Jim O'Grady

Reporter, WNYC News

Jim O'Grady appears in the following:

Trying to Plug Big Budget Gap, MTA Asks City to Pay for 2nd Avenue Subway

Saturday, July 30, 2011

WNYC

The MTA said the city pay should pay it half a billion dollars for building the Second Avenue Subway since, the authority claims, the city stands to gain a big boost in tax revenues as property values go up around the subway after its planned opening in 2016.

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NY MTA, Desperate To Plug Big Budget Gap, Asks City To Pay For 2nd Ave Subway

Friday, July 29, 2011

The 8.5 mile length of a fully constructed Second Avenue Subway. Phase 1, now under construction, will go from E 96th to E 63rd Streets.

(New York, NY - WNYC) The NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority says the city should pay it half a billion dollars for building the Second Avenue Subway. It's only fair, the NY MTA reasons, when the city stands to gain a big boost in tax revenues as property values go up around the subway after its planned opening in 2016.

The proposal is one of nine different sources of funding the authority is counting on to plug a $9 billion gap in its $13.5 billion capital construction plan covering 2012-2015.

But Mayor Michael Bloomberg sounded unconvinced when asked on his weekly radio show about the NY MTA's idea for revenue-sharing. "Let me check," the mayor said sardonically. "I'll call our finance director and see if taxes came in yesterday."

Bloomberg said he preferred having the authority plug its budget gap with new revenue, like tolls on the East River Bridges. But that idea was most recently defeated by the New York State legislature in 2009. "We should find some ways to raise money for the MTA," the mayor added. "Something that would encourage people to take mass transit so there'd be more fare payers."

But NY MTA Chief Financial Officer Robert Foran said Albany "has no appetite for new dedicated taxes or fees."

As a result, the bulk of the NY MTA's strategy for funding the capital construction plan is to float new bonds worth $4.7 billion and obtain a low-interest federal loan for $2.2 billion. The plan has not pleased transit watchers.

The Citizens Budget Commission, a watchdog group, said it was "better than doing nothing to meet the essential infrastructure needs of mass transit. But it has a critical flaw – it proposes to borrow billions without presenting a corresponding plan for new revenues to match the increased long-run debt service burden."

Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers Campaign told WNYC that it's likely the borrowed money, plus interest, will be obtained down the road from the fare box. "I have sympathy for the MTA because it's not getting help from Albany or City Hall," he said. "But then it's turning to the riders and saying, 'Well, we'll see how this goes. There's a good chance your fares going to balloon down the road.'"

The NY MTA's capital construction plan will run out of money at the end of the year. Should the authority's funding plan not yield the billions expected of it, work on mega-projects like the Second Avenue Subway and a tunnel bringing Long Island Railroad trains into Grand Central Terminal could start to slow down by next year and, eventually, grind to a halt.

That doesn't even take into account the budgetary havoc to be wrought should some state lawmakers come through on their threat to eliminate the payroll mobility tax, which is expected to yield $1.2 billion for the NY MTA in 2012 alone. On Monday, Foran told a briefing for reporters on the budget that, "if we lose that tax, we have a big hole that we can't overcome."

And another thing. Balancing the NY MTA's budget also depends on saving $1.2 billion by convincing labor unions to agree to work three years in a row, beginning next year, without pay raises. John Samuelson, president of the 38,000 members of the Transport Workers Union, has said he’ll fight such a deal.

Foran said the NY MTA is doing its part by finding $2 billion in savings through cost-cutting measures like revamping an employee health plan, consolidating 34 data centers into three and eliminating 3,000 agency cell phones. He said funding must be found because the NY MTA's capital projects create 25 percent of all construction jobs in the metropolitan area, and are crucial to improving New York's subway and bus system.

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Connecticut's Aging Rail Technology Is Causing Breakdowns From Both Heat and Cold

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

New Haven Line train.

