Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Holiday on the Avenue

I ventured out this past Sunday in the cold weather. My goal was to find some festive decorations that would brighten up the blog during the holiday season.

This proved to be more difficult than I expected.

97th Street - looking N

A large Liebherr telescopic crawler crane sits idle in front of the Metropolitan Hospital Center. The crane is standing on top of sections of concrete decking.

This movable decking covers over a soon-to-be excavated cut-and-cover tunnel. During construction of the Second Avenue subway in the 1970s, 12-inch thick timber piles were used rather than concrete as a road decking material.

btw. 96th & 97th streets - looking W

This image was taken from a temporary pedestrian walkway that has been set up in the middle of Second Avenue. I found the walkways in this area a bit of a maze to navigate.

btw. 96th & 97th streets - looking S

The roadway at this location has been removed and most of the utilities have now been relocated. Soon the contractor will install a set of deck beams and concrete decking.

96th Street, NW corner - looking NE

Another view of the same location. The "squares" visible under the road surface are called "splice boxes." The deck beams that extend across Second Avenue will be bolted together inside these boxes.

just west of the NW corner of 96th Street - looking E

A decorated tree stands by the work site.

96th Street - looking S

Here you can see newly installed deck beams. Entrance No. 3 for the future 92nd Street station will be located here.

btw. 95th & 96th streets - looking S

A nice view of shadows in front of the Rite Aid.

95th Street - looking S

Looking south down the canyon of Second Avenue.

just South of 95th Street - looking E

This is an interesting scene. The current contractor (E. E. Cruz and Tully Construction) at this location appears to be breaking apart a section of the north wall of the TBM launch box that was built by the prior contractor (S3 Tunnel Constructors).

The portable yellow jackhammer, on the right side of the decking, is being used for the demolition of the wall.

btw. 90th & 91st streets - looking W

Across the street from the work site, residents purchase a Christmas tree.

btw. 91st & 92nd streets - looking SW

These sections of track have recently been removed from the east tunnel. Previously, the track had been used by the work train inside the tunnel.

86th Street - looking E

A view down the center of 86th Street. The contractor here has set up a work zone to prepare for the excavation for Entrance No. 2 of the station.

btw. 84th & 85th streets - looking S

Eight street lights placed in a cozy row.

One could assume that the contractor has relocated these decorative streetlights to this location for safe keeping.

btw. 72nd & 73rd streets - looking SE

A view of the 72nd Street muck house - with a newly extended vertical vent shaft. One could assume that the shaft has been extended so that the dust, smoke and odors from the underground blasting can [now] be vented well above street level.

It is possible that Santa will have some difficulty getting down this shaft on Christmas Eve -- since the shaft entrance is now located well above the roof line.

When the last work shift ends on Saturday, December 24th, perhaps the contractor might wish leave an 20-foot extension ladder atop the muck house for Santa's use.

72nd Street, NW corner - looking NE

Another view of the recently extended vent shaft. Note the protective filter cover on the end of the horizontal vent shaft.

just south of 72nd Street - looking E

If you look closely, you can see that the fire escape that was on the front of this building has recently been removed, probably with help of an oxyacetylene cutting torch.

This location will become Entrance No. 3 (a bank of five elevators) for the future 72nd Street station.

70th Street - looking S

I found a few more holiday lights in front of the Beach Cafe, opposite the 69th Street muck house.

70th Street - looking S

A view of the newly extended vent shaft at the 69th Street muck house.

70th Street - looking up

Look closely at this image and you can see that the contractor has used a kind of insulating foam to seal the gap between the steel beam and the muck house wall.

This most likely was done as an additional step to contain the smoke, dust and odors of the underground blasting inside the muck house.

69th Street, SW corner - looking NE

The 69th Street muck house in all its glory.

Visitors to Second Avenue must really wonder what in the world this structure is. Perhaps the MTA should consider placing some signage on these buildings to better inform passersby of the structures' purpose.

68th Street - looking N

And a final view of the scene on Second Avenue, looking North.

67th Street, btw. Lexington & 3rd Avenue - looking N

As I was walking towards the subway, I came across this NYC firehouse all decked out with a nice wreath for the holiday season.


In other news, the MTA's independent engineer McKissack+Delcan provided this report to the MTA Capital Program Oversight Committee earlier this week.

Quarterly Progress Report on the Second Avenue Subway &
Second Avenue Subway System Contract Risk Assessment

Report to the MTA Capital Program Oversight Committee (CPOC)

Notable highlights in the report include:

  • The current schedule contingency is 66 days (which is not much considering there is still 5 more years to go on this project.)

