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New York MTA Completes Two-Mile Tunnel for Second Avenue Subway

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority finished excavating a tunnel for the first phase of New York’s Second Avenue subway, a project plagued by delays since the city’s fiscal crisis in the 1970s.

Officials of the biggest U.S. transit agency hailed the more than two-mile (3.2-kilometer) tube from 92nd Street to 63rd Street in Manhattan as a milestone on the road to completing the plan’s initial segment. This leg, with a $4.5 billion price tag, is scheduled to open in December 2016 even as the project’s remaining two phases remain unfunded.

Construction workers have used a 485-ton tunnel-boring machine since May 2010 to dig at an average depth of 70 feet. A crowd of about 100 MTA employees, contractors and reporters watched as the machine carved through the schist that lies under much of Manhattan.

“When you stand above ground it’s sometimes hard to see whether or not there’s progress on this project,” MTA Chairman Jay Walder, who’s leaving in October for a position with Hong Kong’s rail operator, told reporters as he stood a few feet from the hole. “You come down here and you see the Second Avenue tunnel taking shape right before our eyes.”

The MTA is building the line to ease the burden on the East Side, where the Lexington Avenue line is the busiest in North America. The MTA expects the first phase, which will provide service from 96th Street to 63rd Street as an extension of the Q train, to serve 213,000 riders a day and decrease crowding by as much as 13 percent.

2007 Start

Construction began in 2007 on the new line, which is intended to stretch from 125th Street in East Harlem to Hanover Square in the Financial District. The project is part of the agency’s $24.2 billion capital plan, which faces a $9 billion deficit. A link to run Long Island Rail Road trains into Grand Central Terminal, the largest U.S. transit project, is also part of the capital plan.

Merchants in the construction zone have struggled with reduced sidewalk space, dirt and noise, and a dearth of parking. State lawmakers representing the area have attempted unsuccessfully to pass legislation providing tax abatements or grant money.

Business has plummeted by as much as 30 percent at Star Cleaners on Second Avenue near 69th Street since the work began, said Sally Kim, who’s run the dry-cleaning shop since 2003.

“We cannot make enough to pay bills -- I don’t know what I can do,” Kim said in an interview yesterday. “I couldn’t sleep yesterday. So much worry.”

El Trains

Plans for a subway line along the avenue date to 1929, before the demolition of two nearby elevated train lines to make room for neighborhood development in 1942 and 1956, according to the MTA. A proposal in the 1960s for a line stretching from the Bronx to Lower Manhattan led to the construction of several tunnel segments, which were halted the following decade.

The Federal Transit Administration pegs the expense higher than the MTA, saying it will cost almost $1 billion more than initially anticipated and won’t be finished until 2018, according to a 2010 report.

“There’s still a lot of work to do, but it’s an important milestone that the excavation work is done,” William Henderson, executive director of the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee to the MTA, said by telephone. “The big impacts of the tunneling are probably largely in the past. Delays cost money, so getting things done rather than having them stretch out beyond their schedule is a good thing.

“It’s been a tough several years for the residents in the area and will continue to be for some period of time,” he said. “We’d like to see it wrapped up and in service so this phase can just become a memory.”

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