MTA East Side Access project is nearly $1 billion over budget
The MTA's delay-plagued East Side Access project, which was supposed to bring commuter rail service to Grand Central Station by 2016, won't be finished until 2019 and is expected to be nearly $1 billion over budget, the agency said Monday.
Still, MTA Chairman Joseph Lhota said the while agency had “constantly blown” previous estimates, he is “confident” the current budget and timeline is accurate.
“The era of underestimating public works projects is over,” Lhota said, adding that the agency was “80% certain” it could do the work under the new benchmarks. Lhota pledged to try to do the work even faster and cheaper, if at all possible.
Transit officials said there was only a “20% chance” the agency could have ever finished the job on time and within its already increased budget of $7.3 billion, blaming overly optimistic previous MTA administrations. That slim chance of success came despite an previous readjustment of the original 2013 completion date and $6.3 billion price tag. Officials said that unexpected delays and problems have stalled the project, as have unrelated transit projects in the region that have led to competition for workers and space.
They said the most challenging section of the megaproject is in the so-called “Harold Interlocking” in Queens, where 800 commuter trains pass each day above ground and four tunnels are being created directly underneath for the new service.
The Federal Transit Administration, which had warned the MTA of its concerns on cost and schedule overruns in the past, said it agrees with the MTA’s new budget and believes the agency could finish the project by September 2019. The MTA now thinks it will be done by August.
When asked if he believed that the project will be done by 2019, MTA board member Mitch Pally, who sits on the agency’s capital projects committee, said “we’ll see.” He acknowledged that board members could tell that the previous estimate “was not real, in context.”
“The numbers are obviously disappointing, but some things you can’t control,” Pally said.
The MTA has not yet figured out how it will pay for the cost overruns, saying it will address it in the next capital budget.
Bill Henderson of the MTA’s Permanent Citizens Action Committee said riders should believe the agency’s new assessment “in as far as anyone can predict the future."
“We’re talking 80% probability; we’re not talking 100,” Henderson said. “Stuff can happen.”