  • The current project cost contingency is $342 million, which is well above the $ 322 million planned budget contingency. (This is good news.)

  • The lawsuit that Yorkshire Tower residents brought against the MTA has been settled decided in the MTA's favor. (see the note below.) According to the report, work can now proceed without delay on Entrance No. 2 of the 86th Street station.

Note: A pdf copy of the court's decision can be found on this link:
Memorandum & Decision,
Yorkshire Towers Company LP, et al vs. US DOT, et al


Here's a listing of the recent additions
to the right-hand column of The Launch Box

"Underground Blasting Resumes On Second Avenue Subway"
By Tina Redwine
Video (1:36)
NY1 - 12/5/11

"DustBoss Saves $1 Million in Labor on Manhattan's 2nd Avenue Subway" - 12/8/11

"Pounding Away"
By Allen Houston
Our Town - 12/14/11


Off Topic:
Rats Back in the News

Some readers of this blog may recall that I wrote a posting about rats, with the title "Rats!", back in May of 2010.

We'll, just in time for the holidays New York City's rats are back in the news.

"Special Delivery, With Teeth Marks"
By Andy Newman
The New York Times - 12/19/11

This is a wonderful little story about yet another problem at the U.S. Postal Service.

Season Greetings to All


Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The MTA's Workshop

Last week, the MTA did something that they've never done before.

They hosted a workshop to solicit input and a fresh set of ideas from members of the affected community on Second Avenue.

By hosting the workshop, MTA Capital Construction wanted to hear from community members how it could "better preserve the quality of life in the neighborhoods undergoing construction and more effectively communicate."

All of the images that follow were taken at the workshop that was held on Wednesday, November 30th.

When I walked into this meeting, a few minutes before 6 p.m., I sensed right away that the atmosphere was different than that of prior project meetings. (And I'm not referring only to the two smiling MTA representatives.)

The workshop was opened to 200 members of the community, on a first come first serve basis. (Everyone had to pre-register online.)

The colored dots in the seating chart above designate different areas of community interest - i.e. the work sites near the stations at 63rd, 72nd, 86th and 96th streets.)

On one wall of the room, a set of story boards had been set up to provide participants with background information on the project.

The workshop got underway after a brief introduction by Michael Horodniceanu, President of MTA Capital Construction, and Sam Schwartz, President of Sam Schwartz Engineering and lead workshop facilitator.

After participants found their designated tables, they proceeded to list their areas of concern and then generate potential solutions.

Each table had a group facilitator to moderate the discussion. Most, if not all, of the tables were also joined by representatives of the MTA and contractors working on the project.

As one would expect, with a New York City crowd, the discussion was lively.

Most tables collected their concerns using post-it notes. Then, they prioritized their concerns on large story boards, shown below.

It was rather amazing to see the high level of cooperative interaction among all participants.

One of the facilitators presenting his group's listing of solutions.

At about 8 p.m. the meeting was called back to order and a few of the tables were invited to step forward to make brief presentations.

This noble and worthwhile event was somewhat negatively impacted by two things that happened at the end of the meeting.

The first problem was that, prior to the exercise, it was not really made clear that only a handful of the tables would be permitted to present their findings to the larger group. Therefore, those participants whose tables could not make a presentation seemed to feel their work was left out or ignored.

The second problem was that some of the presentations (from the 72nd Street tables) seemed to focus solely on issues related to project blasting. These presentations turned into vocal and passionate pleas directed at the MTA for them to become more open with information and not to restart the blasting.

At the end of the evening, the MTA promised to take note of all expressed concerns and proposed solutions, and to "react" to all of them in a written report. How exactly this will be done remains to be seen.

At the end of the meeting, Dr. Horodniceanu announced that in a few weeks the MTA would invite interested workshop participants to take a tour of parts of the underground work site -- as a way of thanking them for coming out tonight.

Despite a few challenges, I would say that the workshop provided a very useful and productive forum for community discussion. Both the participants and the members of the project team (MTA employees and contractors) seemed to enjoy the two-way discussion.


In other news, MTA Arts for Transit announced that they are now seeking professional artists for consideration to create public artwork for the 72nd Street Station on the Second Avenue Subway Line.

The MTA's official announcement can be found on this link:
Call for Artists - MTA Arts for Transit

Here are two examples of the art work that is planned for two of the new stations --

MTA Arts for Transit / Artist: Sarah Sze

Rendering of the artist's work proposed for the new 96th Street station.

