The East Side Access project would connect the LIRR with Grand Central Terminal on the east side of Manhattan. (Map courtesy of the MTA)
The MTA last week reaffirmed its commitment to the East Side Access project to connect the Long Island Rail Road with Grand Central Terminal by December 2022, despite an increased price tag and years of delays.
Newsday reported that MTA chief development officer Janno Lieber, the overseer of the East Side Access project, told a group of local leaders at a Long Island Association meeting there is “no more messing around with the delivery date” of the project and that “2022 is absolutely written in stone.”
The December 2022 date was first announced in June 2014, according to an MTA spokesman, and the agency expects to complete the project by the deadline.
The East Side Access project involves more than eight miles of tunneling, according to the MTA, and would provide LIRR service to the East Side of Manhattan, feature a new eight-track terminal about 50 stories underground, and serve about 162,000 customers a day.
Lieber previously outlined measures being taken to ensure projects are completed faster, including reducing the number of people needed to approve change orders from 11 to four and mapping out every action to be taken on a project.
“All of these approvals and handovers are the result of well-intended efforts to prevent things from being done wrongly or inappropriately and with the goal originally to protect the public,” Lieber said. “The problem is when you create so much process, you end up hurting the results that we all want and I think we have taken a step back and looked at it and re-engineered the change order process.”
The announcements come in the shadow of numerous delays and cost overruns for the East Side Access project, which was first estimated to cost $3.5 billion when it was proposed in the late 1990s with an estimated completion date of 2009.
Since then the expected cost of the project has more than tripled. The most recent increase came last month, when MTA representatives said the cost would rise another $1 billion from $10.2 billion to $11.2 billion.
Larry Penner, a transportation historian and advocate who had worked for the Region 2 New York office of the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Transit Administration for over 30 years, described the East Side Access development as one of the “most complex” megaprojects in the country.
And given the cost overruns, constant pushing back of deadlines and leadership changes over the years, Penner said he is skeptical it can be done by 2022 – and within the new price tag.
“A cat has nine lives,” Penner said. “They’ve blown all nine lives and there’s no reason to believe between now and December 2022 something else might occur.”
Penner also noted a litany of projects not included in the price tag but relevant to the East Side Access project, as well as competing projects like the main line third track, Second Avenue subway, and a station rehabilitation program.