Second Avenue Subway, Full Speed Ahead?

The New York City subway -- vital to the economic life of the city, but a system showing its age - it hasn't seen a new line added in 60 years.So just imagine this: A clean new line providing a one-seat ride from the Bronx right down to Wall Street and Alphabet City. Its been long promised - shovels were first raised 27 years ago - but construction was stopped by the cities financial crisis - and the MTA has been unable to fund the project ever since. Now the word among diehard supporters of the Second Avenue Subway is that it will finally come to pass, and sooner rather than later. Steven Webber, of the Regional Plan Association:"I think it will happen. I think it's too important to the city. This is a trillion dollar regional economy. We are talking about a billion dollars a year. It is not too much to ask. People will need to be able to get to and from their job or they will move somewhere else." As a member of Community Board Three, Morris Fatelewicz has had a front seat at the seemingly endless parade of feasibility studies and empty promises to improve access along Manhattan's East Side. Even so, he expects to see digging underway in about five years."I look at it as a commitment from the past, something that?s owed to us, something that?s sorely needed, not just for the quality of life of the city but for the economic life."

In the meantime, he's pushing the Metropolitan Transportation Authority for more bus routes in his Lower East Side neighborhood to meet the need for public transport.That's the neighborhood represented by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. He and other political leaders - like Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields - have thrown their weight behind the second avenue subway. So has Governor Pataki. The Governor wants Long Island commuters to have access to Manhattan's East Side with a stop at Grand Central. Weber says this is another reason to get people off the existing four and five trains."These are already some of the most crowded trains in the system. What East Side access will do is add 2,000 more people downtown in the peak hours and that is two more subway trains"This isn't just about public and political pressure. Business leaders say New York needs a new subway line and, they say, it would be a great investment for the community. Steven Spinola, president of the Real Estate Board: "Creating a second avenue makes total sense. It will relieve tremendous pressure off the Lexington avenue line and it will keep lower manhattan economically viable because people can keep getting to and from work."As always, the big question is who's going to pay for this after last year's rejection of the Transportation Bond Act. Transit Authority president, Lawrence Reuter, is on record as saying that the second avenue subway is moving "full speed ahead".

But he and other major players have still to explain precisely how the state plans to fill a gap of one-point-six billion dollars in the MTA's current five-year capital plan.

From the Marketplace/WNYC business desk, I?m Patricia Willens.