As the first phase of the second avenue subway finally opens, it is important to note a few interesting distinctions.
Pump room between the tracks.
In nearly every NYC subway tunnel, you will find at least one emergency exit. These exits are usually located roughly halfway between stations, and consist of a set of stairs leading to a hatch on the sidewalks above. These exits are generally only used in extreme situations, such as train derailments and blackouts.
The tunnels between 63rd, 72nd, 86th and 96th street stations are completely bereft of exits. For much of the route, between 72nd and 96th streets, the two parallel tunnels are only linked by occasional pump rooms between the tracks, which do not provide access to the streets far above.
There are hidden exits just beyond each platform, though they are part of the caverns for each station, and hidden in utility areas. We’ll get to those in a second…
South of 72nd street station, the the new tunnel runs straight for a few blocks before curving to connect with the 63rd street tunnel. Before the tunnel begins curving away though, a very large provisional cavern has been created, where a set of tunnels can easily connect for their eventual trip all the way to downtown Manhattan and perhaps Brooklyn.
Hidden exit stairs
In the massive hidden sections of each new station one can get a sense for why each was so expensive to construct. These utility areas contain an enormous complex of ventilation and power supply equipment. There are also strange new ‘in station’ emergency exits, which consist of small stairs leading to doorways in the new surface ventilation buildings, along with varied crew rooms, bathrooms, and other work spaces.
HVAC room under construction – all three new stations contain similar rooms
Back in the 1970s, three sections of the 2nd avenue subway were completed: One under chinatown, a second between 99th and 105 streets, and the third running from 110th to 120th streets.
The 99th to 105th street tunnel is now attached to the new 63rd street to 96th street tunnel. Beyond 96th street, the new tunnel runs a few more blocks north, where the tracks end at a temporary cinder block wall. A doorway in this wall leads into the 1970s segment. Entering this tunnel was a downright creepy experience, as a sewage pump at the far north end makes a completely alien sound slurping up muck and water. At the east side of this tunnel segment there is a utility room with stairs marked ‘105th street’. I didn’t personally pop this hatch to see if it indeed comes out at 105th street, though others report it does. This tunnel segment also showed plenty of signs of age and rust consistent with the 110-120th street tunnel segment.
1970s Utility area
It was recently announced that Phase 2 of the Second Avenue Subway was projected to cost of six billion dollars. The price-tag is astonishing considering the existence of the 110th to 120th street tunnel. While that segment does not contain stations, much of it contains a center trackway originally intended for use repairing & inspecting trains. This space could be converted to a center island platform, significantly reducing construction cost. The 110-120 segment is also not very far underground, which would drastically reduce costs. The rumor mill has it that the MTA has decided the 110-120 street segment can’t be used. No reason has been given for this determination, and I question the validity of this rumor not only on the lack of named sources, but the fact that the phase 1 tunnel would require a steep downward grade from 105th street for the MTA to run a tunnel underneath this existing segment.
If this rumor is debunked, the price-tag for phase two becomes all the more disturbing. The six billion dollars would literally be used for constructing only 12 city blocks of subway tunnel (from 105 to 110th, and from 120 & 2nd over to 125th and Lexington ave). Measured on google maps, this is a distance of 3,800 feet – less than one mile. A six billion dollar price-tag for a tunnel that is already half built, and requires less than a mile of new tunnel to finish is frankly unacceptable. If you agree, by all means contact the governors office and make sure Cuomo knows that bringing these costs under control is paramount. There are few known reasons why this six billion dollar cost cannot be slashed to a much more realistic number, with the project completed far faster than current projections.
The 110-120 segment, looking down on the center trackway
There is the potential that the MTA and elected officials are just gaslighting us. Perhaps they are planning to use the 110-120 segment, and will announce that costs will be greatly reduced. Just yesterday the MTA was dialing back against this rumor in the Wall Street Journal. One could easily imagine a press conference announcing this, with elected officials patting themselves on the back as heros. After all the 110-120 tunnel segment may not be widely known, but it is no secret. It has been listed on Wikipedia for quite some time. We published the first significant photos of this tunnel segment way back in 2008 – nearly nine years ago. The tunnel also made headline news in 2011 when a few of my friends were detained for exploring this tunnel.
Whatever the future holds for the next phases of the second avenue subway, we’ll remain eager to see if and how these new tunnels evolve. Despite all the politics, it is nice to see continued progress in adding new routes and new commuting options. With the population of NYC projected to break the 9 million threshold in coming years, the city desperately needs every last inch of new subway it can get. These new transit routes must be built economically. We cannot afford to blow any more billions of dollars on over budget boondoggles such as the new WTC Path station. Four billion dollars could have gone towards construction of the Utica avenue subway in Brooklyn. It could have easily paid for the reopening of the LIRR Rockaway Beach Branch, serving huge, transit starved neighborhoods in Queens. There’s no shortage of new transit routes that need to be built – and the only way any of them will happen is if we, the people, hold our politicians feet to the fire to not only get these essential projects started, but do so economically.