2015-10-07 / Front Page

East Side Access

To The Editor:
A recent announcement by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority that Amtrak is responsible for additional delays on the progression of Long Island Rail Road East Side Access to Grand Central Terminal project only tells part of the story. Intelligent Long Island Rail Road riders may now have to wait until 2023 or later for East Side Access to begin actual service into Grand Central Terminal. There is a $14 billion shortfall in funding for the original proposed $32 billion 2015 - 2019 MTA Capital Program. It was only last September 2014, that the New York State MTA Capital Program Review Board rejected the proposed $32 billion 2015 - 2019 MTA Five Year Capital Plan. Eleven months later the proposal is still $14.1 billion short.

The MTA recently announced a revised $28.8 billion version which still needs to be submitted and approved by the MTA CPRB. This could result in postponing more work and funding into the next 2020 - 2024 MTA Capital Program for completion of East Side Access.

MTA Capital Construction Company which is in charge of building East Side Access is counting on $2.571 billion in funding under the proposed $32 billion 2015 - 2019 MTA Capital Program. $1.785 billion of the $2.571 billion is programmed to be needed for contract commitments in 2015. As delays in confirming that this funding is in place continue, the odds increase for postponing more work and funding into the next 2020 - 2024 MTA Capital Program for completion of East Side Access. There are contracts for work in the new LIRR Grand Central Terminal, tunnel tracks, elevators and escalators scheduled to be advertised and awarded in 2015. These can't proceed until funding is found and approved. Any delays will impact both the project schedule and budget.

Experienced LIRR riders take advantage of existing options already available. Transferring at Woodside for the #7 express subway will take you to Grand Central Terminal in 15 minutes. This is 5 minutes more than staying on to Penn Station or change at Queens Boro Plaza from the # 7 subway for either the N or Q subway which will take you to 59th Street & Lexington Avenue in even less time. LIRR passengers disembarking at either Hunters Point or Long Island City can transfer to the #7 subway and arrive at Grand Central Terminal in under five minutes. There is also a ferry at Long Island City with connections to 34th Street, Wall Street and other destinations. Another option for LIRR rides is to change at Jamaica for the E subway line. The E line will take you to 53rd Street and Lexington Avenue. You can also change from the E line to the F line at Union Turnpike. The F subway line takes you to 63rd Street and Lexington Avenue. You can also change from the E line to the R line at Queensborough Plaza. The R line will take you to 59th Street and Lexington Avenue.
Until the 1970s, both LIRR and New Jersey Transit riders exiting east at Penn Station had a direct underground passageway known as the Hilton Corridor. It was also known as the Gimbel's passageway. Gimbels was Macys chief competitor at Herald Square. This provided a simple indoor connection to the 34th Street Herald Square IND and BMT subway, along with Port Authority Trans Hudson (PATH) station complex.

Further, there was an underground passageway along 6th Avenue which went as far north as 42nd Street. As a teenager, I remember avoiding the rain and snow by using this indoor path. It would provide easy access to both the main branch of the New York public library and long gone Stern’s department store on 42nd Street.

Both passageways were closed many decades ago by New York City Transit and the LIRR, due to security issues. If reopened today, commuters would have easy connections to the Broadway N, R & Q and 6th Avenue B,D, F & M subway lines along with the PATH system – rather than walking outside on the street exposed to both inclement weather and heavy vehicular traffic.

By using either the subway or walking (most New Yorkers can manage walking a few blocks to work and we could all use some healthy exercise), riders would have direct access via these subway lines to midtown or the East Side of Manhattan along either the Broadway, 6th Avenue, 42nd, 53rd, 59th or 63rd Street corridors, served by numerous subway lines and stations.

How disappointing that the old Hilton corridor, which previously provided transit options for thousands of rush hour commuters continues to lay dormant after so many decades.
Consider transit riders disappointment that a proposal submitted by one of New York City’s developers, Vornado Realty Trust, to pay for construction to reopen the old Hilton Corridor, also known as the Gimbel’s passageway was never completed.

They had offered to do this in exchange for a city zoning variance to construct a high rise office building at 7th Avenue and 32nd Street. While the zoning variance was approved, Vornado Realty Trust never moved forward with construction of a high rise office building. This was due to a weak market for potential renters.

This connection could probably be restored in several years for less than the cost of one individual East Side Access construction contract or several of the larger construction contract change orders. Vornado Realty Trust estimated that the cost for reopening this 800 foot indoor corridor would be under $150 million dollars. The Vernando Trust developers proposal to reopen and widen it from some points where it narrows to 9 feet for $50 million. Converting the total length to 15 feet wide could cost up to another $100 million. Diogenes is still searching for an elected official or MTA Board member to step forward and suggest adding this project for $150 million to the proposed MTA Five Year 2015 - 2019 Capital Program.

Since 2001, the total direct cost for East Side Access has grown from $3.5 to $10.8 billion today. The real cost is easily closer to $14 billion, when other items which are considered indirect and carried off line from the official project budget are included. These are financing charges ($600 million), additional capacity improvements at Jamaica LIRR station, ($450 million) along with numerous capital improvements east of Jamaica. They include construction of additional parking at numerous stations, new bus services to stations, construction of new stations, completion of the Ronkonkoma branch double tracking between Farmingdale and Ronkonkoma ($450 million), Main Line Third Track between Floral Park and Hicksville ($1.5 billion), new pocket tracks on other branches, new storage yards and other capital projects which will support implementation of East Side Access
Larry Penner
Great Neck

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