Going Our Way
The MTA's Capital Program Picking
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority's capital program
means an improved and expanding mass transit system for New
York/New Jersey/Connecticut commuters.
It also means a lot of work for the region's contractors
Mysore Nagaraja, New York City Transit's chief engineer,
said that in 2002 the New York City Transit Capital Program
Management Department provided construction awards of $2.2
billion, the largest amount of construction work since the
inception of the program 21 years ago. Last year 28 contracts
were competitively bid and six were awarded on a negotiated
The capital program is funded primarily by a combination
of federal funds and MTA bonds, with only a small fraction
coming from the city, so despite the city's fiscal crisis,
transit construction in 2003 will most likely outpace last
In testimony before the MTA's Capital Program Oversight Committee
on Jan. 21, William King, the agency's deputy director of
construction oversight, said the value of all projects expected
to be committed in 2003 is $2.8 billion. Approximately 50
percent of that will go New York City Transit projects.
The other commitment targets are $200 million for the Long
Island Rail Road; $200 million for the Metro-North Railroad;
over $600 million for the East Side Access project, which
will bring LIRR trains into Grand Central Station; and $300
million for MTA Bridges and Tunnels.
With so much work at stake, it's no wonder that the construction
industry takes a keen interest in the MTA's capital program
and seeks a voice in the ongoing discussions about the agency's
From 'Catch-Up' to Growth
Despite the fact that the MTA is the largest transportation
network in the Western Hemisphere, serving 2.3 billion riders
a year, nearly eight million people every workday, its was
allowed to rot for decades. Through most of the 1960s and
'70s the system received less than 30 percent of the funds
it needed to sustain itself.
"The system was completely falling apart," Nagaraja
said. "The cars were covered with graffiti; there were
derailments, all those things."
To deal with the results of years of neglect, the MTA in
1982 launched a series of five-year capital programs that
have allowed it to think ahead and be proactive instead of
simply reacting to crises.
"The MTA has taken a holistic approach to operations
and maintenance of the system," said Nicholas LaRocco,
a vice president with Parsons Transportation Group Inc., who
is working as program manager for the MTA's new communications-based
control system. "They aren't just doing one piece at
a time. They're integrating everything - trains, tracks, signal
system, power system, customer information. It's proven to
be the right way to do it. Things have improved across the
Over the last 20 years, the MTA has invested $40 billion
in repairing and reconstructing its infrastructure. "The
first three five-year plans tackled the problems of neglect.
They were strictly about catching up," Nagaraja said.
"Today 100 percent of the tracks are in good repair,
100 percent of the cars are in good repair. Now for the first
time, with the current five-year plan, we are able to begin
the process of modernizing and expanding the system."
The work involved includes everything from computerizing
New York City Transit's signal system to building a new subway
line along the East Side.
The communications-based train control system that LaRocco
is overseeing is being installed along the Canarsie Line (the
L Train) and from there will be exported throughout the system.
Utilizing on-board computers and radios, it allows trains
to be in touch with the appropriate NYC Transit communication
room (and with each other) without wayside signals, although
the wayside signals will be kept in place as back-up.
"It will improve safety; there's no way that trains
can run into each other with this system in place," said
Richard Maitino, who spent 32 years as an official with the
New York State Department of Transportation before becoming
a vice president at Parsons Transportation.
"In addition to the safety factor, the potential exists
with this to increase by up to 20 percent the number of trains
that can be run within an hour," he added.
The MTA is also building, for the first time, a centralized
control center for New York City Transit's subways. It will
be located at 54th Street and Ninth Avenue and will use a
computerized system to keep track of every train at all times.
"We run a lot of trains, but currently they are not
automatically located," Nagaraja said. "If they
get stuck they have to notify us by radio. The new command
center will know exactly where every train is. If one gets
stuck or slowed down, a decision (about what to do) can be
The MTA also has been busy building a fiber optic network
within the city's subway system. It is in place in the IRT
and is in the process of being extended into every station
in the city. Among other things, the fiber will dramatically
improve the public address system. The old copper network,
as anyone one who rides the trains knows, leaves much to be
In short, the MTA is adapting 21st Century technology to
a system with roots in the 19th. "The MTA is literally
leaping over a generation of technology," LaRocco said.
