A century after it first opened, Manhattan's Grand Central Terminal is undergoing big changes underground, all aimed at some day welcoming Long Island Rail Road customers.
Members of the news media Tuesday toured the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's East Side Access worksite below Grand Central, before Friday's ceremony marking the historic station's centennial.
"What you see here right now is the next 100 years for Grand Central," said Michael Horodniceanu, president of MTA Capital Construction, which is leading the project. "It's not an easy road forward."
The $8.24 billion project promises to save 160,000 LIRR customers 40 minutes a day in their commute over their current options, like traveling from Penn Station. East Side Access -- considered the largest public works project under way in the United States -- is scheduled to be completed in 2019.
Six years after major construction began, the vision for a second Manhattan terminal for LIRR customers is becoming clearer. In a dingy, 10-block-long expanse below the Metro-North Railroad tracks, the future concourse is taking shape.
Workers have begun installing concrete slabs for floors. And a wellway for several escalators that will take commuters down to a mezzanine level is now smooth and rounded. A year ago, it was little more than a giant crater blown out with explosives.
Horodniceanu said the work is about 45 percent complete, and about three-quarters of all contracts for the project will be awarded by the end of the year.
Tuesday, at the work site 160 feet below Park Avenue, part of a force of 900 workers toiling in three round-the-clock shifts treaded through piles of boulders and trenches filled with silt and mud.
The project reached a major milestone last year with the completion of all underground digging, but most of the eight tunnels bored beneath Grand Central are still jagged and rough.
Still, Horodniceanu said the progress made on the "megaproject" is remarkable, especially given that the work is taking place below a busy rail station with few people even noticing.
In some ways, transforming Grand Central Terminal is a tougher task than building it in the first place, Horodniceanu said.
"One hundred years ago, we built a monumental, beautiful building. But it was above ground. And people have built above ground for a long, long time," he said. "We're doing it in a totally different way, and I believe it is very hard. . . . And, quite frankly, I think it will be worthwhile."