(New York, NY - WNYC) Performance on a major New York commuter rail line during last week's heat wave was a tale of the two states it serves. Outdated technology in Connecticut led to multiple train breakdowns and stranded passengers on the New Haven Line, which connects that state to Grand Central Terminal in Midtown Manhattan. One train stalled between stations when overhead power lines sagged and tangled, leaving passengers sweltering and stuck for almost an hour.

All the while, trains on New York tracks ran smoothly.

The NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority says that's because New York State invested early last decade in a new overhead power system that automatically takes up the slack when wires start drooping in the heat. New York also bought new train cars that held up fairly well during the Northeast's bitter and blizzardy winter of 2010-2011.

MTA spokeswoman Marjorie Anders said Connecticut did neither, and paid for it during both seasons.

The authority was forced to curtail service on the New Haven line by 10 percent in January when the old trains broke down faster than Connecticut's cramped work yards could repair them. But Metro-North's Harlem Line, which runs newer trains purchased by New York in 2000, didn't have those problems.

Similarly, New York invested in overhauling its overhead power system for trains in the last decade. Towers that hold up the wires now have counterweights that lower and tighten the wires when they sag. Connecticut has no such system. Last week, the NY MTA tried to prevent the overhead lines from tangling by ordering trains on its lines to slow from a normal cruising speed of 70 m.p.h. to 50 m.p.h. It worked in New York but not Connecticut.

Ms. Anders said the overhead wires provide electrical current by making contact with a four-foot wide metal bar on the top of a train. Last Friday's high temperature of 104 degrees caused the overhead wires in Connecticut to sag so much that they slipped off the side of the metal bar on some trains and tangled, cutting off power and halting those trains.

"It goes without saying that antique fleet and an antique infrastructure and power system is not going to perform well in any temperature or weather extremes, whether it's snow or heat," she said.

Connecticut has been trying to catch up. Governor Dannel Malloy agreed to spend $400 million dollars on new overhead wires and $750 million dollars on new train cars better suited to the cold weather. The new cars have started arriving but the new overhead power system won't be done until 2016.

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Connecticut's Aging Rail Technology Is Causing New Haven Line Breakdowns, MTA Says

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

WNYC
Outdated technology along Metro-North’s New Haven Line in Connecticut led to multiple train breakdowns – including one last Friday when a train that stalled between Westport and G...

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With Apple Store and Shake Shack, Upscale Retail Gaining a Foothold at Grand Central Terminal

Monday, July 25, 2011

A Shake Shack restaurant will be coming to this spot in the Dining Concourse at Grand Central Terminal.

(New York, NY - WNYC) Apple and Shake Shack have gotten preliminary approval to set up shop in Grand Central Terminal. The relatively upscale retailers continue the terminal's decades-long march from dingy transit crossroads to a combination of train station, ornately restored public space and glitzy retail mall.

The Apple store would occupy 2,300 square feet of a mezzanine in the Main Hall. It would not have glass walls but keep the mezzanine's open design.

The NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority's Finance Committee approved the new tenants this afternoon. If the board votes in favor of the deal on Wednesday, Apple would sign a ten year lease starting at $800,000 dollars a year and escalating to more than a $1 million a year. The move is part of the authority's drive to wring more income from its real estate holdings.

The MTA paid $5 million dollars to buy out Metrazur, the restaurant that previously held the spot. That caused some unease with New York City Transit Riders Council member Andrew Albert.

"You could probably replace every existing tenant in Grand Central with national chains because they have the ability to pay more," he said to the MTA's Director of Real Estate, Jeff Rosen. "Is that the direction we are going?"

Rosen said the MTA was committed to keep a mix of business at the terminal. He named several stores that operated only at the terminal or oa handful of other locations, including a spice shop and florist.

Shake Shack would be in the center of the lower level Dining Concourse. Its lease would be for ten years and range from $435,000 to $567,000 a year. The restaurant is known for its long lines so the MTA has already designated an area for people to stand and wait: an up-sloping ramp near the Oyster Bar restaurant.

