The Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s (MTA) East Side Access (ESA) project will connect the Long Island Railroad’s (LIRR) Main and Port Washington lines in Queens to a new LIRR terminal beneath Grand Central Station on the east side of Manhattan. The MTA’s website’s states that project goals consist of the creation of a direct and fast link between Long Island, Queens and East Midtown Manhattan, and to alleviate overcrowding at Penn Station. Additional project goals include increased East River commuter rail tunnel capacity, as well as improved traffic patterns, quality of life, economic development and air quality in the New York metropolitan area.
Construction was originally scheduled to begin in early 2006 and be complete in 2013, but has been delayed repeatedly. In December 2006, voters approved the Bond Act which provided $450 million for ESA, and Congress earmarked $2.6 billion in federal funds. In 2007, the MTA received another $215 in federal funds for the project, and in 2008 the United States Department of Transportation (DOT) provided a $210 million grant for the project, but more funding is still needed. The MTA’s own budget troubles have also delayed the project.
The first phase of construction began in September 2007. Two tunnel boring machines (TBM’s) will make eight tunnel drives in Manhattan, two of which are already complete. Tunnel boring began 120 feet below street-level from 63rd Street and reached Grand Central Station in July 2008. The second phase of construction began in January 2009 at 37th Street and Park Avenue, and includes utility relocation and air shaft construction. Boring of all Manhattan tunnels will be finished by 2010. The entire project is scheduled for completion in 2015 at a total cost of $7.2 billion.