This past year was a fairly momentous one for New York City infrastructure. There was the never-ending rollout of the Oculus at the World Trade Center (which turned out to actually just be a mall, lol), and right at the tail end of the year, the opening of the long-awaited Second Avenue Subway line (which is actually just a three stop extension of the Q and actually isn’t even done yet, but whatever). Substantive complaining about serious boondoggles and misuse of public funds was enjoyed by all!
So what infrastructure projects nearing completion do we have to look forward to as we enter 2017?
Tappan Zee Bridge Replacement
The apple of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s eye, the Tappan Zee Bridge Replacement will spare us from having to drive over the decrepit existing bridge, whose own lifespan was supposed to end fifteen years ago. Constructed at one of the widest points in the Hudson River (to avoid having to share toll revenue with New Jersey), the bridge will consist of two separated roadways that will hang from two kind-of-nice-looking towers by way of cable-stay. One span of the bridge should be ready for traffic as early as 2017 — with full completion by 2018. There will be a pedestrian walkway too, which looks pretty nifty. Additionally, the bridge was designed and is being constructed through a process called “design-build,” which has one company both design and build a structure instead of bidding it out, keeping costs relatively low and work moving quickly.
Should we gripe? Oh yes, definitely. This bridge was pushed forward by Governor Cuomo with zero idea where he was going to get the money for it. At $4 billion, it’s not something that can easily be covered by toll revenue. To that end, Cuomo has been using bank settlement funds to help fund the project, but that still only covers less than a third of its cost. Tolls for the bridge have been kept low because Rockland County doesn’t have much by way of public transit into the city. A dedicated bus or train lane or path on the bridge could have remedied this, but that was left out of the plan as it was fast-tracked by Cuomo. Still, designers of the bridge have recently reiterated that if Metro-North were interested in crossing the Hudson to the west of Tarrytown, or if some form of light rail were devised, the bridge would be able to accommodate it.
Kosciuszko Bridge Replacement
Another bridge replacement! Guess we just love driving, huh? The Kosciuszko Bridge, which crosses high over the Newtown Creek, connecting Queens and Brooklyn along the BQE, has long been the scorn of city drivers, with all its traffic squeezed into just three lanes in either direction, causing possibly the longest-running traffic jam in the world. But help is on the way! The bridge replacement, also done through the state’s “design-build” project, will create two new four-way spans, along with the same cable-stay structures that are so very in vogue right now. The bridge is coming in on time and on budget, and cars should be flying through it as early as this spring. The old bridge will continue to serve drivers until the new bridge is fully completed in 2018, and on its site will rise a bike and pedestrian bridge.
Should we gripe? Please don’t. This is a desperately needed project that has been mired in red tape for decades at this point and has somehow been pulled off with relative ease. Drivers haven’t even noticed construction congestion, mostly because traffic was so bad to begin with. Also, any attention drawn to the Newtown Creek will help revitalize interest in cleaning up the toxic stretch, which hasn’t gotten as much love as its polluted cousin, the Gowanus Canal. Let’s make Newtown Creek great again.
7 Train Communications-Based Train Control (CBTC)
CBTC is the computerized system that was supposed to bring the MTA into the 21st century by modernizing our signal system that still runs on century-old technology. When the L train was the first to go CBTC in 2011, the MTA claimed it helped the train deal with surging ridership, but riders soon found out that the line was still susceptible to the same types of signal malfunctions that plague every other line. Next up is the 7 train, where, for the past several years, riders have had to deal with weekends without service as the new system was installed. Finally, in 2017, 7 line riders will be graced with countdown clocks.
Should we gripe? Oh, we’ve been griping. The overloaded 7 train will only be adding two new trains to the daily schedule as a result of CBTC, and locals are not happy about it. For the MTA, however, there is no alternative — they simply can’t keep using the old signals, and eventually, the whole system will have to be replaced. Except the MTA has multiple automation projects all running at once, none of which are really compatible with one another. Expect the trains to continue to be relentlessly delayed and crowded, and that we’ve spent millions of dollars on projects to avoid an even worse fate. There are no winners here.
East Side Access
The grandaddy of boondoggles, East Side Access is technically on the horizon, but who are we kidding? This is never going to get done. A project meant to bring the Long Island Rail Road to Grand Central Station, ESA has gone 150 percent over budget and is currently fourteen years behind schedule. It is currently the most expensive public works project in America and is centered on a brand new massive station being built fifteen stories below the existing Grand Central station. At board meetings, the MTA has described grim confrontations with Amtrak over use of the Sunnyside Yards as even the most optimistic estimates still place the project as being completed somewhere in the mid-2020’s.
Should we gripe? Yep. This is a project that will not have a massive impact on the city’s transit infrastructure and might actually serve to further congest the Lexington Line upon its completion. On top of that, commuters from Long Island who need to head to the East Side are already well served through a transfer to the 7 express at Woodside. At best, this will help add density to suburban Long Island and free up some LIRR tracks at Penn Station for use by Metro-North. At worst, this will discourage cities from investing in even what appear to be straightforward infrastructure projects. A complete disaster through and through.
New York City Water Tunnel No. 3
The Second Avenue Subway has been a long time coming (although honestly, it has only been under construction for twelve years total). The NYC Water Tunnel No. 3, on the other hand, has seen near continuous work since 1970.
The city’s third water tunnel was considered “the greatest nondefense construction project in the history of Western Civilization” when it was started in 1970, with a vital section coming into service in 1998. Without the water tunnel, engineers would be unable to inspect the city’s existing water tunnels (which had been running continuously since 1917 and 1936 respectively) without seriously impacting the city’s access to water. In 2002, then-mayor Bloomberg made completing the final stages of the tunnel a priority, and by 2013, tunnel No. 3 was serving the entirety of Manhattan. Last year, the de Blasio administration got caught by the New York Times trying to divert some of the money from completing the Brooklyn and Queens sections of the tunnel to other parts of the city budget, pushing back activation to the mid-2020’s. City Hall then did an immediate about face, and said that the tunnel would begin final construction ahead of Bloomberg’s schedule in 2020, not 2021.
Should we gripe? If you own a home, why not? This has been one of the catalysts behind skyrocketing water and sewer rates, but honestly, the alternative to getting this done is opening us up to a relative doomsday scenario where large swathes of the city are left without potable water. EEP.