Wasting Cash On Tiny Ridership While the Main Lines Fall Apart

One Big Reason the F Train Sucks Is... right across the street

Updated 2 years ago David Stone
"Improving Non-Stop" Really? the unsightly, money sucking East Side Access boondoggle
"Improving Non-Stop" Really? the unsightly, money sucking East Side Access boondoggle
© David Stone / Roosevelt Island Daily

We smirked when we read Governor Andrew Cuomo say that giving money to the New York City Housing Authority was like throwing cash out the window. He should know. Cuomo controls the MTA, a State agency from which the boondoggle stumbling under Roosevelt Island makes a sorry joke of fiscal responsibility.

The governor's snark was aimed at New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, but he might as well have fingered himself for the ignominious mess he oversees -- the MTA's East Side Access Project.

Originally estimated to cost $2.2 billion and be done, honest to God, in 2009, it's nowhere near complete and is projected to run up a tab in excess of... wait for it, $12 billion.

Roosevelt Island's integral role, i.e., our curse...

Few Roosevelt Islanders are aware that, beneath the subway platforms where we await F Trains with varying degrees of satisfaction rests a second, twin tunnel that was idle for decades.

The unique structure where the 63rd Street Tunnel passes below the East River is a reminder of one-time high hopes and present day failures. Part of a larger scheme for a crosstown route running straight under Central Park to a terminal near Lincoln Center, our tunnel wasn't drilled through with a giant corkscrew but was instead prefabricated elsewhere and lowered from barges into a waiting trench dug into the river's bottom.

The eyesore we see across Main Street from the Roosevelt Island Subway Station evolved from a vent for the tunnel into an endless MTA construction project entry point. Knowing the facts, you might want to snarl in that direction each time you trepidatiously pass the turnstiles in hope of a reliable ride.

Also unlike any other in New York, this is a double tunnel, one route dedicated to local subway traffic, the other planned for railroads from Long Island. Political missteps and insufficient funding forced change, curling trains south from Lexington Avenue, instead of across to Broadway and 65th, and abandoning the lower tunnel for lack of financing for extensions into Queens.

And there the empty lower tunnel sat, collecting seepage in the dark until money for adding additional transit options from Long Island resurrected it as a key link in the East Side Access Project.

Perspective

All good so far, except that even the original $2.2 billion price tag seemed ridiculous for serving "as many as 200,000 commuters," according to MTA estimates, and reducing overcrowding at Penn Station. That is, all that money from the budget of a State agency that consistently cries poor to help roughly .003% as many riders as use the truly ailing subway system where over 6 million ride on an average weekday.

While East Side Access is projected to cost at least $12 billion before it's done - with around $10 billion already sunk into it - MTA Chairman Joe Lhota told his Board that, after spending nearly a billion in emergency repairs for the larger subway system, phase two of long-term fixes will cost another $8 billion.

It doesn't take a genius.

The entire subway system, upgraded switches, repaired tracks and all, could have been brought up to speed, relieving delays, breakdowns and safety hazards, for less than has already been sunk into East Side Access to aid a couple hundred thousand Long Island commuters.

And Governor Cuomo, in an election year gambit widely seen as an angry shot at Mayor de Blasio over Cynthia Nixon's candidacy, accuses the New York City Housing Authority of fiscal irresponsibility.

More perspective...

The current projected cost of completing East Side Access comes to $3.5 billion per mile. If that lifts your hat off your head - or makes you wish you were wearing one to contain the damage - consider this. That's 7 times more costly than the average for similar projects in the rest of the world.

And unions that support Governor Cuomo with campaign funds and pitches to membership gain immensely from a project that's been shown to require excess labor at exceptionally high rates, including plenty of overtime, from start to finish... for a line that was supposed to carrying customers almost ten years ago.

In a letter to Lhota, Mayor de Blasio and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson put it mildly,  “The public is skeptical when it comes to work performed by the M.T.A.”

That ain't the half of it.

You still have to wonder about the geniuses who still seem to believe it makes sense to underfund the subway while pouring cash into the East Side Access boondoggle without resraint.

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