Further unease, of a sort, was felt by board member Pat Foye, who represents Long Island. He noted that as Grand Central Terminal gets fancier, Penn Station stays the same, which he darkly referred to as "the cheeseburger gap." Foye wanted to know why the cuisine for sale at Penn Station, which serves passengers from the Long Island Railroad, was limited to simple foods like pizza and cheeseburgers while visitors to Grand Central can nosh on fresh salmon and endive salad before ascending a marble staircase to peruse iPads and Macbooks.

Mr. Rosen said the authority was looking into whether retail could be improved at Penn Station.

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Walder's Time As NY MTA Chief Marked By Accomplishments, Unfinished Business

Friday, July 22, 2011

(New York, NY - WNYC) NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority chairman Jay Walder has been poached by a private rail company only two years into his six-year term. His plans to improve the lot of the 11 million weekday riders who depend on the authority’s vast array of subways and buses, rail lines, bridges and tunnels will remain incomplete.

The sudden departure comes as many important developments hang in the balance--from completion of mega-projects like the Second Avenue subway to an impending contract negotiation with a major transit union.

With the exception of the Transport Workers Union, who issued a statement yesterday essentially saying "good riddance," the emerging consensus is that Walder was the right man to lead the authority through troubled times.

In a press release on Walder's move, the advocacy group Tri-State Transportation Campaign summed up the feelings of many in New York's government, business, transit and non-profit worlds: "His departure comes at an inopportune time."

The reason is twofold. In general, planners, advocates and business leaders liked the job Walder was doing--NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg called him "a first-rate leader with big ideas." But many have also been wondering how Walder was planning to pull off the feat of convincing NY Governor Andrew Cuomo and the state legislature to plug a $9 billion hole in the authority's capital construction and maintenance program.

That particular showdown is set for the fall. Walder will either avoid it or confront it as a lame duck with an October 21 departure date. Either way, his replacement will need to get quickly up to speed. The five-year capital program runs out of money at the end of the year.

Walder gets good grades because he largely accomplished the mandate he'd received on his appointment by former Governor David Paterson: balance the NY MTA's budget, which was $800 million in the red. And he did that without the extra funding the Paterson administration had sought from bridge tolls.

Walder did it by making draconian service cuts last year, especially to bus lines in the outer boroughs, and raising fares by 7.5 percent. Fares are set go up again next year by the same percentage. While riders felt the pain of those measures, transit watchers and business leaders gave Walder generally high marks for imposing fiscal discipline.

Not everyone approved.

Walder angered Transport Workers Union Local 100 in advance of an upcoming contract negotiation when he said labor had not "played an active part" in helping the MTA face its budget crisis. About the departing transit chief, TWU 100 had this to say on Thursday:

"[Walder] leaves New York City transit in worse shape than when he arrived less than two years ago. We will urge the Governor to appoint a new Chair who will view his workers as allies not the enemy, and a person who fully grasps the magnitude of the contribution of the public transportation system to the economic vitality of New York.”

But others praised Walder for taking once unthinkable steps, like slashing the authority's administrative payroll. As Tri-State put it: "He helped restore the agency's credibility and changed the way it does business, finding billions of dollars in savings during his tenure."

Walder arrived from his previous job as managing director of London Transport with a reputation for innovation and a willingness to tackle big projects. He told WNYC during his first days on the job that, "I would love to bring some of the innovation of London to New York." In particular, he said he'd like to see countdown clocks and "a simpler fare-paying system."

Today, countdown clocks are up and running in 161 subway stations, with 18 more expected to get them by the end of the year. But simpler fare-paying--turnstiles that open with the wave of a debit card--is still in the pilot stage. The most optimistic roll-out date for a successor to the Metrocard is 2015.

Walder also introduced real-time bus tracking projects and oversaw two redesigns of the NY MTA website--riders can now check the service status of a subway, rail or bus line from a more user-friendly NY MTA homepage. And he made available much of the authority's long-secret data to software developers, who've started churning out mobile apps that do things like show commuter line schedules or help riders choose the subway car that will get them closest to their station exit.

