MTA: East Side Access again running late, over budget

People disembark from a Metro North train at

People disembark from a Metro North train at Grand Central Terminal. Changes at the terminal will have an impact on LIRR riders, even at Penn Station, as work on the East Side Access project continues dozens of feet below these passengers. (March 20, 2013) Photo Credit: Craig Ruttle

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It's probably going to take the MTA even longer, and cost more, to provide Long Island Rail Road commuters a one-seat ride to Grand Central Terminal.

Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials revealed Friday that the massive East Side Access project -- whose price tag and timeline have been adjusted upward repeatedly over the last decade -- is again running late and over budget.

The revelation came at a Manhattan oversight hearing of the New York State Assembly's Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions. Asked for the completion date and cost of the "megaproject," Craig Stewart, senior director of the MTA capital plan, said East Side Access -- last estimated to cost $8.3 billion and be finished in 2019 -- is "slipping a little bit further and could cost more."

"We don't think we'll make 2019," Stewart said. A report reassessing the project's cost and timeline should be released next month, he said.

It would be the latest setback of a project the MTA once expected to be finished by 2009 at a cost of $4.3 billion, according to the Office of the New York State Comptroller. In May 2012, MTA officials last pushed back the completion date by a year and increased the budget by $1 billion -- saying they were 80 percent certain they would hit the new targets.

William Henderson, executive director of the MTA's Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee, which includes the LIRR Commuter Council, said the latest delays will put further out-of-reach critical capacity improvements for "weary" and "disgusted" Long Island commuters.

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"It is discouraging. I mean, you talk to people on Long Island and they say, 'I'm never going to ride this thing. I'm going to be retired before it happens,' " Henderson said. The MTA should have done a better job predicting the project's risks before releasing a projected completion date and budget, he said. "They just weren't realistic."

MTA officials noted the project, which entails linking the LIRR to a new, 350,000-square-foot customer concourse at Grand Central via newly bored tunnels, is the largest construction project underway in the country, and a complicated one.

"This project has gotten very large," Robert Foran, MTA chief financial officer, told the Assembly panel. "It's gone well beyond what the preliminary scope and scale anticipated."


East Side Access has faced multiple obstacles, including unexpected engineering challenges and underperforming contractors. Stewart said Friday that the MTA has hired an outside consultant with "expertise that we don't necessarily have" to find ways to expedite the project and reduce its cost. It also has recently gotten some favorable bids from contractors for future phases of the job.

The LIRR has referred to the project as its "moon shot" -- saving 160,000 riders up to 40 minutes a day in commuting time and raising the property values of some 400,000 Long Island homes.

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