We got a fresh look this week at the Second Avenue Subway extension into Harlem. The MTA showed renderings of the project’s Phase II, the second of four parts, which will take the line from 96th Street up to 125th and over to Lexington Avenue, where it can link up with the Metro-North station and the 4-5-6. Good news, albeit at a cost of $6.9 billion or possibly more. The first train will run, suggests the MTA, in eight years. Fingers crossed for that — both the project and its timeline.
Within a couple of days, we also heard that a partial deal is in place to dig the desperately needed pair of new tunnels under the Hudson, serving Amtrak and NJ Transit. This one is a race against the clock, because the two tubes now serving Penn Station are a century old, were damaged by Hurricane Sandy, and desperately need to be closed down for rehab work. Chris Christie (in 2010) and the Trump administration (at the end of 2017) each killed earlier schemes for this project, leaving open the real possibility, should the current tunnel fail, of a Northeast Corridor that is unusable for years to come. Mercifully, Chuck Schumer and Amtrak Joe and their associates have found the money for this new attempt, and this one looks like it might stick. If it does, we should probably call it the Charles E. Schumer Tunnel. (“How are you getting home?” “The 5:24 through the Chuck.”) It is priced around $17 billion — slightly less than half of which was just allocated — and it will be finished, perhaps, by 2035. Even if it’s not delayed, that too is a generous timeline.
Things used to move faster — not to mention less safely, and with more environmental damage, and more running roughshod over people without power. The city once spent five years blasting away buildings and bedrock to extend Sixth Avenue and the subway through Greenwich Village, essentially telling anyone who disagreed with them to go pound sand. Today, civic officials end up having meetings to argue over brick samples, and the Second Avenue Subway’s three stations took a decade to dig, with three more to come in the decade ahead. The first two tunnels under the Hudson, in 1910, did themselves take eight years to design and build — but they were also dug more or less by hand. We have traded that brute human force for machine-driven productivity, but instead of taking our gains in speed, we’ve added a lot of care to the process. That is mostly to the good.
It would be nice, though, to run a train through the Schumer Tunnel to Moynihan Station while Chuck Schumer is still around to see it. He’s 72.