MTA Art for Transit / Artist: Jean Shinplanned

Rendering of the artist's work proposed for the 63rd Street station.

Jennifer Maloney's piece, "Subway Depths, Lit by Art", in the Wall Street Journal last week provides more background on the MTA's Art for Transit program and the art that is planned for the new stations on Second Avenue.


Here's a listing of the recent additions
to the right-hand column of The Launch Box

"Subway Depths, Lit by Art"
By Jennifer Maloney
The Wall Street Journal - 11/25/11

"Working New York: Sandhogs"
By Tracey Samuelson
WNYC - Audio (2:55) - 11/28/11

"Residents Express Concern Over Health Problems From Second Avenue Subway Project"
By Tina Redwine
NY1 - Video (1:43) - 11/30/11

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

"Cease Blasting" Order Issued... then Lifted

Updated on 11/23, 11/28, 12/2 and 12/7/11

The MTA announced this evening that a "Cease Blasting" order has been issued at the Second Avenue subway 72nd Street station cavern site. The announcement was made at this evening's Community Board 8 Second Avenue Subway Task Force meeting by William Goodrich, Program Executive for MTA Capital Construction.

The MTA order, which went into effect after the last blast today, will remain in effect until Monday, December 5th.

The MTA said that, during this period, it would work with its contractors to implement additional measures to control the dust, smoke and odors that are produced during blasting operations at the site. The smoke and odors in particular are the combustion byproducts from the Emulex explosive material used in the blasting.

One source told me that as many as 200 workers may have to be temporarily laid off due to the suspension of blasting at the site.

The MTA's contractor at the site, SSK Constructors, had been using explosives to blast out the underground station cavern for the 72nd Street station. Many area residents at the Community Board meeting claimed that the voluminous amounts of dust, smoke and odors produced by the blasting were unhealthy.

The MTA has contracted with its consultant construction manager, Parsons Brinckerhoff (PB), to study the situation, and to verify that emissions from the work site do not have the potential to violate any health-based standards.

Here is a link to the report that was provided by the MTA last month to Community Board 8 in connection with this issue:

Preliminary Air Quality Results
Parsons Brinckerhoff

The MTA said tonight that PB's final report is expected to be released by the end of the year.

At the meeting, the MTA said that the cavern blasting is about 40% complete at the moment. They also indicated that they expect to finish the blasting for the 72nd Street station cavern roughly in the middle of 2012.

Further reports can be found on these links:

"M.T.A. Halts Blasting for 2nd Ave. Subway Around 72nd St."
The New York Times
By Christine Haughney and Michael M. Grynbaum

"Air Quality Worries Halt Subway Blasts"
The Wall Street Journal
By Jennifer Maloney and Andrew Grossman

"2 Views on Subway Project: Delay Work to Clear Air, or Carry On and Profit Sooner"
The New York Times
By Christine Haughney

Update 11/23/11

A reader provide me with these two images of what it can look like near the corner of 72nd Street & Second Avenue after a blast.

Courtesy of J. Puglisi
11/8/11 3:46 p.m.

Courtesy of J. Puglisi
11/15/11 4:19 p.m.

In this image you can see the dust and smoke from the blast being exhausted onto Second Avenue through the two large vents on the side of the muck house.

Update 11/23/11

These images, from another date, provide yet another post-blast view of the scene.

Courtesy of Steve Broer
11/7/11 5:14 p.m.

Smoke and dust being exhausted at street level on Second Avenue.

Courtesy of Steve Broer
11/7/11 5:11 p.m.

This image shows four people, who would appear to be unrelated, covering their mouths as they walk past the north end of the muck house after a blast. Clearly there was something in the air that each found to be objectionable.

It is unfortunate that the majority of blasting-related dust, smoke and odors cannot somehow be vented at a higher elevation instead of at street level as is being done now.

It's not for no reason that New York City's building code requires that chimneys, for example, extend 3, 10 or 30-feet [depending on the temperature of the chimney] above the highest construction, such as a roof ridge, parapet wall, or penthouse. (Ref. NYC Building Code, Title 27, §1501.4 - Chimney heights and locations.)

Update 12/2/11

The following letter, written by Michael Horodniceanu, the President of MTA Capital Construction, was broadcast via email to the Second Avenue community earlier today.

The email details the changes that the MTA has made to the site and to their blasting procedures in preparation for the resumption of blasting of the 72nd street station cavern on Monday, December 5th.


