Monday, December 21, 2009

In New York, a tunneling (and political) breakthrough

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New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg joined Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman and CEO Jay H. Walder Monday in announcing completion of the first phase of the Number 7 subway extension at the Hudson Yards in Manhattan, a $2.1 billion project funded by the city and managed by MTA.

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"The second of two tunnel boring machines has reached the southern wall of the 34th Street Station cavern after mining a combined 2,900 feet from their starting point at 26th Street under 11th Avenue," MTA said in an announcement that appeared to be timed for maximum political value. "The extension will help transform the Hudson Yards vicinity into a vibrant 24-hour neighborhood, containing a mix of commercial, residential, retail, open space, and recreational uses. In January of 2005, the City Council approved the Bloomberg Administration's plan for re-zoning the Hudson Yards area, including the Eastern Rail Yards. Today, the City Council will vote on the plan for the Western Rail Yards, which would complete the public approvals process for the development of the area."

The Number 7 line extension, extending the line west of Times Square, is one of three multibillion-dollar MTA tunneling projects now under way. New York City Transit riders who have been hit with service cuts and fare increases this year have been asking how MTA can spend billions for new lines when it can scarcely find the money to to operate its existing lines. Mayor Bloomberg implicitly addressed that question.

"It's been a half century since City government expanded its subway system, but that drought will soon be at an end," said Bloomberg. "Too often, government falls victim to the temptation to abandon long-term infrastructure projects amidst short-term downturns, and that's why big things never get done. The redevelopment of the Hudson Yards has been talked about for decades, but with the expansion of the number 7 line, its potential will finally be realized."

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MTA's Walder (pictured at right), who has been getting a bad press for proposing to eliminate frees student fares on subways and buses in orderto save $140 million a year, also took the long view: "This week's milestone is a clear indicator that the MTA is delivering on a major expansion project that will increase capacity within our transit system and generate economic growth in a vastly underserved area," he said. "Much like our joint efforts to improve bus service throughout the city, this partnership between the city and MTA will benefit New Yorkers for generations to come."