Two big-ticket projects that aim to benefit Long Island Rail Road commuters are falling further behind, and MTA officials on Monday outlined plans to hurry them along.
Offering the most comprehensive review of the MTA’s East Side Access project in more than a year, Chief Development Officer Janno Lieber spoke of the need to “reorganize and redirect” the $10.2-billion project, which he said is already about three-quarters done.
“The last 25 percent is really the most challenging,” Lieber said at a meeting of the agency’s Capital Program Oversight Committee where he criticized the management of the project until now for being filled with “too much process and too little opportunity” to adapt to changing circumstances as they arise.
As an example, Lieber said ordering contractors to make a change in specifications for the project, which aims to link the LIRR to a new concourse under Grand Central Terminal, takes eight months on average — an “unacceptably slow and cumbersome” process.
Under the gun to meet its goal of running LIRR trains to the station on Park Avenue by December 2022, Lieber said the MTA would create a project management organization team, which he described as a “centralized SWAT team” that would be empowered to quickly make decisions and “remove roadblocks.” He also said LIRR management needs to get “much more involved” in the project that they have until now.
East Side Access aims to transform commutes for tens of thousands of Long Islanders by providing an alternative to Penn Station on the West Side of Manhattan and reducing trip lengths by up to 40 minutes a day. But the project, proposed in the 1990s, has been plagued by delays and cost overruns.
Lieber also on Monday weighed in on Amtrak’s intention, as announced last week, to wait until the completion of East Side Access before beginning repairs inside the East River Tunnels to damage caused by superstorm Sandy in 2012. Lieber said the plan “does make rational sense.”
MTA officials sounded even less certain about meeting their targeted completion date for their $1 billion effort to install positive train control systems on their commuter railroads. Federal law requires the technology, which uses radio transponders on trains and tracks to prevent train crashes, to be in place by the end of 2018.
MTA officials previously said they expected to have the technology operational by then. But, after missing several schedule milestones this summer, and still having about half the project to complete, Catherine Rinaldi, acting president of Metro-North Railroad, “the risks are significant” of missing the deadline.
Officials said they would aim to have enough of the system in place to be in compliance with the federal law, and noted that they could “request an alternate schedule” to finish the project.
They also outlined several plans to speed up the installation, including looking for “opportunities to test PTC functionality earlier.”
“We’re going to try like hell to have it in place by 2018,” Rinaldi said. “We’re not letting up on the gas at all.”