"It is taking a system that was ignored for quite a number
of years and advancing it to the point where it is setting
the stage for other transportation systems."
New Tunnels, Tracks and Trains
Also under way is the East Side Access project. Currently,
commuters on the LIRR - some 270,000 a day - can only disembark
in Manhattan at Penn Station, on the island's West Side. To
get to the East Side, the direction from which they came,
they must take cross-town subways or buses.
The lack of connectivity among various components of the
metropolitan area's mass transit system resulted from different
parts of the system being originally built by private for-profit
companies with no interest in hooking up their tracks with
those of their competitors.
The East Side Assess project involves building a tunnel from
Harold Interlocking, a switching station in Queens, to the
existing 63rd Street Tunnels under the East River. Currently,
the upper tunnel at 63rd Street brings the "R" and
"F" trains in and out of Queens; the lower, unused,
tunnel will be utilized by the LIRR. On the Manhattan side,
a new tunnel will be dug from 63rd Street and the river to
Grand Central Terminal, making the East Side readily available
to Long Islanders.
Kiewit Constructors Inc. has been at work since October building
a slurry wall for a pit adjacent to Northern Boulevard in
Queens that will serve as the staging point for the Queens
tunnel. At a Capital Program Oversight Committee meeting on
March 18, Tony Japha, who is overseeing the East Side Access
project for the MTA, reported that the contractor had encountered
an extraordinary number of boulders, which has put the project
about seven weeks behind schedule.
Metro-North's improvements to the Highbridge Yard in the
west Bronx are an intrinsic part of the East Side Access project.
The expanded yard will serve as a storage and maintenance
center for Metro-North. Currently Metro-North uses the lowest
tunnels of Grand Central for maintenance. Under the new plan
those tunnels will be turned over to the LIRR.
The Highbridge Yard is being developed for Metro-North under
a design-build contract by Slattery Skanska Inc. and Edwards
and Kelcey Inc. It was 80 percent complete in March.
The East Side Access project also calls for a new LIRR station
to be constructed at Queens Boulevard in Sunnyside, Queens.
In addition, there is talk of, although yet no funding for,
building a tunnel for Metro-North into Penn Station so that
Westchester commuters can have direct access to the West Side.
That move assumes that bringing 24 peak-hour LIRR trains into
Grand Central will free up tracks at Penn Station for Metro-North
As of the end of March, only $5 million in engineering, construction
and project management contracts for East Side Access had
been awarded out of the $640 million forecast by the MTA for
Japha said that the Federal Transportation Agency had recommended
every project in the East Side Access pipeline, but that the
MTA was still pushing for more federal funding. "We want
to make sure we maximize our federal backing before releasing
for bid," he told the Capital Program Oversight Committee
Second Avenue to Roll?
At a much earlier stage of development is the long-anticipated
Second Avenue Subway, a new underground line to be constructed
along Second Avenue for 8.5 mi., from 125th Street in Harlem
to Hanover Square in the Financial District. While the MTA
and the administration of Michael Bloomberg remain firmly
committed to the project, the current capital plan has no
construction funds set aside for it; construction is not expected
to get under way until the next five-year plan beginning in
Since the Third Avenue "El" was taken down in 1955,
the East Side has been served only by the Lexington Avenue
line (the Nos. 4, 5 and 6). In the meantime, the area has
been transformed from Yorkville, a German-American working
class neighborhood of mostly six-story tenements, into the
Upper East Side, a middle-class area full of high-end, high-rise
residential buildings, and the density of population has increased
Today the Lexington Avenue is the most overcrowded line in
the city, carrying approximately half a million people per
day. Its location under Lexington also leaves residents farther
east with a bus ride or a considerable hike to the train.