In leaving the NY MTA for MTR, Walder will be jumping from the world's largest public transit system to a private rail company, albeit one that made a reported net profit of $937 million in 2009. As he readies his exit, we'll excerpt the musings of Benjamin Kabak, the voice of a savvy transit blog called Second Avenue Sagas:

"As the news sinks in...I can’t help but feel as though Walder is leaving before the job is done....Walder was the best and most knowledgeable MTA head during the past few decades, and his departure is clearly a blow to the MTA and those fighting for better transit in the New York City area."

 

 

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Walder's Time as MTA Chief Marked by Fiscal Discipline, Unfinished Business

Thursday, July 21, 2011

WNYC

Metropolitan Transportation Authority chairman Jay Walder abruptly announced his resignation Thursday after just two years into his six-year term — and though he was considered a shrewd fiscal disciplinarian his departure comes as many important developments hang in the balance, from completion of mega-projects like the Second Avenue subway to an impending contract negotiation with a major union.

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What Would Have Happened if East River Bridge Tolls Were Still in Effect?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Former NYC traffic commissioner Sam Schwartz hands a symbolic 1911 dime to a "toll taker" on the Manhattan side of the Williamsburg Bridge. (Photo by Jim O'Grady)

(New York, NY - WNYC) In the summery glare of a July morning, transportation advocates drove antique cars to a wooden toll booth they'd set up on the Manhattan side of the Williamsburg Bridge. Among them, in bow tie and straw hat, was former New York City traffic commissioner Sam Schwartz. He eased his roadster to the booth, stopped and pointedly proffered a dime to pay a toll that had been abolished 100 years ago to the day.

That was the last year anyone paid to cross the city's four East River Bridges. Schwartz and his allies in Transportation Alternatives and The Straphangers Campaign, say it's time that changed.

They said eliminating the tolls has cost the city $31 billion in inflation-adjusted revenue, part of which could've been used to maintain the Williamsburg Bridge.

"Every one of those steel beams is new," Schwartz said, gesturing toward the bridge, which underwent a top-to-bottom renovation lasting more than a decade and finishing not long ago.

Those new beams on the Williamsburg Bridge replaced old ones that had become so corroded by the 1980s, the city closed the bridge down. At the same time, the Manhattan Bridge was shaky enough that trains were prevented from crossing it. On the Brooklyn Bridge, a cable snapped and killed a tourist.

It was only then that the city paid for repairs to all of the East River Bridges.

Schwartz says if bridge tolls hadn't been discontinued by Mayor William Gaynor in 1911, who thought the dime payment was too much of a burden, the city would have had enough money for bridge maintenance and major infrastructure projects like the Second Avenue subway.

East River Bridge tolls met their most recent defeat in 2009, when then Lt. Governor Richard Ravitch proposed a bailout plan for the financially strapped NY MTA that included East River bridge tolls and a tax on employers in the suburban counties surrounding New York. Ravitch argued that it makes no sense that some East River's crossings collect tolls--like the Midtown Tunnel and the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge (formerly the Triborough Bridge)--while the Queensboro, Willamsburg, Brooklyn, and Manhattan Bridges do not.

But his plan met stiff opposition in the then-Democratically-controlled State Senate. Rather than bailing out the MTA, senators argued that the MTA was too wasteful to justify a bridge toll hike. In the end, the legislature rejected Ravitch's toll proposal, much as it rejected congestion-pricing a year earlier. Elected officials, like Mayor Gaynor a century before them, saw no reason to burden drivers.

Governor Andrew Cuomo has shown little predilection to support additional fees for drivers (check out his remarks against congestion pricing during the campaign) and the Republican State Senate hasn't either. The see as their constituency men like the driver of a dark blue late-model American car, who was in too much of a hurry to give his name as he waited for the light to turn and cross the Williamsburg Bridge to Brooklyn. Through his rolled-down window, he said: "No, no, no, no. No tolls. None. None whatsoever."

He was feet away from the vintage automobiles and advocates demonstrating for a return of the tolls. But on policy, as befits the divide between drivers and transit riders, he was miles apart.

