Wednesday, May 09, 2012

MTA East Side Access deadline slips again

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Confirming what many have suspected, New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman Joseph Lhota on Tuesday acknowledged that the agency's East Side Access Project likely would not be completed until 2019, due to unexpected construction difficulties.

East Side Access will allow Long Island Railroad trains direct access to Grand Central Terminal (on Manhattan's East Side), offering LIRR riders the option of two New York City termini and offering better links to sister railroad Metro-North, as well as additional options subway connections.

The project deadline, initially set for this year, first slipped to 2016, then to 2018, though MTA has endeavored to revise construction schedules to minimize the delays.

Tunneling on the Manhattan end of the project is virtually completed, but difficulties in tunneling through soft rock and soils underneath Sunnyside Yards in Queens has hampered the project's progress, as work must avoid undue interference with ongoing rail operations involving LIRR, New Jersey Transit, and Amtrak totaling up to 800 trains per day. Contaminated soil and unanticipated underground water sources, such as springs, reportedly also have slowed construction.

In a statement following Lhota's comments Tuesday, MTA said, "The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is reevaluating the risks in the construction schedule for the East Side Access project, and plans to present its findings to the Capital Program Oversight Committee later this month. One preliminary analysis of risk factors has indicated the completion date may move to 2019, as East Side Access construction intensifies in the busiest passenger rail yard and the largest passenger rail interchange in the nation."

East Side Access is the first major expansion of LIRR rights-of-way in more than 100 years, and is expected to attract 180,000 daily riders when it opens for revenue service. The project includes eight new tracks terminating under existing rail infrastructure at Grand Central Terminal. Current cost estimates range between $7.4 billion and $8.1 billion.