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OpinionColumnistsRandi F. Marshall

Sneak peek at long-awaited East Side Access

Scene from the East Side Access tunnel trip.

Scene from the East Side Access tunnel trip. Credit: Randi F. Marshall

This originally appeared in The Point. To subscribe, click here.

Muddy puddles and a dirty path lie where tracks eventually will be installed. Piles of concrete and steel rods sit to the side, waiting to be placed. Temporary piping winds along a tunnel wall. Construction hard hats abound.

But as The Point visited the East Side Access project Thursday morning, heavy-duty golf carts — not trains — slowly maneuvered through tunnels under Queens, the East River, Roosevelt Island and Park Avenue, eventually arriving at an open, cavernous room that had the look of a train station. Platforms are in place, precast curved beams form the ceiling, and some towering escalators are installed.

After years of delays, cost-overruns and plenty of finger-pointing, the pieces of the complex puzzle known as East Side Access — the effort to connect the Long Island Rail Road to Grand Central Terminal — are coming together. Now, it’s just a matter of getting them connected and finishing the job.

But that’s not going to be simple.

The Point’s visit — a tour that included the Sunnyside Yards, the Harold Interlocking and the LIRR midday storage yard now under construction, along with a ride west through the tunnels into the bowels of Grand Central — comes at a critical time for East Side Access, as Janno Lieber, Metropolitan Transportation Authority chief development officer, tries to navigate the politics and bureaucracies inside the MTA, and with the agency’s reluctant partner, Amtrak.

Lieber’s effort to show off the project is, in part, a message to Amtrak: Make East Side Access a priority, and work with the MTA to get it done.

“None of this is rocket science,” Lieber said during the tour.

But for more than three hours Thursday, Lieber pointed out the spaghetti-like network of tracks at Harold Interlocking, the Amtrak train-car wash whose expected makeover might now wait, and the logistics of getting every piece of material from Queens to Manhattan underground rather than using New York City streets.

By the time we headed to Grand Central Terminal’s historic concourse, it became clear that the project might not be rocket science — but it’s not elementary, either.

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