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Lamenting the Loss of East River Tolls, Advocates Hearken Back to Days of Yore

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

WNYC
Transportation advocates drove antique cars to a wooden toll booth they had set up on the Manhattan side of the Williamsburg Bridge Tuesday morning — lamenting the loss of East Rive...

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WiFi And Dial-tones Coming to NYC Subway Platforms...S l o w l y

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

(Photo by AZY_NYC / Flickr)

(New York, NY - WNYC) WiFi is coming to NYC subway platforms, but not for another four years -- and there will be no connectivity in tunnels.

The subway station project was delayed for nearly three years while Transit Wireless, the company chosen to set up the system at no cost to the NY MTA, got its financing in order. The authority's board selected the company in 2007 but didn't give it a "notice to proceed" until Broadcast Australia decided to back the company in July 2010.

New York City straphangers are of two minds about the lack of WiFi and cell phone service in the subway. They see it as either a galling void or a sanctuary from modern life's near-constant connectivity.

There's something for both sides in the NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority's current project to bring the internet and phone use underground.  For those who want the service because it'll help emergency responders communicate and help riders use transit apps on their mobile devices--or because they absolutely MUST check their emails or headlines--they'll have it at three stations by the end of the year.

For those who don't want to hear a stranger discuss his grocery list at high volume, it'll be a full four years before the system's remaining 271 platforms are wirelessly enabled.

First to see the service will be the platforms, stairs and mezzanines of the 14th Street stations at 8th and 6th Avenues and the 23rd Street C / E station in Manhattan.

Transit Wireless will charge telecom companies for use of the wireless signal and then split the profits with the MTA. The authority says it expects to earn at least $30 million dollars over ten years from the deal.

The NY MTA also says there will be WiFi and cell phone service in a non-subway tunnel -- on its Metro-North commuter line between 97th Street and Grand Central Terminal, and in the terminal itself. The authority wouldn't give a completion date for that project.

NY MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan said the main benefit would be improved safety on platforms. “We send out real-time email, text message and Twitter alerts to our customers in the event of an emergency or other service disruption,” he said. “Having cell service in our underground platforms expands the reach and usefulness of those alerts.”

 

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NYC DOT Says New Sensor System Will Help Move Midtown Traffic

Monday, July 18, 2011

Mayor Bloomberg and NYC DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan and Administrator of the Federal Highway Administration Victor Mendez unveil Midtown Moving at the city's Traffic Control Center in Queens. (Photo by Jim O'Grady)

(New York, NY - WNYC) Midtown traffic jams can now be eased with the touch of a button. That's what New York City officials promised as they introduced new traffic cameras, E-Z Pass readers and microwave motion sensors to 23 Manhattan intersections.

Mayor Bloomberg and Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan unveiled the new system at the city's Traffic Control Center in Queens, where information gathered by the sensors is wirelessly transmitted. Mayor Bloomberg explained that traffic engineers can use it to spot congestion choke points and then: "They can sit there and touch buttons to turn a light green quicker, leave it on green quicker, leave it off green quicker, whatever the case may be."

The system is called Midtown in Motion. It covers about 110 square blocks, from Second to Sixth Avenues and from 42nd to 57th streets. The area is equally famous as a global business center and a grid that acts on weekdays like a glue trap for traffic.  Sadik-Khan even cracked that to reach certain locations in Midtown during rush hour "you have to be born there."

Mayor Bloomberg said chronic traffic congestion costs the city's economy $13 billion a year for things like extra time needed to make deliveries.

That's a problem the Mayor previously tried to solve through congestion pricing, which was supposed to reduce the number of vehicles on the streets and ease traffic jams by assessing motorists a fee for entering parts of Manhattan during peak times.  But the program failed to gain support in New York State's legislature.  "Who knows whether the legislature is ever going to approve congestion pricing," Mayor Bloomberg said today, before noting that the traffic flow system that just went online could be used for congestion pricing, should its political fortunes reverse.

