Governor Hochul’s ride on a Long Island Rail Road test train to the future $11.2 billion East Side Access to Grand Central Station made for a great photo op. Being new to her job, she missed critical details about this project.
Since 2001, the total direct cost for MTA East Side Access to Grand Central Terminal has grown from $3.5 billion to $11.2 billion today. This does not include $4 billion more for indirect costs known as “readiness projects” carried off line from the official project budget. These are the $2.6 billion Main Line Third Track, $450 million Jamaica Capacity, $387 million Ronkonkoma Double Track, $120 million Ronkonkoma Yard Expansion, $44 million Great Neck Pocket Track, just to name a few that support direct implementation for East Side Access.
The final cost will be determined by pending and future contract change orders due to unforeseen site conditions or last minute change in scope, completion of inspection and acceptance for all work to insure it conforms to contract specifications, receipt of maintenance manuals for all project components, release of retainage and final payment to more than 30 contractors. This process will take several years after revenue service begins in December 2022. Only then, will we know the true final project cost.
The promised opening service date has slipped on numerous occasions from 2009 to December 2022. The MTA has repeatedly increased the budget by billions and pushed back the first day of service by thirteen years.
Will 60,000 plus new LIRR riders, utilize the future $11.2 billion East Side Access Grand Central Terminal upon opening in December 2022? How many riders will save up to 40 minutes in commuting time depends upon how long it takes to exit followed by how many blocks they have to walk, transfer to a subway or bus before reaching their final destination.
Travel time from Jamaica to Grand Central Terminal was 27 minutes. Travel time from Jamaica to Penn Station is 20 minutes. Commuters can take the subway from Penn Station one stop to 42nd Street Times Square station and switch to the newly rebuilt 42nd Street Shuttle to Grand Central Terminal in seven minutes or less.
More people are going to continue telecommuting from home part or full time. There will be fewer face-to-face meetings and conferences, with increased usage of Zoom and other teleconference technologies. Many Manhattan based corporations continue downsizing existing office space. Others are relocating employees to suburban offices closer to home. This will clearly adversely impact the pre-COVID-19 LIRR prediction of 60,000 new riders.
Costs can go up when elected officials pressure the LIRR to meet deadlines such as the promised December 2022 completion date. Will Governor Hochul use undue influence with MTA Chairman Janno Lieber to insist start of service coincide with her upcoming June 2022 Democratic Party Primary or November General Election? Excessive overtime to contractors work force is sometimes required to support a politicians promised ribbon-cutting ceremony dates.
Was investing $11.2 billion for ESA plus $4 billion more in other support projects worth it? The verdict is still out. Time will tell over the coming years and decades.
Larry Penner—transportation advocate, historian and writer who previously worked for the Federal Transit Administration Region 2 New York Office. This included the development, review, approval and oversight for billions in capital projects and programs for the MTA, NYC Transit, Long Island Rail Road, Metro North Rail Road, MTA Bus along with 30 other transit agencies in NY & NJ.