Into the depths of New York’s East Side Access project (FoggiestIdea)
Gazing at the vast expanse of marble and stainless steel spanning the new concourse over one hundred feet below Grand Central Terminal, you could almost feel the rumble of the Long Island Rail Road trains that have been so long in coming. And for a moment it’s easy to become enraptured by the biggest public works project in our lifetime. But no trains are arriving at this station any time soon.
This is the promise of East Side Access, the decades-long, multi-billion-dollar project that would bring the Long Island Rail Road into the heart of Manhattan’s East Side. Long the dream of planners, the notion is closer to coming to fruition as the new passenger pathway takes shape 14 stories beneath Grand Central Terminal. When completed, which the latest estimates say will happen by late 2022, the new LIRR terminal will be the first station built in Manhattan in 90 years, and the first expansion of the railroad’s footprint in over a century.
Progress comes at a price. So far, the project has exceeded $11.2 billion – a figure expected to rise further, and a far cry from the original $2.2 billion estimate in 1999. A 2017 investigation last year by The New York Times found that the costs amounted to about $3.5 billion for each new mile of track, or seven times the average cost in Paris or London.
For perspective, it’s not only the MTA’s East Side Access project that has had skyrocketing expenses. According to The Times, the recently completed Second Avenue subway on the Upper East Side cost $2.5 billion per mile, and the 2015 extension of the No. 7 line to Hudson Yards cost $1.5 billion per mile. Elsewhere, a mile of subway track typically costs $500 million a mile or less.
If you ask the MTA, they argue that the construction costs ballooned as the project became more complex because the LIRR decided to shift its new tunnel line down from the original proposal that used the existing level of Metro-North tracks and new federal regulations that mandated positive train control, a safety feature that is designed to prevent train-to-train collisions.