From: Wilson, Claudia
Sent: Friday, December 02, 2011 5:37 PM
Subject: Second Avenue Subway Information

Dear Neighbor,

It is my goal to provide you with the best possible relief while building the Second Avenue Subway. As you are aware, we recently suspended blasting the 72nd Street Station Cavern to provide enhanced containment of smoke and dust.

Since then, we’ve implemented changes and we will resume calibrated blasting starting Monday, December 5th.

On Monday, I will personally be on-site with Bill Goodrich, the Second Avenue Subway Program Executive, and his senior staff to ensure we are doing everything we say we are doing to minimize blast emissions.

Here’s what will be different starting on Monday:

Muck House Changes

1. The opening located in the overhang at the north end of each muck house has been permanently sealed. The purpose of this overhang was originally to allow the blast pressure to escape, however it resulted in an unacceptable amount of dust and smoke to leak out.

Since we still need to provide blast pressure relief, the doors to the muck house will remain open until blast pressure has passed (approximately 1 – 2 minutes) but will be closed immediately thereafter. (It takes several more minutes after a blast before the smoke rises out of the cavern shaft.)

2. Vent stacks have been installed on top of both muck houses. The purpose of the vent stack is to release smoke in a controlled manner from the top of the muck house after the remaining dust has settled within the muck house.

The vent stacks will be operated manually by a worker who will open it once the dust has settled.

Additional Dust Control Devices

1. We have purchased two additional Dust Bosses. A Dust Boss sprays a fine water mist into the air. The water saturates the air, adheres to dust particles, forcing dust particles to settle within the muck house. The use of water as a dust mitigation practice is one that is endorsed by both OSHA and the EPA.

We have also relocated Dust Bosses within the shaft bottom to more effectively control the emission. You can find more information on Dust Boss technology at

2. We have also installed a wet burlap curtain that will act as screening device for dust at the bottom of the shaft.

I thank you for your patience as we continue to work on improving your quality of life during construction. I will keep you informed of any future changes.

Very truly yours,

Michael Horodniceanu
President, MTA Capital Construction


Update 12/7/11

Blasting resumed at the 72nd Street Station cavern site on Monday afternoon, December 5th.

I took a walk, with my camera, around this work site this past Saturday (12/3/11), and this is what I observed.

73rd Street, NE corner - looking S

One of the changes to the work site, to mitigate the effects of the blasting, can be seen in the image above and, even better, below.

The MTA's contractor at this location has now sealed the opening at the north end of each muck house. This was done in an effort to contains the dust, smoke and odor, from the blasting -- inside the structure.

The dust, smoke and odor would then be allowed to more slowly filter out onto the street.


A closer shot of the (now sealed) north end of the muck house between 72nd & 73rd Streets.

just south of 72nd Street - looking E

If you look carefully you can see a set of air monitoring equipment that has recently been set up on the fire escape of this building.

70th Street - looking N

And another set of air monitoring equipment has been set up on the veranda in front of the temporary contractor's offices.

btw. 69th & 70th streets - looking S

On this muck house, you can see that they have recently changed the orientation of the north vent stack. It now is pointing up, instead of sideways.

Most reports that I have read suggest that the "post blast air quality" on Second Avenue is now better that it was before the blasting was stopped. Frankly speaking, this should come as no surprise to anyone, as the blasts were smaller ones.

By all accounts, the blasting that took place on Monday was very limited -- since the MTA themselves said that they would resume blasting using a technique that they called "calibrated blasting" -- which I could imagine means that they will very carefully and slowly ramp up the blasting [again] so as to minimize the effects on the neighborhood.

Here are a few reports that were published on Monday when the blasting was resumed.

"Underground Blasting Resumes On Second Avenue Subway"
By Tina Redwine
Video (1:36) - NY1 - 12/5/11

"MTA Resumes Second Avenue Subway Blasting"
By Sonja Sharp and Amy Zimmer - 12/5/11

Good Day New York, with Benjamin Kabak
Good Day New York
Video (3:19) - Fox 5 - 12/6/11
Transit Blogger Benjamin Kabak talks about the effects of the blasting on Second Avenue.


And here are a few other images from my walkabout this past Saturday.

69th Street, SE corner - looking W

The structure that formerly stood on the NW corner of this intersection is almost gone. It has been demolished to make room for the ancillary structure that will be built in its place.

69th Street, NW Corner - looking W

Remains of the building -- waiting to be carted away.

69th Street, just west of 2nd Avenue - looking NE

Another view of the demolition site.

69th Street - looking S

A nice view of the winter sun shining through the fence wrap at this location.