Some community activists from the boroughs have advocated
for the extension of the new line through the East Bronx as
far as Co-op City as well as into Brooklyn at the other end.
However, at least for the immediate future, the line will
stay within Manhattan, but it still will be the largest expansion
of the subway system since the 1920s.
"One only has to ride the Lexington Avenue to see how
important this project is," said Maitino. "It's
the parallel of what goes on in the highway system - when
its use increases, you expand it."
The MTA is currently completing the supplemental draft environmental
impact statement for the Second Avenue Subway and is concurrently
conducting preliminary engineering work, with DMJM+Harris
and Arup Group Ltd. serving as prime consultants. Upon completion
of the environmental analysis and preliminary engineering,
the MTA will request a record of decision authorizing the
start of final design and construction from the FTA.
During the final design phase, final drawings, technical
specifications and contract documents necessary to obtain
construction bids will be prepared. Once the bids are given
out, the construction phase can begin, which Nagaraja said
will be in 2005.
Further Down the Track
There are other longer-term projects that Nagaraja said the
MTA is interested in pursuing. The most talked about of these
is an extension of the No. 7 line west (and slightly south)
to the Javits Convention Center. Currently, the No. 7 connects
Flushing, in eastern Queens, to Times Square. There are no
subways farther west than Eighth Avenue.
The extension of the No. 7 is being pushed hard by Daniel
Doctoroff, the city's deputy mayor for economic development
and rebuilding. He argues that the transformation of the Far
West Side from an area of low-rise industrial and unused freight
lines into a new commercial office district depends upon the
No. 7's extension. While the MTA is in the midst of doing
an environmental impact study for the extension, how it would
be funded remains unsettled.
Doctoroff said recently that the administration favored tax-increment
funding. Under this proposal, the city would guarantee construction
bonds to be paid for, eventually, by the presumed tax revenue
increase that would come with the commercial development of
the Far West Side. It is a method never before used in New
York City. Its advantage (should it work) is that it would
not put the No. 7 extension into competition with the Second
Avenue Subway for MTA capital funds.
Another project that has garnered a lot of attention is the
construction of a Fulton Transit Center to serve as a Grand
Central-like terminal for Lower Manhattan. It would connect
various subway lines, the PATH trains from New Jersey and
perhaps even the LIRR.
This idea came to the forefront in the wake of the damage
done to both the MTA and PATH train stations during the attacks
on the World Trade Center. The federal government last year
made $1.8 billion in emergency transportation grants available
to New York, which helped get the Nos. 1 and 9 up and running.
Nagaraja said that restoring the 1 and 9 under schedule was
one of his proudest achievements as the MTA's chief engineer.
The emergency federal funds, however, amount to only a down
payment on a full-scale downtown railroad hub; it is not yet
clear from where the rest of the money would come.
Two other long-term projects are being studied by the MTA.
One is a direct subway link to LaGuardia Airport, which is
now only accessible by bus or auto. Another, which has reached
the feasibility and benefit-cost study phase, is the construction
of one or more new tunnels under the Hudson River to increase
the flow of commuters and freight to and from New Jersey.
The project, which is referred to as "Access to the
Region's Core," is being conceived of as joint effort
by the MTA, the Port Authority of NY&NJ and the New Jersey
Transit Corp. Funding for the construction of these proposals
will have to wait, at best, for the next five-year capital
Planning and Priorities
A number of well-placed engineers and contractors questioned
the MTA's expansion priorities, although none was willing
to go on the record. The East Side Access and Second Avenue
Subway projects, the critics maintained, will simply better
move around commuters who already use the mass transit system.
What is needed, they argued, is infrastructure capable of
bringing more workers into Manhattan. Without the Fulton Terminal
and the new tunnels under the Hudson, they maintained, there
could be no long-term job growth in the Big Apple.
