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Cutting canyons below Second Avenue
August 2, 2012 9:51 AM   Subscribe

The upcoming New York Times Magazine cover story is about the excavation of the Second Avenue Subway line below the East Side of Manhattan. It features some stunning photography and a video that explains how the work is done.

The Second Avenue Subway is meant to relieve overcrowding on Manhattan's Lexington Avenue Line, the nation's most used rapid transit line at 1.3 million riders a day. Completion is expected in 2016, but there is a long history of budget problems and delays. The cost of the 8.5 mile line is projected to be over $17 billion, currently running at about $1 million a day. The Village Voice profiled the workers, known as sandhogs, and the hazards they face. (We've met one of them before.) This video gives you a look at the massive tunnel boring machine they use. Local surface dwellers have been complaining about the blasts, the air pollution, traffic obstructions, the effect on local businesses, and flies. Blogs The Launch Box and Second Avenue Sagas follow the progress, and Gothamist has even more underground photos.
posted by hydrophonic (68 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is awesome. So glad New York is finally getting this new line.

I'm waiting for the party to start here in San Francisco.
posted by spitefulcrow at 9:58 AM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Those photos are absolutely amazing. I wonder what it feels like, spending your days working down there, knowing you'll never live to see the fruit of your labor.
posted by griphus at 9:58 AM on August 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


In the middle of 92nd, they discovered a challenge: soil and crumbly rock underpinning the city that, if jostled, could cause quaking above… To firm up the site, contractors drilled eight-inch-wide, 80-foot-deep holes and inserted steel pipes. Into those pipes they pumped a constant stream of calcium-chloride brine chilled to minus-13 degrees. In 10 weeks, the earth was frozen solid, and they could cut and brace the tunnel so it would support the surrounding sediment after the ground thawed
Whoa.
posted by grouse at 9:59 AM on August 2, 2012 [6 favorites]


I wonder what it feels like, spending your days working down there

I'd always be looking over my shoulder for CHUDs.
posted by Egg Shen at 10:01 AM on August 2, 2012


"I think the biggest thing I’m sacrificing is my health,” Ryan McGinty, a shift boss, told Tingley. “But for me to do something I love and be proud of what I do — If I made it to 60, I’d be happy."

You'l re-think that once you get to your fifties, bub.
posted by Devils Rancher at 10:03 AM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Holy crap. They might actually finish [part of] it by the end of the decade.

That's right up there with hell freezing over.

That said, call me when we're talking about building Phase 3 (63rd to Houston) and Phase 4 (Houston St to Hanover Sq) with any level of seriousness. This is, of course, a big shame, as the line would cover one of the few patches of Manhattan without easy access to subway service.

I'm surprised that the station envelopes are so completely massive, given that the concept renderings of the completed stations don't show them being particularly less claustrophobic (or dirty) than the existing NYCT stations. If they were going to carve a cavern that huge, they might as well have copied elements of Harry Weese's designs for the DC metro.

In related transit news, Atlanta voters overwhelmingly rejected a modest tax increase that would have funded desperately-needed road and transit projects in that area.

Down in the DC suburbs, the WMATA Silver Line is back on-track to open its first segments next year, and is finally funded to completion to the airport. In DC proper, the city's planned streetcar network appears to be turning into DC's own 2nd Avenue Saga, mired in delays, poor planning, apathetic politicians, and community opposition.
posted by schmod at 10:04 AM on August 2, 2012


grouse: "a constant stream of calcium-chloride brine chilled to minus-13 degrees"

Man, that sounds so much cooler than "cold seawater."
posted by schmod at 10:04 AM on August 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


I must be missing something:

Completion is expected in 2016


but

I wonder what it feels like, spending your days working down there, knowing you'll never live to see the fruit of your labor.

posted by ricochet biscuit at 10:07 AM on August 2, 2012


Completion FOR STAGE ONE is expected for 2016. That goes, IIRC, from 63rd to 96th, a distance which, depending on where you're going, it might just be better to walk.
posted by toxtethogrady at 10:09 AM on August 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


I hope my grandchildren's children get to ride this line while fleeing the Morlocks.
posted by The Whelk at 10:12 AM on August 2, 2012 [6 favorites]


Completion FOR STAGE ONE is expected for 2016.

And the MTA has, time and time again, proven themselves almost completely incapable of projecting past the fiscal year.
posted by griphus at 10:14 AM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I must be missing something:

Entire civilizations have risen and fell in the time it has taken them to do this.
posted by elizardbits at 10:15 AM on August 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


I went on a tour of the future 72nd St Station a few months ago, and one of the most interesting things that stuck out immediately was the complete lack of rodents, roaches, or pests of any kind. Our guide mentioned that it had everything to do with the lack of food and trash in the cavern.

