings located at 1766/68 Second Avenue. Controlled blasting activities will begin once the New York City Department of Buildings has determined that the required stabilization work has been completed. This work is expected to be completed by the end of October. During this time, rock excavation will continue by mechanical means and all current contracts, including the two recently awarded contracts, will continue to proceed.

When blasting activities are ready to occur, we will post signs and follow the procedures outlined above.


Here's a link to the story that Jessica Simeone and Tom Namako,
of the NY Post, filed on September 25th:
"Second Ave. On Snail Rail: Shaky Bldgs. A Drag On Dig"

The two problem buildings are 1776-68 Second Avenue and 1772 Second Avenue.

The mixed-use building at 1776-68 (also known 301 East 92nd Street, since the building sits on a corner) has been empty since it was evacuated by the NYC Department of Buildings back on June 29th because it was in danger or collapsing.

The Department of Building's Vacate order on 1772 Second Avenue was partially rescinded on August 14th. This action allowed all of the residential tenants to return to their apartments, after being forced out for two months.


Anonymous said...

B- are they kidding? At best its a D...........

jmp said...

@Anonymous, the thing about subway construction is that there is absolutely no way to do it without it being thoroughly unpleasant for everyone who has to deal with the construction site, but once the line opens it's all upside with minimal downside (except being stuck paying off the debt incurred in the construction process).

The question is how you weigh the here and now downside against the potential for future upside. If we let the project get cancelled because the construction area is a pain to be around, there's no question that we'll be stuck with downside and no upside in perpetuity. After all, the only way to get upside from this is to last until the line actually opens, whenever that ultimately ends up being...

Wendy said...

jmp, I was merely commenting on the grading...I always thought C was average. So a C for Progress, Budgeting, On time and construction impact would all be average? - the on time or on budget, is NOT on time or on budget, so it should not get A C. Planning, construction mgmt and communication - all B? better than average? if so how come Ben does most of the communicating....and if planning and construction mgmt are above average how come the delays? I am all for the project NOT for the delay and cost overruns and lack of respect for residents and business owners...

jmp said...

I guess we're just used to different grading systems...

If F is a failure, and a D is the barest minimum of passing, the remainder of grades range from C+ to A. If you distribute the grades of those who pass by more than a bare minimum more or less evenly between the grades from C+ to A, the middle bucket is B, not C. If you calibrate so that your average is B, you have the same granularity available both above and below that average, which is part of the point of curving to an average.

If you calibrate that way, B- is a bit below average. I wouldn't suggest that the effort is coming in at or above average, but it's looking like there's just enough forward progress that it's not an outright failure -- yet. However, if the project gets abandoned before trains can start running, it will be a complete and total failure...