Sunday, July 31, 2011

Take Me Back to 1973!

And now a trip back in time, to 1973 --

It may seem hard to imagine, but this isn't the first time that the MTA has attempted to build the Second Avenue subway. (Yes, really!)

Ground was first broken for the Second Avenue subway line back in October of 1972 at 103th Street by Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller and Mayor John V. Lindsay. Two years later, in 1974, 27 blocks were under various stages of construction: Chatham Square to Canal Street, 2nd Street to 9th Street, 99th to 105th streets, and 110th to 120th streets.

This posting documents a section of the line that was built between 110th and 120th streets in East Harlem. This portion of the line is known by the MTA as "Route 132A Section 13".

The contract for this section of the Second Avenue subway was awarded by the the City of New York and the New York City Transit Authority to Cayuga Construction and Thomas Crimmins Contracting, a joint venture, in early 1973.

The contract award amount, in 1973 dollars, was $34,450,000. (Which is about $175 million in 2011 dollars, according to the Department of Labor's CPI Inflation Calculator.)

Cayuga Construction Corporation's background was mainly in heavy public construction, including extensive New York subway work. Thomas Crimmins Contracting, which was founded in 1847, was one of the top deep foundation construction companies in New York at the time.

The Transit Authority contract called for Cayuga-Crimmins to construct the structural shell for a two track subway tunnel between 110th Street and 120th Street, using the cut-and-cover tunneling method.

Work on the contract started in April 1973 with initial efforts focused on three major tasks: (1) the relocation of underground utilities, (2) the installation of an external dewatering system to lower the water table along Second Avenue and (3) efforts to underpin the foundation of many of the adjacent buildings.


In this image, the contractor is using a crane to lift a steel beam into position on the outer edge of the excavation site. This steel soldier pile is being used as part of a soil retention wall along the outer edge of the site.


Another view of a soldier pile beam being positioned by a pair of workers.


In this image, the soldier pile is being driven down into the soil using a pile driver. (Thankfully, pile drivers are not being used extensively by the contractors who are working on the project today. These machines are very noisy pieces of equipment!)


Workers in this image are excavating trenches for the deck beams that will run across Second Avenue.


Workers here are positioning 36" deep steel deck beams across the avenue. This operation was done at night so that Second Avenue could be closed to traffic.


Deck beams here are being moved in to place.


Second Avenue - looking north

This is an aerial view of the temporary timber decking (the brown road surface) across Second Avenue. The 12-inch thick timber decking enabled the traffic to pass over the excavation site.


A view under the timber decking.

The contractors were always "fighting water" on this project due to the high ground water level and significant concentrations of varved silt (which is called "bull's liver" by many New York City contractors) in the work zone.

Varved silt was deposited in the New York City area by ancient glacial lakes that once existed in the region. It is a particularly difficult substance to dewater.


Another view under the deck. The small structure in this image would appear to be a water pumping station.


In this image, and the one below, you can clearly see the timber lagging that is used to hold back the soil (behind the soldier pile wall) as the excavation progressed.


In this image, you can see part of the dewatering eductor system that was used to remove ground water from the other side of the wall.


The worker here is drilling holes in preparation for blasting out the rock.


Excavation of rock and other material from the floor of the work site under Second Avenue.



A view of a soldier pile tip which required underpinning and bolting.


Soil removal from inside the excavation.


Inside the excavation. Note the two levels of support struts and the rising rock line on the left.


This image shows the installation of the structural steel for the tunnels, and the supports for the roadway above.


A view of the nearly complete subway structure with temporary lighting. (Note that the contract did not include the installation of track or signals.)

In 1975 the Transit Authority began a process to shutdown the entire Second Avenue subway project by not awarding any new construction contracts for the line. This was done after political leaders decided that no further funding would be made available for the project.

The Second Avenue subway tunnel in East Harlem that was built by Cayuga-Crimmins, which was finally completed in 1978, will be used when when Phase II is built . . . someday.


Second Avenue was a difficult construction job and a financial disaster for both Cayuga Construction and Thomas Crimmins Contracting.

In 1979, Cayuga-Crimmins ended up in a court case that they brought against New York City and the Transit Authority. Cayuga-Crimmins sought to recover damages for additional expenses allegedly incurred as a result of unanticipated subsurface conditions (i.e. underground water, soil subsidence and unanticipated rock formations) and disputed work claims.

The case dragged on for a decade until it was finally settled right before it was to go to trial. By that time, Cayuga Construction had closed down its operations (in 1984) and Thomas Crimmins Contracting had been acquired by Yonkers Contracting.

A final word about the impact that the project had on the local community along Second Avenue in East Harlem.

There was serious community impact during the course of the construction work. The section from 110th to 120th streets was entirely open cut with steel and timber decking.

Decking beams were installed at night with several blocks closed to traffic. Parking was restricted during daylight work hours which caused problems for residents and store owners.

Construction operations caused excessive noise in spite of various attempts to reduce it. As example, a dewatering system pump station which operated around the clock was built on a Jefferson Houses lawn and, in spite of large silencers, could be heard in the top floor apartments.

Over 50 buildings adjacent to the excavation had to be underpinned. All buildings were monitored for movement. In one instance a building showed some tilt and was ordered vacated by the city - a step that the contractor thought was unnecessarily because the movement had stopped.


Update - 8/8/11

The following comment, paraphrased below, was posted soon after the posting went live last week. I've now posted it here, along with a reply from the project engineer, for others to read.
"It's amazing how many of the construction techniques used are similar to those being used today.
One of the biggest differences I see between construction methods now and then is how they shored the excavation. In the 1970's photos, it appears that they used timber planks to shore the sides of the excavation between the soldier piles to keep the bull's liver from liquefying and "running" through the boards.
All of the new support of excavation walls (slurry and secant, in the launch box and at the 96th Street Station sites) are made of concrete so that they are impervious.
I am told that Cayuga-Crimmins' neighboring contractor, who built the 99th - 105th street tunnel section back in the 1970’s, used steel plates instead of timber to they would have impervious walls.