He said the new technology will give engineers the ability to respond quickly to "crashes, construction, special events like the UN General Assembly and times when congestion saturates the network, causing backups that block cross streets and crosswalks." Previously, traffic signals only could be set to preset signal patterns based on the time of day.

The program also involves the installation of new turn lanes at 53 intersections. Mayor Bloomberg said if Midtown in Motion is successful, the system will be spread by 2013 to the rest of New York's 12,500 signalized intersections, half of which are already digitized and integrated with the traffic management center.

The real-time traffic flow information will also be made available to motorists and to app developers for use on mobile devices. The project cost $1.6 million, with $600,000 coming from the Federal Highway Administration.

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City Says New Sensor System Will Help Move Midtown Traffic

Monday, July 18, 2011

Midtown traffic jams can now be eased with the touch of a button, according to city officials who hope a battery of new traffic cameras, E-Z Pass readers and microwave motion sensors installed at 23 Manhattan intersections will help prevent congestion.

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Reconstructed Fulton Transit Center, Partly Damaged on 9/11, Starts Opening

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Looking up from below-ground through the frame of partially built oculus tower at the Fulton Transit Center. (Photo by Stephen Nessen / WNYC.)

(New York, NY - WNYC) At one time it was hoped that the $1.4 billion expansion and reconstruction of the Fulton Street Transit Center, partly damaged in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, would be done by the tenth anniversary of that day. That won't happen. But steady progress is being made on the much-delayed project, including the scheduled opening in the next two months of a new entrance and restoration of service to a closed portion of the Cortlandt Street station next to Ground Zero.

The sprawling underground complex is Lower Manhattan's primary transit crossroads. It has long been known as a good place to connect to different subway lines--if you can figure out how to do it. The center is a multi-leveled labyrinth connecting previously private subway systems not built to be compatible. A primary thrust of the project is to detangle it.

Workers prepare stairways for new tiles. (Photo by Stephen Nessen/WNYC)

To show how that was going, the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority invited a WNYC reporter to don a hard hat and take an escorted look at the busy underground construction site.

It's an organized mess.

Shadowy caverns contain patches of muck and puddles that workers wearing reflective vests splash through. Cement mixers turn lazily as heavy metal blasts from a boombox.

Parts of the complex are impressive. The new Dey Street underpass will connect the center's main entrance building, which is a block south of City Hall Park, with the World Trade Center. It's a huge tunnel that the MTA says will be lined with digital screens showing train information, ads and artwork. That's a big change from what the Fulton Street station has always been: dark, cramped and crowded.

New tile work under construction. (Photo by Stephen Nessen/WNYC)

The grandest element is a fifty-foot glass tower over the main entrance that is to be topped by an oculus--a set of prisms to deflect natural light down to some of the subway platforms. The MTA seriously considered scrapping the tower in 2008 when the project went over budget. Then along came the federal stimulus and the tower was restored.

It was weirdly pleasing to stand two stories the street level on a future subway platform and look up through the steel framework of a tapered tower and see, above the high top of a construction crane, clouds scudding against blue sky.

When the center is all done and linked up with a station for the PATH Train to New Jersey under the World Trade Center--some time in 2016--visitors will be able to walk underground from the Winter Garden on the edge of the Hudson River to the William Street subway stop, about six blocks from South Street Seaport on the East River. That's about three-quarters of a mile.

The PATH Train to NJ is this way. (Photo by Stephen Nessen/WNYC)

Riders will have access to eleven subway lines, same as before. But the MTA says the warren of poorly lit passageways will be more open and straightforward. There should be less crowding and more space for the 300,000 people they expect to move through the Fulton Street Transit Center every weekday. That'll be a good day for downtown Manhattan, where 85 percent of all trips are made by mass transit, many of them using the center.

The project, begun in 2004, has been notorious for delays. Michael Horodniceanu, president of capital construction for the MTA, said part of the problem was the complexity of a task like building new station space under and around the 123 year-old Corbin Building, a nine-story landmark made of brick that will be incorporated into the main entrance. Horodniceanu said the Corbin Building's foundation had to be disassembled and rebuilt without using heavy machinery.