Above ground are massive temporary structures - muck houses - which receive debris from below and help keep the tunnels ventilated. Here's another good article on the impact they have on the streetscape and local residents.

The most disappointing aspect of the new line is that it'll only consist of two tracks, value-engineered down from 3. This makes it much more difficult to keep service available around the clock when maintenance is needed (by rerouting trains onto the extra track). Of course, the ability to rely on 24-hour service has started to fade this year with the whole FastTrack program...
posted by rmannion at 10:16 AM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


The most disappointing aspect of the new line is that it'll only consist of two tracks, value-engineered down from 3.

Wait, what? So there's not going to be a dedicated express line?

ugh why
posted by elizardbits at 10:17 AM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


As awesome as this is, I am very happy to be a west sider. Everyone I know who lives on the UES is horrified by the construction.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:17 AM on August 2, 2012


I wish there were more cross-town lines. =\
posted by Eideteker at 10:18 AM on August 2, 2012


I'm actually more wondering what they'll do with the landfill. Much of the east coastline of Manhattan and a portion of Governor's Island exist only because the city needed a place to put all the excavated dirt from all the other tunnels; what are they going to build this time?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:19 AM on August 2, 2012


ugh why

The number of trains which will be running on those tracks daily was value-engineered down to two as well.
posted by griphus at 10:21 AM on August 2, 2012


I'm waiting for the party to start here in San Francisco.

Ugh, the SF Central Subway is sort of mystifying. What's it for? This is really needs to happen.
posted by eugenen at 10:21 AM on August 2, 2012


They're sending it to Jersey.
posted by elizardbits at 10:21 AM on August 2, 2012


(the landfill)
posted by elizardbits at 10:22 AM on August 2, 2012


Oh man they should use it to build the NYC embassy in Jersey. Somewhere we can get our visas renewed and change over money when we make the terrifying journey across the river.
posted by elizardbits at 10:23 AM on August 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


The ticker tape parade for the first astronauts on Mars will take place before this thing goes below 14th.
posted by gubo at 10:24 AM on August 2, 2012 [7 favorites]


Also "value-engineer" is my favorite new euphemism for "nearly-useless thing purchased because useful thing was too expensive."

"Did you do the grocery shopping like I asked? The fridge is empty. Where are all the vegetables?"
"The list was too long; I value-engineered it down to a bottle of steak sauce and a pie crust."
posted by griphus at 10:25 AM on August 2, 2012 [10 favorites]


I'd always be looking over my shoulder for CHUDs.

Forget CHUDs, fior a moment, I thought the giant rock-burrowing worms were coming!
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:26 AM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


DAM GUB'MINT CANT DO ANYTHING ON TIME AND ON BUDGET AMIRITE??!11
posted by entropicamericana at 10:27 AM on August 2, 2012


DAM GUB'MINT CANT DO ANYTHING ON TIME AND ON BUDGET AMIRITE??!11

...sort of?
posted by eugenen at 10:31 AM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Can we also get Queens/Brooklyn subway links that don't require a mystifying journey back through Manhattan?
posted by The Whelk at 10:33 AM on August 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


Havn't been across the park in 10 years and don't plan to any time soon. Maybe I'll go over there when it opens.
posted by Ad hominem at 10:35 AM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Can we also get Queens/Brooklyn subway links that don't require a mystifying journey back through Manhattan?

If enough people will believe in the G train we can make it real
posted by elizardbits at 10:36 AM on August 2, 2012 [10 favorites]


the G Train is a LIE
posted by The Whelk at 10:37 AM on August 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


DAM GUB'MINT CANT DO ANYTHING ON TIME AND ON BUDGET AMIRITE??!11

The MTA is a public benefit corporation, the board of directors of which is appointed by the government. So it's a little more complicated than that.
posted by griphus at 10:37 AM on August 2, 2012


The G Train is the one that goes to Sesame Street, which is why we're not allowed on it.
posted by The Whelk at 10:37 AM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


The G train EXISTS.

I HAVE SEEN IT.

I took it to high school every day for three years.

I was also late to first period every day for three years.
posted by griphus at 10:38 AM on August 2, 2012 [8 favorites]


Second Avenue Line ... You fear to go into those tunnels. The dwarves delved too greedily and too deep. You know what they awoke in the darkness of Khazad-dum... shadow and flame.
posted by Think_Long at 10:41 AM on August 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


griphus went to high school on sesame street, though.
posted by elizardbits at 10:44 AM on August 2, 2012


It was hard fitting into those tiny, muppet-sized desks. They had to seat him with Sweetums
posted by The Whelk at 10:45 AM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


You are 20, 20 minutes late for class ahahah.
posted by 2bucksplus at 10:46 AM on August 2, 2012 [5 favorites]


If you have the time to wait, you will see the G train. It's kind of like Brigadoon that way (town, not musical).

