It’s great that the Biden administration and the US Department of Transportation recommend that the MTA receive $496,784,764 from the Federal Transit Administration to build the next section of the Second Ave. subway from its 96th St. terminus to the north to 125th St.
But it is very bad that the total price of the project has grown from $6,948,742,838 a year ago $7,699,030,840, an increase of $750,288,002. An 11% jump in one year?
And the bad thing is that the maximum federal grant of $3,404,883,991 remains frozen. So, last year, Uncle Sam was ready to cover 49% of the costs. Now it is 44.2% and it is falling. That’s exactly what happened with the newly opened East Side Access that brings LIRR trains to Grand Central. A long, long time ago, Washington was going to pay about half with a contribution of $2.6 billion, but the costs kept rising and the $2.6 billion didn’t grow. In the end, the feds only picked up less than a quarter of the cost which was over $11 billion.
What all these numbers mean is that New Yorkers will have to eat that extra three-quarters of a billion for the new subway extension. It also means that transit projects cost too much to build. The first part of the Second Ave. Line, to 96th St, cost $2.5 billion per mile. East Side Access cost $3.5 billion per mile. Paying $7.7 billion for the next 1.76 miles of Second Ave. comes to $4.37 billion per mile. And that assumes that the $7.7 billion doesn’t grow, which it certainly will if history teaches us anything.
Dirt hasn’t gotten harder to dig, why is it so expensive and getting worse? NYU researchers spent five years studying this question and have just produced a full 500 page report.
Part of the problem is that the politicians in charge have no incentive to save money; Higher costs just mean more “investment” in good, higher-paying construction jobs. That’s crazy. If the next phase were “only” $2.5 billion per mile, $7.7 billion could buy three miles of subway instead of 1.76 miles.