"It was done the old-fashioned way with a  pick and shovel," he said. "People went down 30, 40 feet with buckets pulling out stuff. Then we filled it with concrete."

Old brick work uncovered during renovations beneath the Corbin Building on Broadway. (Photo by Stephen Nessen/WNYC)

And he said management of the project was flawed at the start. The MTA looked for a company to do every part of the enormous renovation on tight deadlines. Only one company bid and, when it got the job, soon started falling behind. Horodniceanu said when he came into his position in 2008, he broke the project up into parts, set what he called "realistic" deadlines and attracted multiple bidders.

Now the project seems on track. The MTA's part of it should be done by 2014.

To see more photos in a vivid slideshow of the project, go to WNYC.

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Look | Sneak Peek at the Fulton Street Transit Center

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Look WNYC got a look at the a half-mile long connection hub known as the Fulton Street Transit Center, which isn't expected to be completed until 2016. The renovation process has unc...

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NY Transit Museum Seeks Artifacts To Mark Grand Central Terminal's 100th Birthday

Monday, July 11, 2011

(Photo by: MightyBoyBrian / Flickr creative commons)

(New York, NY - WNYC) Grand Central Terminal's 100th birthday is eighteen months away. But The New York Transit Museum is putting the word out now that it's looking for memorabilia to mark the event.

NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority spokeswoman Marjorie Anders says the museum has many artifacts from New York's bus and subway systems but relatively few from Grand Central Terminal and its trains. That's because old lines like Conrail and Penn Central are either defunct or have been merged into Metro-North.

"The stuff that we're interested in displaying is from an era that's gone," she said. "It's from railroads that no longer exist."

Anders says the museum is seeking anything from a conductor's cap to a baggage cart. But it's especially interested in remnants from the middle of last century, when train travel was more elegant. In those days, Grand Central Terminal had rocking chairs in its ladies rooms and potted palms in its waiting areas. And passengers arriving on The 2oth Century Limited from Los Angeles stepped off the train onto a red carpet.

Anders says current and former workers who may have helped themselves to old railroad items will be forgiven--as long as they loan or donate them to the exhibit.

That includes Harry Kelly, who has worked at Grand Central for 38 years. In the 1970s and 80s, he updated arrival times on the terminal's sign boards using information sent to him from a dispatcher via telautograph machine. The dispatcher wrote with a pen that sent a signal through a telephone line and moved a pen across a sheet of paper in Kelly's office--like an early fax machine.

Then came computers to do that job. Kelly recalls that after that, a supervisor called him in and said, "Harry, do me a favor. Get rid of these old telautographs." Kelly tossed out about thirty of the devices before it hit him: "I'm not a big collector but this was something that I used for many, many years. So I held onto one."

Kelly will be loaning the salvaged machine to the exhibit.

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Museum Seeks Artifacts From Golden Era to Mark Grand Central Terminal's 100th Birthday

Monday, July 11, 2011

WNYC
Grand Central Terminal's 100th birthday is 18 months away, but the Transit Museum is putting the word out now that it's looking for memorabilia to mark the event — and is especially...

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Photo Contest Bares Best and Worst of NYC Subways and Buses

Friday, July 08, 2011

A gleaming silver subway train streaked with early morning light ...

The winning entry: "Break of Day" by Sabina Porter.

...to a puddle of apparently toxic scum on a platform at a Canal Street station.  The two photos (including the top, winning entry, and nine other finalists, culled from 314 hopefuls) were sent in as part of a photo contest sponsored by New York City advocacy groups Straphangers Campaign and Transportation Alternatives.

"#sludge@canal" by Lucas Romero

One photo confirmed Susan Sontag's observation in On Photography that our image-saturated world puts us in "chronic voyeuristic relation" to others, like this tender young couple:

"Private moment" by Joshua Gross.

And with those who are ready to pose:

"Self-Expression Underground" by Joanna Oltman Smith.

