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MTA behind schedule, over budget on two mega projects, feds say

A construction worker walks along a cavern of

A construction worker walks along a cavern of the East Side Access under Grand Central Terminal in this undated image. Photo Credit: Craig Ruttle

Two of the cash-strapped MTA’s mega-projects are way behind schedule and over budget, according to a federal government review.

The East Side Access project, which will extend LIRR service to Grand Central Terminal, is running 18 months behind and $800 million over budget, while the Second Avenue subway line may open more than a year late.

The Federal Transit Administration said the MTA needs to start “dealing realistically with … cost and schedule setbacks,” make management changes, and get back to the FTA with “an achievable budget and schedule plan” to finish the East Side Access project, which receives federal stimulus money, according to a report obtained by amNewYork.

Although the MTA maintains that East Side Access and the Second Avenue subway will be done by September 2016 and December 2016, respectively, the FTA puts their opening dates at April 2018 and February 2018. It would be “quite difficult” for the East Side Access project to finish on time, the feds said, adding that costs could balloon from $7.3 billion to $8.1 billion. While the MTA projects the Second Ave. subway will cost $4.4 billion, the FTA puts the price tag at $4.8 billion.

Bill Henderson of the MTA’s Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee said although the Second Avenue subway has made up some lost time, the East Side Access project may be in bad shape.

“I think they’ve got some serious issues to deal with, and I don’t know if they can do it,” said Bill Henderson. “It’s going to take some extraordinary measures to get the project back on track.”

“You cross your fingers and hope nothing else goes wrong and they have a smooth period of construction,” he added

The two jobs are the biggest of the MTA’s so-called mega-projects to improve service. East Side Access will bring eight new LIRR tracks to Grand Central Terminal, while the Second Avenue subway will run from 125th St. to the Financial District. The first phase includes station at 72nd, 86th and 96th streets.

While there have been unforeseeable setbacks to the East Side Access’ construction, the FTA called teh slow progress of two subcontractors, Schiavone and Kiewit, “unacceptable.”

The contractors did not comment. The MTA said it disagrees with the FTA’s assessment, repeating that the projects are on time and on budget.

“As we have said previously, a project of this magnitude does not come without risks. We continue to work to mitigate those risks, adhere to the current schedule and keep the project on budget,” spokesman Kevin Ortiz said.

The agencies’ disagreement on the projects’ schedule and fiscal status is not new; the federal government has suggested the same schedule and budget overruns for these projects for the past year. But the reports show the feds’ continued frustration with the East Side Access project, reiterating its stance on when the first riders will benefit from it — and at what cost. But they did soften their opinion on the management of the Second Avenue subway, saying the team overseeing the project “has been diligent in resolving critical construction issues and avoiding extensive construction delays,” despite its negative projections.

MTA board member Mitch Pally, who sits on the agency’s capital projects committee, said the board is aware of the government’s concerns, but is not convinced the problems are unavoidable.

“Obviously we’re concerned about the timing because the quicker we can put this into revenue service, the better it is for the MTA,” Pally said, adding that the agency is trying to find ways to speed up work and trim costs. “We have no plans on waving the white flag until we absolutely have to.”

Charles Moerdler, another MTA board member on the committee that oversees the projects, said he believed the FTA’s reports were “inaccurate,” and called capital construction president Michael Horodniceanu’s work “perfectly magnificent.”

“They are doing as good if not a better job than one can reasonably expect,” Moerdler said.

The FTA would not comment on the reports, but said if the MTA successfully managed and mitigated its risks, the overruns they predict for the projects’ schedules and costs could be reduced.

Straphangers weren’t surprised to hear about the feds’ reports.

“It just seems like that’s how things are. It’s always the case: over budget and behind schedule,” said Marjeth Cummings, 45, of Bed-Stuy.

The MTA’s “mega projects”:

East Side Access
What it’s for: It will bring eight new LIRR tracks to Grand Central Station (along with approximately 162,000 daily riders), speeding up commutes while also easing congestion at Penn Station, most riders’ current end point.
When it’ll open: The MTA says September 2016; feds say April 2018
What it costs: The MTA says $7.3 billion; feds say $8.1 billion

Fulton St. Transit Center
What it’s for: It will connect five stations, 11 train lines and offer retail stores to some 300,000 daily riders.
When it’ll open: 2014
What it costs: $1.4 billion

No. 7 Train Extension
What it’s for: It will bring additional train service to the far West side, extending the 7 train to 34th St. and 11th Ave.
When it’ll open: Dec. 2013
What it costs: $2.1 billion

Second Ave. Subway
What it’s for: Running from 125th St. down to the Financial District, it will reduce overcrowding and delays on the Lexington Ave. subways and give East side straphangers another subway option.
When it’ll open: The MTA says December 2016; feds say February 2018
What it costs: The MTA says $4.4 billion; feds say $4.8 billion


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