The bus lines that go up into Greenpoint are also semi-mythical. I don't know about the buses along the rest of the G's route.
posted by Hactar at 10:53 AM on August 2, 2012


I live in Chicago, I'm going to go drive my car around inside my super cheap apartment, located in a leafy park surrounded by gorgeous architecture SUCK IT NEW YORKERS!!!!1one

/oblig.
posted by samofidelis at 10:55 AM on August 2, 2012


Wait, wait, I meant NEW DORKERS at last I understand the clamor for an edit window
posted by samofidelis at 10:56 AM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


grouse: "a constant stream of calcium-chloride brine chilled to minus-13 degrees"

Man, that sounds so much cooler than "cold seawater."
I gotta bring the science and point out that the salt in seawater is primarily sodium chloride, and that your snark is inoperative.
posted by cardboard at 10:57 AM on August 2, 2012


I am going to go out into the intolerable heat, crank on the AC in my single-occupant car, & sit in traffic on Airport blvd. SUCK IT NEW YORKERS!1!
posted by Devils Rancher at 10:58 AM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ayo grab me a doughnut at Mrs. Johnson's, then.
posted by samofidelis at 11:04 AM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


The LIE is a LIE.
posted by Eideteker at 11:08 AM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


earth was frozen solid, and they could cut and brace the tunnel so it would support the surrounding sediment after the ground thawed

Well, ok. This is cool trick #4 out of a hundred that were used to do the Big Dig in Boston. People always crank about how it was a money pit, but it was also an urban design home run and an engineering wonder.
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 11:11 AM on August 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


NYT is making it funner and funner to extract and save their large-sized images.
posted by Theta States at 11:15 AM on August 2, 2012


eugenen: "I'm waiting for the party to start here in San Francisco.

Ugh, the SF Central Subway is sort of mystifying. What's it for? This is really needs to happen.
"

Extending rapid transit into the exurbs can only take you so far, and has been pretty thoroughly discredited at this point (even though it doesn't seem to be stopping us from doing it).

Similarly, San Francisco's demonstrated the benefits of using local LRT routes, which are cheaper and more flexible than heavy rail (ie. BART). If the option is between a single BART line and several underground MUNI lines, I think most folks will vote for the more comprehensive network. That said, I've seen some studies that make me question whether or not the Central Subway is an efficient use of the city's money. MUNI also has some pretty dire management issues that it needs to sort out.

BART is pretty much the worst rapid transit system (for the money) that I can imagine. Many cuts to the initial plans (on top of complete non-participation from one neighboring jurisdiction) forced all of the lines to pass through a single section of track through downtown SF, limiting the system's usefulness within the city, while also drastically reducing the number of trains that can travel through the system.

Worse still, BART stations are placed very far apart, and have generally not spurred any transit-oriented economic development around them. If anything, they've been an engine for further (local) traffic and sprawl. The more critically you look at BART, the more you notice all of the inefficiencies of old-fashioned commuter rail, coupled with the expense of modern rapid transit (made even worse by the fact that the Bay area already has an actual commuter rail system -- Balkanization!).

Oh, and they built the whole thing to Indian gauge. Just to make things difficult.
posted by schmod at 11:17 AM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


My favorite thing about the wikipedia article was the careful consideration they gave when assigning the new service a letter.
posted by hydrophonic at 11:18 AM on August 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


MTA executives volunteered that the letter P was rejected at a whim, as it sounds like a word. The letters U and Y were also rejected for this reason.

*Snorting soda all over keyboard*
posted by Melismata at 11:32 AM on August 2, 2012


WHY YOU PEE would be the best subway advert ever though.
posted by elizardbits at 11:38 AM on August 2, 2012


Have they not heard of "tea"? I'm sure there's a comedy routine just waiting to be written.
posted by hyperizer at 11:41 AM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


WHY YOU PEE would be the best subway advert ever though.

IT MAKE MTA SUBWAY TRAIN SO SAD.
posted by omredux at 11:46 AM on August 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


In related transit news, Atlanta voters overwhelmingly rejected a modest tax increase that would have funded desperately-needed road and transit projects in that area.

