Elliot Sander Discusses Downtown Mega Projects

A week ago today, the MTA approved their 2009 “Doomsday” budget which will feature steep fare increases & service cuts. The very next day, MTA CEO/Executive Director Elliot Sander took the time to talk about some downtown projects such as the Fulton Street Transit Hub & Second Avenue Subway. Julie Shapiro & Josh Rogers of The Downtown Express have more in this report:

Nearly one year after the Metropolitan Transportation Authority announced it had run out of money to build the aboveground portion of the Fulton Transit Center, the agency still has made no decisions about the future.

“We have a couple of different options for what’s above ground,” Lee Sander, M.T.A. executive director, said this week. “The issue is really figuring out how we pay for it.”

He did not disclose any information on the alternatives under consideration. He said he was “highly confident” something will be built above street level, but he has made similar comments throughout the year and the M.T.A. had said they would have a new plan for the site by last February.

Sander spoke to community news reporters Thursday, one day after the agency passed a “doomsday” budget calling for 23 percent fare hikes and severe service cuts next year if there is no help from Albany.

The M.T.A. displaced 140 businesses in 2006 to make way for a domed Fulton station that was to become a new Downtown landmark. But while the M.T.A. has made progress on the belowground portion of the station — beginning to untangle 12 subway lines and ease pedestrian connections — a pit remains at Fulton St. and Broadway with no plan for its future.

Sander would only say Thursday that the M.T.A. is not interested in topping the station with a commercial structure to raise revenue.

“At this point that’s not in our plans, and given the fact that we’re in the environmental planning process, I think I will leave my comments there,” he said. He was more forthcoming when asked about other projects throughout the city.

A week earlier, Michael Horodniceanu, M.T.A.’s president of capital construction, also promised the station would rise.

“It’s going to be similar to what you’ve seen,” he said of the design.

Asked if the design included the much-praised domed glass oculus, which the M.T.A. shrunk several times before saying it was too expensive, Horodniceanu replied, “We have not made a decision.”

Horodniceanu said the M.T.A. had time to finalize the plans, because work on the building cannot start until 2010, when much of the belowground construction is complete.

Sander was asked several questions about the Second Ave. subway under construction on the Upper East Side, and every time he mentioned the full build plan to extend the line to Chinatown, the Seaport and the Financial District, he used some form of the word “hope.”

He said it would be more than 10 years before it is built and he offered no guarantees that it will ever happen. It’s the fourth and last phase of the project.

“That’s phase 1, 2, and 3 away,” said Lois Tendler, vice president of community relations for N.Y.C. Transit, who joined Sander at the meeting.

Sander remains passionate about the new line but said if he has to make drastic cuts to the capital program, he would sooner cut mega-projects like Second Ave. and East Side Access, which will connect Long Island commuters to Grand Central Station, than cuts to the existing system.

“If you had to make a choice between those two, there is no choice — it is the core program,” he said.

Modernizing the 70-year-old signal system, which Sander said could increase capacity on individual subway lines by 20 to 30 percent, is also more important than the big projects.

“That is a higher priority than the megas…. We can only do so many Second Ave. subways,” he said.

Click here for the complete report.

I am a supporter of getting the Fulton Transit Center completed as it would benefit many commuters. The station is one of the most important in the system in terms of transfers to other trunk lines. The maze like setup to transfer between most lines is beyond ridiculous & is long overdue for a complete makeover. However even with all of the positives this project would bring, I have to say the Second Avenue Subway is by far the most important capital project going. One could argue it could be the most important transit project ever for our region as it could possibly have that big of an effect on the system.

I do not find it comforting to hear the word “hope” being used in terms of whether the S.A.S. will ever be completed. No matter what is going on, the MTA must make sure this project is finally completed & is built to its best possible use. The Lexington Avenue corridor is already bursting at the seams or arguably already has. How much longer can they possibly expect to handle the crowding on that corridor without some form of help. Lets hope the project does not get yet another long term nail in its coffin. No one can afford to have this happen again.

xoxo Transit Blogger

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[…] Late last year, the prospects of a completed anytime soon Fulton Transit Center seemed bleak. The MTA’s finances were spiraling out of control on all fronts & major capital projects such as this lacked a clear idea of where more funding for them would come from. Now a little over month later, the question of where funding for completing the Fulton Transit Center would come from has been answered in the form of stimulus package cash. The MTA plans on using $497 million of federal stimulus money towards the completion of the Fulton Transit Center. C.J. Huges of the New York Times has more in this report: The Fulton Street subway station might be a good spot for M.C. Escher to set up an easel, if the surrealist artist were still alive and sketching. […]

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