The construction of the Second Avenue subway on the Upper East Side has been an epic odyssey. But after decades of false starts, officials insist the subway line will be operational by the Dec. 31 deadline.
The journey to launch the new line goes back to the 1920s, when the route was first proposed by a state agency. Construction was derailed by the Great Depression, World War II, the city’s financial woes in the 1970s and the challenges of building in one of the densest neighborhoods in the country.
The state finally broke ground on the first phase of the line in April 2007, though construction work had been undertaken in previous decades in Chinatown and East Harlem.
MTA officials say that once it is complete, the Second Avenue subway will allow residents and commuters easier access to mass transit on the city’s far East Side.
The subway line, the first major expansion of the system in more than 50 years, will span 8.5 miles from 125th Street in Harlem to Hanover Square in lower Manhattan.
“There are many benefits. It will give the Upper East Side more travel options that they didn’t have,” said board member Andrew Albert, chairman of the Transit Riders Council.
Here’s what else you need to know about the Second Avenue subway.
The MTA expects the new subway route to be used by 200,000 people each weekday, taking ridership pressure off the Lexington Avenue route, which carries 1.3 million riders daily. Currently, the Lexington Avenue route is served by the No. 4, 5 and 6 trains. That's in stark contrast to the Upper West Side, which is served by both the Broadway lines (No. 1, 2 and 3 trains) and the Central Park West lines (the B and C trains). The Upper East Side once had two other subway routes on Second and Third avenues, but the noisy elevated tracks were torn down to improve real estate values. (Credit: Getty Images / Michael Nagle)
The Second Avenue subway was designed to be built in four phases. The $4.5 billion first phase, which is currently under construction, will include stations on 96th, 86th and 72nd streets, as well as an expansion to the 63rd Street-Lexington Avenue station. It is scheduled to open by Dec. 31, 2016. However, the MTA has faced several setbacks, and reports from an independent engineer continue to voice concerns over delays. In his most recent report in October, engineer Kent Haggas said fire alarm testing as well as the installation and testing of elevators and escalators at subway stations is lagging behind. As of Oct. 21, key tests were being completed at a rate of 14 per week over the past five weeks. In order to finish testing by mid-December, crews will need to complete an average of more than 40 tests per week. MTA Chairman Tom Prendergast said the agency remains committed to opening the line before the end of the year. There have been signs of hope; the agency began running test trains for crew training on Second Avenue tracks on Oct. 17. (Credit: MTA)
It's unclear when the other three phases will be completed or how much they will cost. There is over $1 billion budgeted in the 2015-2019 capital plan for design work and utility location for the second phase that runs to East Harlem, with tunneling expected to begin after 2019. The third phase will run to Houston Street and the fourth to the Financial District. (Credit: MTA / Rehema Trimiew)
While there won't be air conditioning at the new stations, they will be 10 degrees cooler than it is on the street due to climate controls. The stations will all have Wi-Fi and porcelain panels that are easier to clean. They will also be accessible by wheelchair; there will be elevators and escalators. The stations are being constructed without columns to give them a feeling of openness. (Credit: MTA)
Before the Q is sent to the Upper East Side instead of Queens, the MTA will bring back the W train, which hasn't been around since 2010. In September, the MTA announced the return of the W train, saying it would be back up and running by Nov. 7, 2016. The W will run local between Whitehall Street in Manhattan and Astoria-Ditmars Boulevard in Queens. Between November and December, when the W train is running but the Second Avenue subway is not operational yet, the MTA plans to terminate Q trains at 57th Street. The return of the W also means N trains will run express though Manhattan on weekdays. (Credit: Anthony Lanzilote)
When the Second Avenue subway was proposed in the 1920s, it was estimated it would cost $86 million to build it from the Harlem River to Houston Street. The MTA is actually spending $4.5 billion on just the first phase alone, which includes three new stops, as well as the connection to the Lexington Avenue-63rd Street station. (Credit: MTA)