Anecdotal:

My perception since moving to Atlanta several years ago, is that mass transit has a perception problem. Aside from a few enlightened urbanites, the MARTA and especially buses are seen as "unsafe", and only to be used by poor people. While owning a car is traditionally an American symbol of class status, it seems more magnified in the Atlanta area, where owning any sort of car puts you a step up from those who have to ride the bus.
posted by Fleebnork at 11:52 AM on August 2, 2012


When I was a kid there was an apartment that housed a rotating cast of sandhogs in the building next door. They were all working on Water Tunnel 3.Tunnel 3 started in 1970 and won't be completed until four years after the 2nd avenue line. They were pretty cool guys. Guess thats it, I got nothing else about sandhogs.
posted by Ad hominem at 12:49 PM on August 2, 2012


Those are beautiful photos. I would love to be able to see a space like that first-hand.
posted by snorkmaiden at 1:03 PM on August 2, 2012


After a blast, workers spray water to settle the dust and liquid concrete to reinforce and waterproof the walls.

Use of prozeugma generates delight in NYT caption writer's mind, confusion and double-take in caption reader's.
posted by Rhomboid at 1:05 PM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Well, ok. This is cool trick #4 out of a hundred that were used to do the Big Dig in Boston.

And believe it or not, the ground is just now beginning to thaw. Which apparently is shifting the loads on the tunnels and causing leaks. Not sure if that was planned or not.
posted by backseatpilot at 1:08 PM on August 2, 2012


Can we also get Queens/Brooklyn subway links that don't require a mystifying journey back through Manhattan?

How about a link from Queens to the Bronx without a mystifying journey through Manhattan?

Ok ok stop laughing everybody. I was uhh, just kidding.
posted by tempythethird at 2:06 PM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also "value-engineer" is my favorite new euphemism for "nearly-useless thing purchased because useful thing was too expensive."

Thank you. I now know what to call the utterly useless plan for the California high-speed rail system. Value-engineered.
posted by Justinian at 2:34 PM on August 2, 2012


For all that people bag on the G train, I've actually had an OK time living off of it. (I take other trains to work, which might explain my lack of frustration.)
posted by toxtethogrady at 2:51 PM on August 2, 2012


How about a link from Queens to the Bronx without a mystifying journey through Manhattan?

you mean the seekrit whitestone bridge train?
posted by elizardbits at 3:16 PM on August 2, 2012


"WHY YOU PEE would be the best subway advert ever though.

IT MAKE MTA SUBWAY TRAIN SO SAD."

omg Y is this not a t-shirt already one of you talented people?!!!!!!!!!!
posted by Eideteker at 5:03 PM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Robert Moses does not approve.
posted by mrhappy at 6:57 PM on August 2, 2012


Brooklyn to Queens? Queens to the Bronx?

Too bad we don't have existing rail lines that we could easily convert for that purpose.
posted by akgerber at 10:23 PM on August 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'd always be looking over my shoulder for CHUDs.

And Antlions.
posted by homunculus at 11:00 PM on August 2, 2012


Robert Moses does not approve.

Which is a good thing.
posted by Rarebit Fiend at 11:51 PM on August 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Extending rapid transit into the exurbs can only take you so far, and has been pretty thoroughly discredited at this point (even though it doesn't seem to be stopping us from doing it).

Similarly, San Francisco's demonstrated the benefits of using local LRT routes, which are cheaper and more flexible than heavy rail (ie. BART). If the option is between a single BART line and several underground MUNI lines, I think most folks will vote for the more comprehensive network. That said, I've seen some studies that make me question whether or not the Central Subway is an efficient use of the city's money. MUNI also has some pretty dire management issues that it needs to sort out.

BART is pretty much the worst rapid transit system (for the money) that I can imagine. Many cuts to the initial plans (on top of complete non-participation from one neighboring jurisdiction) forced all of the lines to pass through a single section of track through downtown SF, limiting the system's usefulness within the city, while also drastically reducing the number of trains that can travel through the system.

Worse still, BART stations are placed very far apart, and have generally not spurred any transit-oriented economic development around them. If anything, they've been an engine for further (local) traffic and sprawl. The more critically you look at BART, the more you notice all of the inefficiencies of old-fashioned commuter rail, coupled with the expense of modern rapid transit (made even worse by the fact that the Bay area already has an actual commuter rail system -- Balkanization!).

Oh, and they built the whole thing to Indian gauge. Just to make things difficult.


Yeah, BART really isn't that useful for getting around SF itself. I have no use for an extension from Fremont to San Jose. If I want to get to San Jose, I already have Caltrain, because why would I go all the way around the bay to get there?

Agreed that the Central Subway might not be the best thing SFMTA could have come up with, but at least it's a major new transit project. Van Ness and Geary BRT is a great step in the right direction, but it'd be really awesome to have subways there instead. I guess while I'm dreaming I can ask for the Market Street Subway to be converted to low platforms and for the god-awful Breda LRVs to get replaced with something new from Siemens or Bombardier...
posted by spitefulcrow at 12:16 PM on August 4, 2012


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