The Metropolitan Transportation Authority let it be known the other day that its plan to have the Long Island Rail Road run into Grand Central Terminal was way over budget and behind schedule.
Clyde Haberman offers his take on the news.
Cue the “Casablanca” tape, straight to where Captain Renault says — oh, you know what he says.
Six years ago, officials figured that this project, called East Side Access, would cost $6.3 billion and be finished by the end of 2013. Now they’ve set a price tag of $8.2 billion and a completion date of August 2019. That’s a long way off, but if you’re already thinking about a 2019 Hamptons vacation, you may want to book alternative means of transportation, just in case.
Let’s look back as well as ahead. In the dim recesses of history, meaning 1993, plans were unveiled for a new Pennsylvania Station in the colonnaded General Post Office on Eighth Avenue. That space, which has come to be known as Moynihan Station, in honor of the late New York senator, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, is intended to be an elegant replacement for the catacomb that is the existing Penn Station. The new station, it was said in 1993, could be built for $315 million and be finished by 1999.
As every sentient New Yorker knows, the projected costs are now vastly higher. And the last time we looked at a calendar, we noticed that we are long past 1999, with no Moynihan Station in sight.
Then again, perhaps one only needs patience. Lots of it. Look at the Second Avenue Subway, which once seemed as mythic as Atlantis or Camelot. It’s been talked about since at least the 1920s. Now, at long last, the first phase of that line is being built. The work hasn’t quite lived up to forecasts, though. When tunneling began in earnest in 2007, officials said the line would open in 2013, at a cost of $3.8 billion. The latest price is about $4.5 billion, and completion is not expected until the end of 2016 or possibly early 2017.
On a brighter note, a new Willis Avenue Bridge spanning the Harlem River was completed. It opened in the fall of 2010, and cost more than $600 million. On a not-so-bright note, it was originally supposed be finished in 2006 and cost $350 million.
Perhaps you remember that a new transportation hub at the World Trade Center site, under the aegis of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, took shape in 2005 with a $2.2 billion budget and a promised completion in 2009. At last glance, the budget has swelled beyond $3.4 billion and the opening is delayed till 2014.
A few blocks from there, the Fulton Street Transit Center is aborning. When the design was announced in 2004, the prediction was for a 2007 completion at a cost of $750 million. Oops, where’s the eraser? Make that 2014 and $1.4 billion.
North of the city, many New Yorkers depend every day on the worn-out Tappan Zee Bridge, in desperate in need of structural C.P.R.
(This is thoroughly off-topic, but mention of the bridge brings to mind an absent friend, Vic Ziegel, a great sportswriter for The New York Post and The Daily News. Years ago, he was on a train in France, sitting alongside German travelers, one of whom asked him, “Sprechen Sie Deutsch?” To which, Vic replied:“Nein. Tappan Zee Bridge?”)
Gov. George E. Pataki raised the need for a replacement bridge in 1999. There was talk among officials in those days of possibly finishing the work in 2007. Now the plan is for a bare-bones new Tappan Zee costing $5.2 billion. Completion date: 2017.
Are you beginning to see a pattern here?
With more space, we could chronicle other examples of construction delays and swollen costs. They are practically hard-wired into our municipal and regional DNA, from designs for the World Trade Center site to the moribund trans-Hudson rail tunnel to the so-called Gateway Project that is supposed to create high-speed train service.
None of this is new. For boondoggles, an enduring standard is the old Yankee Stadium. In the 1970s, it underwent renovations that were supposed to cost the city $24 million. The final bill exceeded $100 million.
But though belated, a new age of realism is perhaps dawning. In discussing the East Side Access headache, the transportation authority’s chairman, Joseph J. Lhota, said, “The era of underestimating public-works projects is over.”
Maybe. We’ll first have to see who else in government and politics are prepared to toss away the rose-colored glasses they love to wear whenever they announce big projects.
E-mail Clyde Haberman: [email protected]