Second Avenue Line: There’s No Telling

A few months ago an article in The Hartford Courant lamented the question most New Yorkers stopped asking ages ago: “Why does it take so long to get anything built?”
After all, the Empire State Building was built in about 18 months. The entire Erie Canal, trenched out with animals and plows, finished up in 1825, just eight years after they broke ground. Before dump trucks and bulldozers, the city’s first subway line, the IRT running from City Hall to Grand Central, over to Times Square and then up to 145th Street with 28 stations, took just four years to complete in 1904.
This recently came to a head as the tunneling for the Second Avenue subway line gets underway after an on-again, off-again relationship that would make Britney and K-Fed’s heads spin. The ceremonial spade has broken ground and two traffic lanes have been closed for the transportation nightmare that will be the estimated five year, $5 billion project for the first phase.
Maybe this problem is an American one. Phase 1 of the Dehli Metro in India spans 65 km with 59 stations. It was completed in four years for US $2.4 billion. Beijing boasts that their city will have five subway lines when the Olympics opens in 2008. They had only one just a dozen years ago.

This first phase of the Second Avenue line (to be called the “T” line) will link 96th Street to the tunnel already built at 63rd Street with only three new stations. Phase two, well, I’ll keep you in suspense, but rest assured it will take longer and be more expensive. The tunnel at 63rd Street was completed in the 70’s. This is a thirty-year gripe in the making, folks. Don’t think the Upper East Siders aren’t going to milk it for all it’s worth.

But really these complaints are nothing new. Turn-of-the-century New Yorkers took plenty of pot shots at the IRT, built speedily by today’s standards. The New York Times reports that “even the workers had stopped trying to bet on when. ‘Anyone who tries to say exactly when this work will be finished,’ one mining forman said, ‘is a blamed fool. There’s no telling.'”
Photo credits: Curbed.com
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