"If there was an endless money supply, we could do a
lot of wonderful things," Nagaraja said. "But first
of all, we have to alleviate overcrowding on the Lexington
Avenue line. East Side access for the Long Island Railroad
will bring a lot of people to the East Side by mass transit
who now drive or take taxis, and that will be better all around."
Jerry Gold, a vice president with Carter-Burgess, is the
project manager for his firm in its role as independent engineering
consultant for the MTA's capital program. He said success
of the capital program can't be judged by the infrastructure
alone. Renovated stations and new subway lines result in further
development of the surrounding area, he noted.
As an example, he pointed to the renovation of the LIRR's
Atlantic Avenue terminal in Brooklyn. Inspired by that renovation,
Forest City Ratner Cos. is building a 400,000-sq.-ft. office
and retail complex across the street from the terminal.
"It will be very accessible for our employees from all
over the metro area," said Robert Grieves, a spokesperson
for The Bank of New York Co., which has signed a long-term
lease for the bulk of the new building. "It's two subway
stops from the financial district and minutes by the Long
Island Railroad from Midtown."
"It's what's happening above ground that's most exciting,"
Gold said. "Mass transit improvements generate projects
like the one by Forest City and that creates revenue and jobs."
Nagaraja agreed, noting that the MTA had so far improved
140 stations and that in many cases the improvements had sparked
revitalization of the surrounding neighborhoods. (Articles
on two subway station renovations appear in this issue.)
Nagaraja emphasized the complexity of decision making in
an organization as vast as the MTA. He said the agency now
looks at the anticipated needs for the next 20 years, then
prioritizes them within the five-year plans. From there, work
is broken down year-by-year.
"Decisions are based, first of all, on the resources
available including the expertise needed," Nagaraja added.
"Next we work with the operations people to see when
we can take tracks down with the least disruption. We try
to stagger the work so that no one line is affected unduly.
This requires a very intricate planning process."
General contractors who have worked with the MTA on its capital
program in recent years expressed surprise at how easy the
agency is to work with.
The Tully Construction Co. Inc., which hadn't worked with
the MTA for 15 years, last year partnered with A.J. Pegno
Construction Corp. to rebuild the Nos. 1 and 9 train station
that had been destroyed on Sept. 11th. "There was great
cooperation on that project," said Peter Tully, the company's
president. "When problems came up, they were addressed
Dimitrios Malakidis, executive vice president of M.A. Angeliades
Inc., which is currently rehabilitating five stations along
the No. 5 line in the Bronx and doing rehab on the concrete
and structural steel in the A Line tunnel between 125th to
168th streets, added: "With the MTA, you're dealing with
people who know construction and who concentrate on construction.
You don't have to deal with middlemen; you deal directly
with the people who will accept the project. They have a good
handle on running their own organization and that makes it
easier to work with them."
"My secret for working with contractors is simple,"
said Nagaraja. "I tell my people, we have to focus on
getting the project done, and nothing can be done without
serious partnering. If everyone has their own agenda, it won't
work. If general contractors are just out to squeeze us for
all they can and if we're out to screw them, nothing happens.
"All the stakeholders need to cooperate. We understand
that contractors are in business and we want them to make
money. They make money by getting the job done right. So it's
a big team effort."
To make the planning and operations even more efficient in
the future, the MTA is hoping to spin off a MTA Capital Corp.,
which, as a separate entity, will oversee the system's capital
"You have to admire the MTA for working so hard and
persistently to re-invent themselves," Gold said. "They've
really stepped up to the plate over the last 20 years. The
MTA Capital Corp. will be their latest reorganization and
it's a great idea. It will further address the coordination
of the system's expansion."
Nagaraja said his greatest achievement is that: "I've
gotten the program to the point that it's a well-oiled machine.
Projects get done faster and almost always within budget.
The Times Square (station) renovation and the 1 and 9 restoration
were done in record time. The Lexington and 54th Street station
will be done within time and budget.
"I want to keep the machine efficient and make it even
more so. My motto is 'continuous improvement.' I'm very committed