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New York's Subway System Finally Starting Major Expansion

(, May 2006 issue)

By Tom Stabile

Infrastructure designers and contractors around New York endured a tense wait for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's new capital program to take shape last year, but the bumpy ride may have been worth it. The MTA's subsidiaries have since unleashed dozens of projects, including major jobs to expand the region's transit capacity.

The logjam broke after New York's state legislature and Gov. George Pataki agreed to fund a $21.2 billion 2005-09 capital program for the MTA last year. Voter approval of a $2.9 billion transportation bond on the ballot last November provided an extra boost, said Mysore Nagaraja, president of the MTA's Capital Construction Co., which oversees large-budget efforts, including two - East Side Access and the Second Avenue Subway - that split $900 million from the referendum.

"That was voted for overwhelmingly - by 55 percent - and gave a mandate that the projects are important," he said. "The confidence level for funding from both the state and federal perspectives is up."

New York City Transit is another busy MTA division, with more than $2 billion a year in the new capital program for bus depot, rail yard, fan plant, station rehabilitation, signal, track, and tunnel lighting projects in the five boroughs, said Cosema Crawford, the agency's chief engineer.


"It's good work across all disciplines - a lot of deep excavation work, complex logistics work," she added. "It's a great capital program for contractors of all sizes."

New Work Expands System's Reach

The MTA's docket has three high-profile projects, two to expand the city's subway system for the first time in decades, and the third to transform commuting patterns for thousands of suburbanites.

One is an extension of the Flushing line, known as the 7 train, from its terminus at W. 42nd Street and 7th Avenue. It will head west and south to the Jacob K. Javits Center on W. 34th Street and 11th Avenue. New York City is footing the $2 billion bill, which does not include funds to acquire land, such as a planned staging site on W. 26th Street, Nagaraja said.

The MTA plans to award a $350 million to $400 million contract by year's end to tunnel from 26th Street north to W. 41st Street and 10th Avenue. A contract to build the 34th Street station would follow next year. The agency is also hiring a construction manager consultant this fall.

"My goal is by 2011 to finish the whole thing," Nagaraja said.

The 7 line will have to work around various underground features, said David Donatelli, project manager for New York-based Parsons Brinckerhoff, the design consultant. Those include the 8th Avenue subway; Amtrak's West Side rail yards, access tunnels, and open tracks; infrastructure for the Lincoln Tunnel and Port Authority Bus Terminal; the viaduct supporting 11th Avenue; and a planned $6 billion commuter rail tunnel under the Hudson River from New Jersey that would end at 34th Street and 7th Avenue.

"We will have to make sure that the other features are shored up properly," Nagaraja said. "But we will be digging deep."

Another subway expansion has a much larger reach - the $16 billion Second Avenue line planned to one day stretch 8.1 mi. from 125th Street and Park Avenue in East Harlem down to Hanover Square near Wall Street. Aimed at easing congestion on the Lexington Avenue line on Manhattan's East Side, the four-phase project would start next year with construction of a leg from E. 96th Street to E. 63rd Street, where it would link to an existing station, said David Palmer, a principal with London-based Arup, a lead firm on the joint-venture design team.

The job will involve a cut-and-cover dig for a station at 96th Street and mining with TBM and other deep excavation equipment for stations at 72nd and 86th streets, Palmer said. Three tracks heading south into the 72nd Street station will fan out to four on the other side, added Don Phillips, an Arup principal.

"You have to plan for crossovers between the tracks at both ends, which means you have to mine larger caverns," he said.

Preliminary engineering and environmental approvals are complete on the first $3.8 billion, 2-mi. phase, Nagaraja said.

"My hope is that next spring we'll have the tunnel contract," he added.

The first leg would finish in late 2012 or early 2013 to serve an expected 202,000 riders, Nagaraja said. The design effort so far has cost $400 million, and funding for the rest of the first phase would come from $1 billion left over from the 2000-2004 capital plan, $450 million from last November's referendum, $1.5 billion in federal money, and future MTA funds.

The significance of adding a new line led the MTA to ask its design team to also develop modern systemwide station construction guidelines. The template will also apply to the 7 line expansion.

"One of the things we tried to do is make the space as attractive as we can - it has to function well day and night," Phillips said. "For instance, the platforms will be column-free spaces so that people can see all around the train arrival area."

The project brought together DMJM Harris and FXFowle, both based in New York, Arup, and others. They took roost in an MTA office, drafting preliminary and conceptual designs over three years, said Sudhir Jambhekar, a FXFowle principal.