Then again, living in a city means coming across strangers having a personal moment in public. And sometimes that person is us. Should that moment involve some kind of danger underground, here's hoping your life-line is better equipped than this one:

"Reassuring? Not so much!" by John Wehmeyer.

The contest proved that to see weird or even lovely stuff on a commute, all you need do is look around. Then whip out a camera-phone, assuming there's room enough on platform or train to raise the arms and shoot.

"Disruptions, Service Change, Fare Hikes, It's NYC MTA" by Carlos Sabater.

The two winners each received a 30-day unlimited MetroCard, that they might spend more time in the phantasmagoria that is the city's transportation system.

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Neither NY MTA Nor NYC Eager To Pay For Trans-Hudson Power Cable

Friday, July 01, 2011

Schematic for a new power cable to New York City. (Photo by Hudson Transmission Partners)

(New York, NY - WNYC) The New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the City of New York--the two largest energy users in the Northeast--are balking at a request by the New York Power Authority for help in building an $850 million transmission cable under the Hudson River.

The transit agency, for one, doesn't think the payments are worth it.

The Power Authority asked the MTA to invest $64 million dollars to get the cable up and running. But, according to MTA documents, the agency determined it would probably never get that money back. That's because the Power Authority would have to break even on the project before reimbursing its governmental customers. And the officials even doubted the Power Authority's claim that the cable will lower the MTA's energy costs.

The MTA board tabled the matter in May. A spokesman says there are no plans to raise it again.

The Power Authority also asked New York City for an investment. But budget director Mark Page has said those talks have been at a standstill since April.

The Power Authority is a state agency that acquires energy for large governmental customers like the city, the MTA, the Port Authority of New York/New Jersey, and the New York City Housing Authority. It has asked the last two agencies to invest in the cable as well; no word on whether they've agreed.

The authority can't compel these government customers to pay out for the cable over 20 years, as it has asked of the MTA. Even so, it insists that negotiations to do just that are continuing. An authority spokesman said construction of the cable has officially begun, but would not say whether the project would be halted if the MTA and the others don't pony up the money.

The 14-mile cable, which would carry 660 megawatts from New Jersey to Midtown Manhattan, is scheduled for completion in 2013. It will be the first time the city is connected to energy sources west of the Hudson River.

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Neither MTA Nor NYC Eager To Pay For Trans-Hudson Power Cable

Thursday, June 30, 2011

WNYC

The MTA and the city of New York — the two largest energy users in the Northeast — are balking at a request by the New York Power Authority for help in building an $850 million transmission cable under the Hudson River.

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Major NYC Bridge to Undergo 15-Year Repair Job

Thursday, June 30, 2011

RFK (Triborough Bridge) at night. (Photo by smith_c19 / Flickr)

(New York, NY - WNYC) The RFK Bridge, formerly known as the Triborough, is shaped like a "Y" with a very long tail because it connects three boroughs of New York City: Manhattan, Queens and the Bronx. It opened to traffic during the Great Depression--75 years ago this month--and was the first bridge in the city designed exclusively for the automobile.

Now the old girl is feeling her age. Or for gender balance, the old boy has the engineering equivalent of rickets.

On Friday, a 15-year repair job will commence on numerous parts of the bridge: decks, ramps, roadbeds and more. Initial work on the $1 billion project will remove concrete around the Manhattan toll plaza and replace it with rubberized asphalt designed to slow water erosion and give drivers a smoother ride.

After Labor Day, the Harlem River Drive's southbound ramp onto the bridge at 125th Street will be taken down and replaced. The NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which operates the bridge, will erect a detour ramp until the new ramp opens at the end of the year.

The RFK Bridge carries an average of 170,000 vehicles per day. It is actually a complex of three long-span bridges, several smaller bridges, a viaduct, parks, administrative offices and 14 miles of approach roads.

Needless to say, drivers should expect lane closures, changes to traffic patterns and late night work crews laboring under lights bright enough to land an alien spaceship. (Should that occur, let Transportation Nation be the first to welcome our merciful overlords.)

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