The 2nd Avenue Subway Will Be Running by 2017, Just in Time for Its 98th Birthday

Governor Cuomo surveys progress of Second Avenue subway at 72nd Street on December 9, 2016.
Governor Cuomo surveys progress of Second Avenue subway at 72nd Street on December 9, 2016.

To the great surprise and disorientation of New Yorkers who for nearly a century have known the Second Avenue subway only as a mirage shimmering on an ever-receding horizon, Metropolitan Transit Authority officials confirmed today that they expect the first portion of the long-promised project to open for service by the end of 2016.

"The rate of test completions, which have been a concern of mine for several months, has increased greatly and I feel it's now on track to finish before the end of the year," said MTA Chairman Tom Prendergast at the Authority's Capital Program's Oversight Committee on Monday afternoon.

As late as last month, the MTA had raised doubts that the first part of the project — running from the Lexington Avenue/East 63rd Street stop to new stations at East 72nd, East 86th, and East 96th streets — would open before 2017. But after a concerted push, MTA employees have completed most of the necessary final systems testing and station preparation, and Prendergast says he's now "cautiously optimistic we're going to meet the date."

Governor Andrew Cuomo, who controls the state funding for the Transit Authority and whose commitment to that funding has been widely criticized as inadequate by transportation advocates, wasted no time in claiming credit for the completion of the first phase of the project.

"People thought we should probably move the deadline," Cuomo said in an appearance on billionaire John Catsimatidis's radio show over the weekend. "And I said, 'No, we’re going to stick to the deadline and we’re going to work like hell to make it.' And that’s exactly what we’re doing."

Governor Cuomo apparently made multiple visits to the construction site in recent weeks, but it's unclear what his role is in ensuring the 2017 completion date. We've asked his office and will update if they respond.

The Second Avenue subway line was first proposed in 1919. Work on it finally began in 1972, but was put on hold three years later, and didn't resume until 2007, when officials said the first portion would be completed by 2013.

Delays and mysterious late-night underground explosions conferred the project with such a mythological aura that it featured in Chronic City, Jonathan Lethem's magical-realist novel of Bloomberg's New York, as an elusive but omnipresent and murderous beast.

The service that's (probably) coming on line this month is only a fraction of the Second Avenue line we've been promised. Funding for the second phase, which would extend the line through Spanish Harlem to 125th Street, has been the subject of controversy, first reduced and then, after public outcry, restored this spring. Construction work hasn't yet begun on the second phase, and the timing of its completion remains unclear, as do the prospects of the line ever fulfilling its destiny and reaching south to Lower Manhattan.


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