Plans for a subway line along 2nd Avenue date back to 1929. A plan was developed in the 1960s that resulted in the construction of several tunnel segments but work was suspended due to the City’s financial crisis in the 1970s. In 1995, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) began the Manhattan East Side Alternatives (MESA) Study. The project’s goal was to recommend a course of action to reduce overcrowding and delays on the Lexington Avenue line (4, 5 and 6 trains in Manhattan), and to improve transit accessibility for residents on the Far East Side of Manhattan.
In November 2005, New York State voters approved the Transportation Bond Act, which contained $450 million for the project. The use of federal funds was approved in March 2006, providing $1.3 billion for the first phase of the project. The MTA committed $3 billion.
The ultimate plan is for the subway to run north to 125th Street and south to Hanover Square in the Financial District, but construction on the 2nd Avenue line will be completed in four phases. Phase One will open the line from 96th Street to 63rd Street, with new stations along 2nd Avenue at 96th, 86th and 72nd Streets and new entrances 63rd Street station.
The MTA broke ground on Phase One on April 12, 2007. At the time, the first phase of construction was estimated to cost $3.8 billion and construction of the entire project was estimated to cost around $13 billion. Phase One, which will be known as the “T” line, was originally scheduled to be completed in 2013, though no timetable was given for the rest of the project.
The 2nd Avenue subway must compete with other important transit projects such as the rail link from Lower Manhattan to Kennedy Airport and the extension of the Number 7 subway line to the Far West Side of Manhattan, which some feel would bring greater overall economic benefit to the City. The 2nd Avenue line is now estimated to cost $16 billion. Rising costs and a $9 billion gap in the MTA’s capital plan pushed back the expected completion of Phase One to June 2015 by spring of 2008. In the spring of 2009, MTA officials voted to eliminate plans for a $90 million third track (which would allow trains to bypass stalled trains if necessary) to reduce rising costs.
In addition to funding issues, construction delays have been caused by problems with subcontractors. Three concrete testers that have had contracts worth hundreds of thousands of dollars for the 2nd Avenue line are undergoing or have undergone criminal investigations by the Manhattan District Attorney.
There are several additional sources of anxiety about the project. There is some concern about the relocation of residents in 60 residential buildings along the planned route. Several business owners along 2nd Avenue have also complained that their businesses have been negatively impacted by the construction because of a decrease in foot traffic and blocked storefront entrances. In June 2008, local business owners called for state legislation that would give them a $4 million grant to attract lost customers. Although the bill, introduced by Assemblyman Jonathan Bing (D-73rd District), passed the State Assembly and Senate, then-Governor George Pataki (R) vetoed the bill. In July 2008, the MTA agreed to a full environmental review of the 72nd Street subway entrances after area residents filed lawsuits, further delaying project completion. A spate of structural problems with buildings along the 2nd Avenue line in 2009 have caused further controversy, as displaced tenants and property owners blame the MTA’s construction work for compromising the integrity of the buildings. Throughout these controversies, the MTA and the Department of Buildings have maintained that subway line construction is not responsible and that these issues were due to pre-existing conditions and owner negligence.
Despite delays and problems, a number of elected officials, including Senator Charles Schumer (D), have made vocal their support of the 2nd Avenue subway project. Additionally, in February 2009 a report showed that construction of the 2nd Avenue subway line and other transit projects in New York City have had a positive impact on the economy, and many experts feel that the subway will significantly raise property values on 1st and 2nd Avenues. However, real estate brokers contend that values will drop substantially in the short-term.
In late-July 2009, the MTA announced that the expected completion date for Phase One had been extended to December 2016, although the agency conceded that the summer of 2017 may be more likely. The MTA also revised its budget for the project, showing an increase from $4.3 billion to $4.4 billion.
However, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) estimates that the subway line may not open until June of 2018, rather than the MTA’s worst-care scenario estimate of the summer 2017. The FTA also anticipates that costs may balloon as high as $5.7 billion, rather than the MTA’s worst-case scenario of $4.8 billion.