After years of snafus, political battles, and funding fits and starts, New York City’s next major transit extensions are taking shape.Newly bored caverns deep below city streets and railyards provide hidden testimony to the construction team’s accomplishments, all while the nation’s busiest subway and commuter rail network strains to carry millions of passengers to and from the city. The next tunnels are a study of firsts, many side by side.

Two giant tunnel-boring machines, crawling along like worms underneath the Big Apple, made transit history. Below neighborhoods on Manhattan’s West Side, they both achieved a difficult 90° turn, helped by a ground-freezing technique—the first time TBMs have successfully excavated through frozen ground. A third machine is crawling through steel-braced earth underneath the dense urban development on the upper East Side. In Queens, another TBM is taking shape for more tunnel duty.

With a population of 8.2 million poised to grow to 9.5 million by the year 2025, New York City is moving forward to meet the demands of tomorrow, says Michael Horodniceanu, president of Metropolitan Transportation Authority Capital Construction (MTACC), an arm of the MTA created solely to build several megaprojects. “[It] requires that we not only maintain our transportation infrastructure but expand it.” The expansion to-do list includes the $7.3-billion East Side Access (ESA) project that will bring Long Island Railroad commuter trains into Grand Central Terminal. Another major project is the $4.45-billion first phase of the new Second Avenue Subway (SAS), and a third job is the $2.1-billion No. 7 line subway extension.

The three tunneling jobs will enable a long-needed expansion for millions of New York City-area residents. The East Side Access project will route the Long Island Rail Road through new connections in Sunnyside Yard, Queens, through the lower level of the existing 63rd Street tunnel under the East River. In the Manhattan, two recently completed, mile-long tunnels now take the route south under Park Avenue and into a new station beneath Grand Central Terminal. When completed, the new route will serve an estimated 160,000 daily riders and is expected to relieve congestion in Pennsylvania Station on Manhattan’s West Side.

The full SAS is to be 8.5 miles long, serving Manhattan’s East Side. The first 1.5-mile-long phase between 65th and 105th streets will serve 200,000 daily riders, easing congestion on a packed existing subway line farther west. And the No. 7 line, which gave rise to years of development along its stops, will feed anticipated mass development of Manhattan’s far West Side along the Hudson River, providing a link to the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center.

The projects have become a study in scrutiny and criticism, thanks to ever-changing budget estimates and the politics surrounding those numbers, according to Mysore Nagaraja, who served as MTACC president from 2003 to 2008, from its founding and during the early phases of the projects.

The original cost estimates did not reflect the reality of the tremendous scope of these projects, says Horodniceanu, who followed Nagaraja in the role. But so far, the recalibrated budgets and schedules are being met. The $2.1-billion No. 7 line, fully funded by the city, is poised to finish ahead of schedule in late 2013, and the Second Avenue subway’s first phase is still on track for a 2016 completion, he says. “The budget and schedule are being tested constantly, but we’re holding [on],” adds Horodniceanu of the East Side Access project. “We have a 2016 deadline, and we are doing everything possible—changing and repackaging to achieve deadlines and save costs.”

The Federal Transit Administration, which provided Full Funding Grant Agreements (FFGA) for the ESA and SAS, has expressed a belief that both projects may run into 2018 and continue to incur budget increases. The FTA declined further comment. Horodniceanu contends, “[The projects] are a must if we will continue to solidify our role as the leading financial center in the world.” Plus, the weak economy is ripe for getting the most out of bids these days. Our projects employ thousands of construction workers and the leadership of the best and the brightest engineers,” he says. “There’s no turning back.”

Turbulent Times and Holding Patterns

Nagaraja is all too familiar with the ups and downs of project estimates. “My goal was to get all of the projects, especially these three major projects, into construction,” he says. “In 2003, all three projects were in the environmental impact assessment or preliminary engineering stage.” He re-evaluated the $5.3-billion cost estimate for ESA and came back with a $7-billion estimate. “We started looking at cost-saving opportunities and got it down to $6.3 billion. But then we had to negotiate with Amtrak. We had to build bypass tunnels—that added almost $400 million.”

