Manhattan Borough President and 2013 Democratic Party primary Mayoral candidate Scott Stringer calling for construction of a new “Triboro X” subway line which would connect Brooklyn, Queens and The Bronx makes a great sound bite, but the devil is in the details. Stringer said that this would be his number one transportation priority. It will be interesting to see in coming months how his position will play out with voters in various neighborhoods throughout the five boroughs. Will Stringer continue to advocate the new “X” line as his number one transportation priority if becoming Mayor when speaking to voters around town?
Stringer has no idea how many billions of dollars may be needed for the “X” line. Millions of New Yorkers on a daily basis utilize subways and buses traveling around town. Stringer tends to use a taxpayer funded staffer and car to and from appointments. Has anyone ever seen Stringer with a Metro Card in hand? It is difficult to be taken as a serious mass transportation advocate when you are not a daily rider.
There have been no planning feasibility studies, environmental documents or preliminary design and engineering efforts necessary to validate any basic estimates for construction costs of the “X” line. They would have to be refined as progress proceeds beyond the planning and environmental phases into real and final design efforts. Value engineering which is a process used to reduce costs would have to be used during the final design phase. Unfortunately, history has shown that estimated costs for construction usually trend upwards as projects mature toward 100% final design. Progression of final design refines the detailed scope of work necessary to support construction. The anticipated final potential cost for the “X” line would never be known until completion. Costs would be further refined by award of construction contracts followed by any unforeseen site conditions and change orders to the base contracts during the course of construction.
The proposed Triboro X route starting from Yankee Stadium connecting the Bronx with Queens and terminating in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn will traverse dozens of neighborhoods impacting several hundred thousand people living nearby. How will they react to potential noise and visual impacts of a new elevated subway? There are serious legal and operational issues to be resolved with the Federal Rail Road Administration. They have regulatory jurisdiction over significant portions of the proposed route which would run adjacent to existing active freight tracks. You have to deal with subway and freight trains coexisting on the same narrow corridor. Project costs will include a series of new stations with elevators and escalators. Add to that — new track, signals, power, power substations and several hundred new subway cars. This additional rolling stock may require construction of a new maintenance, operations and storage yard. While Stringer may be correct that construction of elevated structures block by block may be cheaper than tunneling, all of the above will clearly cost billions. There is also a potential serious conflict at the Bay Ridge, Brooklyn terminus. This is also a potential site for a connection to the proposed Cross Harbor Freight Tunnel.
History has told us that construction of most major new transportation system expansion projects have taken decades. There is the completion of feasibility studies, environmental reviews, planning, design, engineering, real estate acquisition, permits, procurements, budgeting, identifying and securing funding to pay for all of the above before construction can start.
What will Stringer say to voters who have their own transportation priority projects which may conflict with his as he campaigns for votes. Queens residents might prefer restoration of service along the LIRR Rockaway branch, also known as the White Pot Junction Line that was abandoned in the 1950’s. This route started off as a spur from the LIRR mainline east of Woodside at Rego Park running to Ozone Park connecting to the “A” line subway near Aqueduct Racetrack. If fully reinstated to its original route, it could also provide a direct connection to the proposed Gentling Americas Convention Center; reopening of the Elmhurst LIRR station on the Port Washington branch or initiation of permanent new ferry service from the Rockaways to Manhattan. Staten Island residents could Bronx residents might prefer the proposed Metro North Rail Road access to Penn Station which would include construction of several new stations in the Bronx including Co-Op City, Parkchester and Hunts Point. Manhattan residents might prefer completion of the next three segments of the 2nd Avenue Subway north to 125th Street and south to Hanover Square downtown in the Financial District or construction of a new Cross Harbor Freight Tunnel, which would put trucks on trains between New Jersey to either Brooklyn or Queens through to Long Island taking them off the streets of midtown and downtown Manhattan. Brooklyn residents may want permanent restoration of G line service to Church Avenue; restoration of full F Line express service between Church Avenue to Coney Island, restoration of the original “NX” super express service which ran from Brighton Beach to Manhattan in the 1960’s or establishment of new ferry services from Sheepshead Bay, Coney Island and Bay Ridge to Manhattan. Staten Island residents could go for the restoration of the old Staten Island North Shore Rail line abandoned in the 1950’s which provided direct service to the St. George, Staten Island Ferry Terminal. Another alternative is to extend the existing New Jersey Transit Hudson/Bergen Light Rail line from the current 8th Street Station terminus to continue southward across the Bayonne Bridge to Staten Island.
There is not enough space here to list many other transportation projects in all five boroughs whose costs range from the millions to hundreds of millions that might be considered a higher priority than the “X” line.
Remember that construction for the 2nd Avenue subway began in the 1960’s. (Bond money intended for this project in the 1950’s was spent elsewhere) The latest completion date for the first segment of three stations between 63rd and 105th Streets on the upper east side of Manhattan has slipped to 2016.
It is difficult at this point for anyone including Stringer to really predict when we will see a shovel in the ground for the “X” line followed years or even decades later by beneficial use of projects supporting opening day service or the final price tag to taxpayers.