Comptroller: Taxpayers 'bear the brunt' of costly East Side Access delay

Vince DeNina, inspector on the East Side Access Vince DeNina, inspector on the East Side Access tunnel project, walks along work tracks of Tunnel B/C in Queens. Workers using 200-ton tunnel boring machines have finished their work. (July 26, 2012) Photo Credit: Craig Ruttle

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The MTA's East Side Access project linking the Long Island Rail Road to Grand Central Terminal will be completed a decade later than originally estimated and cost twice as much as first proposed, according to a new state report.

Taxpayers "bear the brunt" of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority repeatedly missing its goals for the project, state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said in releasing the report Wednesday.

The MTA's latest completion date is 2019 with a total project cost of $8.76 billion.

DiNapoli's report notes that in its original 1999 estimates, the MTA said the project would cost $4.3 billion and be finished by 2009. The agency has repeatedly adjusted those estimates upward for several reasons, including conflicts with other major infrastructure projects, work quality problems with a contractor, unforeseen construction issues, and what the agency called "overly aggressive schedules."

"Time and again, the MTA has come up short on the goal to deliver the East Side Access project on schedule and within budget," DiNapoli said. "There must be lessons learned at the MTA from this experience as they move forward with their capital program."

MTA officials declined to comment on the report, other than to say they are reviewing it.

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DiNapoli said East Side Access was "an important addition to the regional mass transit system serving New York City and Long Island."

Still, the project's expenses have "grown dramatically" since it was conceived, according to the report. The cost for a new LIRR terminal alone at Grand Central is $1.9 billion -- $1.2 billion more than originally projected. The new terminal accounts for more than a quarter of cost overruns, the report said.

Because the MTA is largely funding its portion of the project's costs -- $5.6 billion -- through bonds, the agency's capital program debt is projected to reach $3 billion by 2019 -- nearly 50 percent higher than the agency's debt last year, DiNapoli's report concluded.

Gene Russianoff, spokesman for the nonprofit Straphangers Campaign, which advocates for transit users, said his group was concerned about the growing debt's impact on customers.

"East Side Access is a good project and transit managers have their excuses for spiraling costs, some legitimate and some not," Russianoff said. "But we share the bewilderment of riders about how the MTA could be so far off the mark."

Rising costs

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MTA's cost estimates for East Side Access project (in billions)

1999: $4.3

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2003: $5.3

2004: $6.3

2009: $7.3

2012: $8.76

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