A $2.4 million indoor garden with cafe chairs and tables and a waterfall backdrop is the latest construction job unveiled amid the nearly $11 billion, long-awaited East Side Access project that will connect LIRR riders to Grand Central Terminal.
Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials at Tuesday's 50th Street Commons "pocket park" opening ceremony had no qualms saying the 2,400-square-foot garden is an appeasement to a sometimes frustrated riding public that has seen the East Side Access project's cost escalate from it original $6.5 billion amid years of construction delays.
"We are unveiling it because it is ready and the public deserves this oasis and it is useful to the community," said Michael Horodniceanu, president of the MTA Capital Construction, which is building the East Side Access project.
A granite floor and walls surround the tables, seats and benches and the garden of trees and flowers that includes an overhead trellis of vines. The park is between Madison and Park avenues on 50th Street and can accommodate 40 people on a lunch break.
"We have created this pocket park oasis for the community with a space we did not need and brought it back to the public," Horodniceanu said.
The waterfall is designed to camouflage the hissing sound of a $97 million ventilation system and cooling towers that were built at the location to provide air-conditioning to the new LIRR concourse below. The system also will provide emergency ventilation to the new tunnels in case of fire and smoke.
The park abuts an underground loading dock for trucks delivering goods to shops and restaurants in the new LIRR concourse.
Sounding upbeat about the progress of the project, Horodniceanu said it will be completed at the end of 2022. "We are on target to do that," he said.
However, earlier this year Newsday reported that the Federal Transportation Administration estimated that the project could not be completed until September 2023. The project started in 2001 and was expected to be finished by 2019.
When completed, officials expect 162,000 daily riders will use the new terminal, which is touted by officials as one of the nation's largest transportation projects. It includes 11 miles of underground tunnels connecting Queens to Manhattan's East Side with an eight-track terminal beneath Grand Central Terminal.