Issue of the Week


by Frank McArdle
Managing Director
General Contractors Association

(31 jan '00) The biggest of dreams for New York City's infrastructure were being turned into reality in the summer of 1929. Over $300 million had already been spent on Phase One of the Independent Subway system. Miners had holed through the 53rd street tunnel between Manhattan and Queens and the Fulton line tunnel from Manhattan to Brooklyn. The first cable had been stretched between New York and New Jersey on the bridge that we have come to know as the George Washington. Mayor Walker had proposed a $175 million investment that successfully eliminated the street level and surface operations of the New York Central from Spuyten Dyvil through Riverside Park to the "death alley" along the West Side waterfront. The Walker administration had also secured approval for a $300 million dollar investment to bring water from the Delaware River to New York City, initiating a system that today supplies the City with more than half of its drinking water. The Triborough Bridge and the 38th Street Vehicular Tunnel (better known as the Queens Midtown Tunnel) would respond to the growing use of the automobile. And the Mayor had announced the $438 million Phase 2 of his IND plan with a six-track Second Avenue Subway as its centerpiece. Ninety-nine million dollars would be spent to take the line from Water Street and Pine to the Harlem River and another $40 million to carry it on to White Plains Road line at 180th street.

The Walker Administration made its plans to expand New York City's infrastructure to underpin the growth of the New York City economy. We take for granted today many of the things that were their dreams. Now, we lament that the Second Avenue subway did not join all their other dreams in becoming reality. And it makes us ask what will we leave behind for coming generations to take for granted?

The Second Avenue subway is just as essential today as it was 70 years ago for New York City's economic future. As first envisioned, it would have opened up connection between a vast hinterland of development potential and the center of New York City's economic life in lower Manhattan. That center may have spread northward into midtown in the intervening seventy years, but the need for the investment to bring new riders to and from their places of work in our core has never been more pressing. Over 20,000 more riders a day have joined the Lexington Avenue madhouse since the spring of 1997 in the residential corridor between 125th street and 59th street. Over 12,000 more people are using the Grand Central Terminal subway station complex now than did so in the spring of 1997. The growth of daily ridership is so great, and the crush so immense, that the traffic projections of thoughtful planning documents on projects in the Grand Central Terminal area are being overwhelmed by the marching of new passenger feet.

And this crush is only going to get worse. New office buildings will rise in three locations around Grand Central Terminal. Silicon Alley has extended up into the area between Astor Place and Houston Street. Apartment buildings are climbing ever upward along the avenues of the Upper East Side and beginning to find a footprint north of 96th street. This growth can only be serviced effectively by a full-length Second Avenue subway with the same reach as that sought by Mayor Jimmy Walker. Those who shrug these conditions off as unworthy of swift attention are playing a dangerous game with the City═s economic future. People frustrated by the inadequacies of the Lexington Avenue line will ultimately add the five hours a week or more they spend struggling with conditions on the Lex into the quality of life calculations that can ultimately make them seek to move elsewhere. New York City can keep them here and profit from their contributions only by investing now in the speedy construction of a Second Avenue subway.

Building the Second Avenue Subway will not be painless and free of disruptions. But it is clear from the experiences of the Big Dig in Boston, and tunnel construction in London, Paris and Toronto, that disruptions can be minimized and communities kept functioning during major construction. It is time for all of us to dig deeply for the will and the resources to create that important something that our grandchildren will take for granted, that will be the foundation of their prosperity just as the dreams of the past are the foundation of ours.

Frank McArdle is the Managing Director of the General Contractors Association

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