I wonder if Cayuga-Crimmins had issues with the bull’s liver running into the excavation. Did they need to grout behind the walls to address this issue?"

I asked the project engineer who worked on this job in the 1970s to respond to this comment and here's what he wrote:
"The 'standard' (i.e. customary) procedure in New York City soldier pile and timber lagging shoring applications was to put straw into the spaces between the boards. Not to keep water out but to prevent loss of soil which would lead to ground subsidence outside the excavation.
Water was to be controlled by drawing down the water table with the eductor and sand drain system. While our eductors worked successfully, a small amount of water flowed past the eductors at the top of the varved silt layer and leaked into the excavation. Also some water was kept in the very fine silt layers by capillary action.

Depending on location, the bottom of our excavation was on rock or the varved material which turned into mush with the slightest amounts of water. This made it impossible to put excavating equipment into the hole.
As a result, our soil excavation was done partially from street level with clamshell buckets and partially with equipment supported on the lower bracing (struts). In addition we installed pumps and eductors within the excavation and applied shotcrete to the face of the lagging in order to stop the infiltration.
This caused a reaction on the part of the Transit Authority (TA) because the lagging was not designed to resist a hydraulic head. This was true, but there was no head buildup by the minute amounts of capillary water. Still the TA ordered us to suspend operations and increase the number of struts.
Steel sheeting was required by the project specifications on the job south of us (i.e. the tunnel between 99th and 105th streets.) It was not required on our contract.
We estimated the job on the basis of piles and lagging partly because our review of the prebid information led us to believe that it could be done that way and partly in reliance on the TA's decision not to specify steel sheeting after having done so on the (almost) adjacent contract.
After we ran into difficulties on the project and filed our claims, the TA said that we should have bid on the basis of steel sheeting. We then checked with some of the other bidders. They had also bid on the premise of piles and lagging."


A Footnote:
This posting could not have been possible without the help of a project engineer who worked on this contract. He wishes to remain anonymous. He provided me with scanned copies of some of his photographs (35mm slides) that he took during the course of the construction. He also provided me with basic information about each photograph and answered my many questions.

Further Reading:

Second Avenue Subway Construction in the 1970s
The Launch Box - 9/21/2009
This posting includes a set of black and white "progress photographs" of the project. These photographs were taken for the Transit Authority by a professional photographer.

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

Crimmins Contr. vs. City of NY
Thomas Crimmins Contracting Co., Inc., and Cayuga Construction Co., a Joint Venture, Respondent, v. City of New York et al., Appellants and Third-Party Plaintiffs, et al., Third-Party Defendant.
74 N.Y.2d 166 (1989)
Court of Appeals of the State of New York.


Update: 10/1/11

Recently I came across this link, "Second Avenue Subway, Harlem Edition", by a group called The LTV Squad, that includes a set of recent images that are apparently the same tunnel in Harlem. I've posted the link here for viewers who may be interested in seeing what these tunnels look like today.

My posting of this link here does not in any way indicate that I endorse the photographers' activities, since it would seem clear that all of the images were taken while trespassing on MTA property.


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

Sandhogs resurface and the 96st Subway entrance begins
By Ben Thompson
Thompson's Travels

"Trying to Plug Big Budget Gap,
MTA Asks City to Pay for 2nd Avenue Subway"

By Jim O'Grady
WNYC News - 7/30/11

Second Avenue Subway Task Force Meeting Request for August 10th
Letter from MTA Capital Construction to Community Board 8
This letter prompted the cancellation of the CB8 Second Avenue Subway Task Force meeting that was scheduled for August 10th. Most of the letter deals with air quality issues in and around the 72nd Street station cavern work location.


Deep Below Park Avenue, a 200-Ton Drill at Rest
By Michael M. Grynbaum
The New York Times - 7/24/11
This article isn't about the Second Avenue subway. I've included a link to it here because I found it to be particularly interesting.

Michael Grynbaum's story details the recent massive entombment, 14 stories under Park Avenue, of one of the TBM cutterheads used on the MTA's East Side Access project.


Anonymous said...

This is really great. Thanks to the anon. engineer!

Scott E said...

The most striking difference (to me) between what I see in these pictures and in today's construction pictures is that the workers aren't wearing reflective vests. Today, construction workers put on vests for everything, even when working in brightly-lit buildings.

rajyen said...

Thanks for posting such a nice article. I love the way you have described the whole article

Anonymous said...


It's great to take a step back and see how a section of the project was built years ago. It's amazing how many of the construction techniques used are similar to those being used today.

One of the biggest differences I see between construction methods now and then is how they shored the excavation. In the 1970's photos, it appears that they used timber planks to shore the sides of the excavation between the soldier piles to keep the bull's liver from liquefying and "running" through the boards. On all of the new support of excavation walls (slurry/secant at the 96th Street Station) being put in now, they are made of concrete so that they are impervious. I am told that Cayuga-Crimmins' neighboring contractor on the 99-105 Street track section back in the 1970’s used steel plates instead of timber to they would have impervious walls. I wonder if Cayuga-Crimmins had issues with the bull’s liver running into the excavation. Did they need to grout behind the walls to address this issue?

Also, if you happen to speak to the engineer associated with this project again, can you see if he has any photos of the concrete pouring operations? Did they use tremie pipes or was it pumped? Also, do they have any photos of the old concrete trucks?