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Editorial: The elusive LIRR tunnel to the East Side

Contractors work on the East Side Access Project

Contractors work on the East Side Access Project below midtown Manhattan on Jan. 29, 2013. Credit: Charles Eckert

If we are to believe the optimists at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, completion of the East Side Access project, which will take Long Island Rail Road trains into Grand Central Terminal and save 160,000 commuters up to 40 minutes a day, remains a mere seven years off. Completion of that project has remained a mere seven years off for at least seven years, with the MTA steadily pushing out the finish date so that we never come closer to it.

If we believe the assessment of the Federal Transit Administration, the likely completion date is now nine years away, in 2023, rather than seven. That would indicate that as more work has been done and more money spent, the prospect of a one-seat ride to the East Side has receded further into the future, something that would seemingly be possible only if workers have been filling tunnels rather than digging them.

The elusive completion date is not the only problem. According to the MTA, the project's estimated cost has more than doubled since 1999 -- from $4.3 billion to $9.7 billion. The FTA said even that's too low, and pegs the total at $10.8 billion.

The MTA has a reason to be overly optimistic about both time and money, to continue to show the project in a positive light and keep stakeholders off its back. The FTA, though, has no good reason to be pessimistic, and its projections are likely more accurate.

There's been no good explanation for the delays and overruns from MTA Capital Construction, which oversees the project, just endless platitudes about managerial restructuring, new approaches and unexpected difficulties. The MTA needs to explain, in detail, what's gone wrong so far, how it will fix the problems, how long the project will take and how much it will cost. And everyone involved needs to be held accountable.