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OpinionColumnistsMike Vogel

The prisoners of the Second Avenue subway

The MTA takes the media on a tour

The MTA takes the media on a tour of the 86th Street cavern of the Second Avenue Subway on Thursday in Manhattan. (July 11, 2013). Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

In 1972, Tony, a 24-year-old everyman, awakens to the blast of a jackhammer outside his apartment. He rushes to the window overlooking the corner of Second Avenue and 103rd Street and witnesses the groundbreaking of the new Second Avenue Subway.

The line was first proposed in 1929, when the NYC Board of Transportation announced construction from Houston Street up to Harlem, scheduled for service between 1938 and 1941. The Great Depression and poor planning cause a postponement. The new grand opening is scheduled for 1948, and Tony's construction worker dad is hoping to do some work on the line to help support his infant son, but the plan is again delayed.

Skip ahead to 1972. Tony's dad is in his mid-50s and no longer in construction, but pleased the project has finally resumed. The Upper East Side is hopelessly congested and its lone Lexington Avenue line woefully inadequate to handle the multitude of riders using it daily. But now the end is in sight. And Tony will now be able to take the new line to his job downtown.

Surprise, surprise. The sluggish 1970s economy and bungled planning again bring construction to a screeching halt.

Sorry for the delay. We should be moving shortly. It's now the 1990s, and the idea gets some traction. But it takes another decade of foot-dragging before the MTA's final environmental impact study is approved in 2004. Tony's dad is now skeptical that the line will be completed in his lifetime. "Winners give results, losers give reasons," he grumbles to Tony, who now lives at 72nd and First Avenue.

Skip ahead, delay, skip ahead. The MTA announces another groundbreaking for the Second Avenue Subway in early 2007. One year later, the MTA pleads poverty and says the plan must be revised. Meanwhile, Tony's dad, who as a young man dreamed of working on the line, dies of old age.

Skip ahead to 2014. An MTA spokesman promises the first of four phases of the line will soon be up and running, that "December 2016 is a very firm date."

Meanwhile, Tony still takes what locals call "the walk" to the Lexington Avenue line, but not for long. Tony turns 66 this year and is retiring.

Sorry for the delay. We should be moving shortly.

Playwright Mike Vogel blogs at


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