"It was an amazing collaborative process," he added. "Projects of this nature are led by serious engineering decisions, so we had to be cognizant of that as we designed stations and streetscapes."

At some point, the teams on Second Avenue may cross paths with crews working on another MTA project - the $6.3 billion East Side Access program that will bring Long Island Rail Road trains, which currently head straight to Pennsylvania Station on Manhattan's West Side, into a new station complex deep under Grand Central Terminal on the East Side.

The busiest phase is approaching with the planned award next month of a $380 million contract to bore 1 mi. southward from the existing 63rd Street rail tunnel - which connects to Queens under the East River - in order to reach Grand Central in a deep dig under existing subway lines. Nagaraja said he also expects to award a $90 million contract next month to build rail infrastructure under Amtrak's Sunnyside Yard rail complex in Queens.

Nagaraja said he hopes to clear up East Side Access funding by locking in an expected federal contribution this year. His agency has spent about $1 billion so far and has $1.1 billion on hand in funds from the last capital plan and the November referendum. He expects the federal government to contribute $2 billion.

Another East Side Access contract for a $150 million chilling and ventilation facility on E. 50th Street in Manhattan, set for award next year, will end a bitter fight with neighbors, who objected to the planned seven-story height. Nagaraja said the solution to move three to four floors underground and add a park added $50 million to the tab.

"It was frustrating," he said. "But it's a good design that's friendly to the neighborhood."

Upgrading the Core Infrastructure

Expanding a 100-year-old transit system may capture the imagination, but the MTA is also deep into efforts to maintain or upgrade its bus and rail infrastructure. That translates into scores of big projects.

A signature effort is New York City Transit's $260 million Grand Avenue Bus Depot in Queens, which began in December 2003 under the last capital plan. The work is under a design-build contract with Granite Construction Northeast of Mount Vernon, N.Y., as contractor and Gannett Fleming of Camp Hill, Pa., as engineer, said the transit agency's Crawford.

"We wanted to go quickly, and design-build allows that," she added. "We like to use it when we're off the right of way."

The 560,000-sq.-ft. depot, slated to open in August, will hold 200 buses and 27 maintenance bays and have green features, including a 200,000-gallon underground rainwater collector tank to supply bus washing water, a 200 KW fuel cell on the roof, and natural lighting.

Another big upgrade in Manhattan is creating the Fulton Street Transit Center - an $847 million subway complex that will greatly ease transfers, said Arup's Palmer, whose firm is designing the project.

"Now, you have 11 lines and six stations where you go through a rabbit warren to get around," he said. "The goal is to open up the space and make it all visual."

The 215,000-sq.-ft. job will open up the maze by demolishing old corridors, adding new passageways and mezzanines, and building a grand entry hall with a glass-domed atrium designed by London-based Grimshaw Architects - all while keeping the stations open for 275,000 riders. The construction managers, Bovis Lend Lease and Parsons Brinckerhoff, are both based in New York.

Nagaraja's office scaled back the project last year after work had begun. The original $750 million budget is now $847 million, but includes $150 million for land buys, he said. It is funded by federal redevelopment money for Lower Manhattan.

Two contracts are under way. Citnalta of Bohemia, N.Y., is general contractor on a $35 million reconstruction of two station areas, and Slattery Skanska of Whitestone, N.Y., is general contractor on a $133 million pedestrian tunnel to connect the complex to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey's planned World Trade Center transit hub. A contract to demolish several buildings to make way for the main hall is slated for award in June.

"By the end of this year, almost all of the contracts will be out," Nagaraja said.

A $106 million rehabilitation of the Columbus Circle subway station in Manhattan is also starting this spring. It entails rebuilding the roof, upgrading platforms, and adding a new entrance, which alone will require digging up W. 60th Street, driving soldier piles, and installing a precast deck to temporarily support the road, said Rich Ocken, vice president for Judlau Contracting of College Point, N.Y., the general contractor.

"There's a lot of staging and mobilizing on this job because at Columbus Circle you can't close anything," Ocken added.

Other big jobs wrapping up include:

  • a $192 million overhaul of 4 mi. of elevated track and 10 stations on the White Plains Road line in the Bronx. Judlau is rebuilding mezzanines, canopies, wind screens, and guard rails, while also installing several elevators, Ocken said.
  • installation of communication-based train control on the Canarsie line, known as the L train, to replace 70-year-old signal systems. CBTC will run trains by computer for parts of routes, allowing for closer train spacing, while funnelling train location data to the agency's command center and eventually to passengers. A Siemens, Union Switch, and Railworks joint venture is adding train and switch equipment, software, and systems for the $287 million job finishing in August.

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