This was supposed to be a new beginning for many Long Island Rail Road riders.
By now, they should have been enjoying a shiny new station underneath Grand Central Terminal, with trains taking them to and from Manhattan’s East Side. Long Island commuters would have a new path to their offices in Midtown East. Suburban residents would have an easy ride to enjoy Midtown attractions like Rockefeller Center and Bryant Park. Travelers would have a smooth, one-ticket ride to the Hudson Valley or Connecticut.
Instead, they’re all still waiting — after decades of waiting.
Despite promising and pushing from Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman Janno Lieber and others, the MTA and its contractors couldn’t finish the work necessary to open Grand Central Madison, as the new terminal is known, in 2022. It’s another frustrating disappointment associated with a perpetual project that has suffered from massive overruns, but remains critical to the region’s future.
The latest snag: an exhaust fan that isn’t moving air through the terminal properly in certain circumstances. Lieber said two ceiling vents “don’t seem to be pulling enough air to satisfy one test.” The project won’t pass final safety inspections until the air flow systems work properly.
The holdup means East Side Access missed another deadline, though MTA officials say they hope to start service this month. But riders eager to use the new station. Safety, of course, is paramount, and no shortcuts should be taken to get this right, but the authority must keep the pressure on its contractors to make necessary fixes and get necessary approvals in the shortest and safest order possible.
Lieber, who led Silverstein Properties when it rebuilt the World Trade Center site after 9/11, was brought to the MTA more than five years ago to oversee projects like this one. He later promised to open the massive new terminal by the end of 2022. The $11.1 billion project exemplifies the failure of government to build infrastructure on time and on budget. At one point, East Side Access was scheduled to open by 2009, at a cost of $4.3 billion.
So another delay is no surprise, yet still troublesome. And while the extra work is important and necessary, it remains unclear how much it will add to the already bloated cost, or how much time it will take to fix the problem with the airflow.
Despite its problems, the project is a game-changer. So MTA executives, employees and contractors must not let up on the urgency needed to get the work done. They should provide regular updates to inform riders and keep workers accountable. And they must, as promised, provide riders with ample notice before overhauling schedules.
Once it’s really ready, Grand Central Madison’s opening will be a moment to celebrate.
MEMBERS OF THE EDITORIAL BOARD are experienced journalists who offer reasoned opinions, based on facts, to encourage informed debate about the issues facing our community.