Put on hold for months due to budget concerns, the ESA also was delayed because of a lawsuit over a planned 150-ft-high fan plant, recalls Nagaraja. A redesign cut the size to 55 ft and created a park that satisfied the community. The project received a boost from a $2.9-billion bond referendum passed in 2005 by voters, which provided $450 million for ESA (ENR 7/24/06 p. 16). Shortly thereafter, the FTA signed off on an FFGA of $2.6 billion.

But the months-long, budget-induced hiatus did not benefit some firms, such as Skanska USA Civil, which with Traylor Brothers had submitted the low bid to build a pair of one-mile tunnels in Manhattan west and south from the lower level of the 63rd Street rail tunnel to the new station beneath Grand Central. “We were the low bidder on the first tunneling contract but then sat on it for nine months,” says Skanska project executive Gary Almeraris. The tunnel job eventually was rebid, and went to a joint venture of Judlau Contracting Inc., College Point, N.Y., and Spanish firm Dragados in a $428-million bid. They have completed the two tunnels that transition into four, then eight tunnels into Grand Central.

That hiatus also affected the SAS designers. “At one time we had 300 people working at the site office on the joint venture along with the agency,” recalls Jeff Fosbrook, then the project manager for the team of AECOM and Arup. “We had to find other places to assign people. We managed to bring them back and not lose institutional memory.” SAS received $450 million from the bond act and a $1.2-billion FFGA.

The No.7 line also had a rocky start, with an original estimate of $3 billion. “We had to cut one of the stations and negotiated for $2.2 billion with the city,” says Nagaraja. A request for proposals for negotiated procurement received just one bidder: a joint venture of J.F. Shea Construction Inc., Skanska USA Civil Northeast Inc. and Schiavone Construction Co. Inc., for $1.5 billion, he says. “I negotiated with the joint venture to make it $1.14 billion.” Now, the No. 7 line is in the home stretch and well ahead of schedule. Because many engineers and contractors on the No. 7 line also are working on the other two projects, there is a cross-pollination of lessons learned, particularly on ground freezing, arch pours and tunneling. Issues of dense, existing infrastructure, limited street access and tough geology are similar. The No. 7 line had to snake beneath existing infrastructure while allowing room for future development. The SAS must co-exist with thousands of residents and shop owners and [has] restricted hours for drilling and blasting. The ESA’s Queens site must handle all materials deliveries for $7 billion worth of work.

“There is no turning back. We are eager to finish this.”

“Lessons learned on the No. 7 have been carried on to ESA and SAS,” says Frank Pepe Jr., vice president of geotechnical with Parsons Brinckerhoff, New York City. PB, the lead designer for the No. 7 line, is in a joint venture with Parsons Transportation Group and STV Inc. for the ESA design and leads a construction management team for SAS. “We meet and swap stories,” he says of the teams on all three projects. “We have interactions with the same contractors.”

Elton Elperin, AECOM’s chief architect for ESA station facilities, notes that PB engineers suggested a modular construction method that the other team players accepted. “For us, it was a very good example of architects and engineers working together,” he says. “You don’t often get that level of synthesis of ideas.”

When completed, the ESA and SAS’s first phase will wrap up years of unfinished business—but much more remains. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) killed a planned $8.7-billion new rail tunnel under the Hudson River, and now some officials are mulling a tie-in with the No. 7 line. A second Manhattan station, eliminated from the current scope of work to save money, could be revived, says Horodniceanu.

The SAS’s 1.5-mile first phase is now well under way, with four out of 11 contracts awarded, says Horodniceanu. But funds from the MTA 2010-2015 capital plan are allocated only through this year. “We need to commit more dollars soon,” says Horodniceanu, concerning contracts in 2012 and beyond to be awarded. “We are eager to finish this.”