Gov. Hochul vows to complete Second Avenue Subway extension

An unused subway tunnel below Second Avenue near East 112th Street.
Photo by Kevin Duggan

Governor Kathy Hochul toured the Second Avenue subway tunnels below East Harlem with transit leaders Tuesday, Nov. 23, committing to completing the long-promised second phase extension north to 125th Street before she leaves office, thanks to new federal infrastructure dollars coming from Washington, D.C.

“I love working with my partners in Washington, I’ve worked with them for a long time I know how hard they’ve worked to get this over the finish line during my administration,” Hochul told reporters after the tour on Nov. 23. “It’s going to be so exciting and I can’t wait to get started so, ladies and gentlemen, next stop: 125th Street.”

Hochul and Metropolitan Transportation Authority acting Chairperson and Chief Executive Officer Janno Lieber hope increased federal grants will allow the MTA to get shovels in the ground on the project this time next year and open the new stops for service six to eight years after that.

The $6.3 billion project will extend the Second Avenue line carrying the Q train north of 96th Street for 1.5 miles, adding three stops at 106th Street, 116th Street and 125th Street.

Gov. Hochul toured the Second Avenue Subway tunnels with MTA acting Chairperson and CEO Janno Lieber (left) on Nov. 23.Photo by Kevin Duggan

The third stop will also connect to the Lexington Avenue line carrying the Nos. 4, 5 and 6 trains and provide an easy transfer to the nearby Metro-North Railroad stop.

The tunnel below East 112th Street has sat dormant since it was built in the 1960s, but the city’s fiscal crisis of the 1970s caused the transit expansion project to shriek to a halt.

“As you can see, we are ready to go. This is 50 years old — we were ready 50 years ago,” Hochul said.

When asked by a reporter whether straphangers would have to wait another decade before the new stops open for service, Hochul said it will take “a lot less” time.

“We’ll do it in my terms of office, so it’s going to be a lot less than that,” she said. 

The first $4.45 billion phase of the extension was completed in 2017, pushing 1.8 miles north from 63rd Street and Lexington Avenue to Second Avenue and stopping at 72nd, 86th, and 96th streets, serving some 200,000 daily riders pre-pandemic.

The new project will cost $1.84 billion more than the first phase, even though it is shorter and can make use of the already-built old tunnels that stretch as far as 120th Street, an advantage the previous extension didn’t have.

Lieber said that the added cost comes from having to dig underneath the existing 125th Street station between Lexington and Park Avenues.

“[We have to] go under 125th Street station — the existing 125th Street station — build connections to that station and all the vertical circulation and systems that go with that,” the transit guru explained. “So there is a ton of work involved here.”

The tunnels have sat empty since the original subway extension was abandoned due to New York City’s fiscal crisis in the 1970s. Photo by Kevin Duggan

The MTA finished an environmental review of Phase 2 in 2018 and filed paperwork with the Federal Transit Administration in 2019, but the project stalled for the remainder of the President Donald Trump Administration, according to Lieber.

Now, Hochul is betting on the feds to pay for half the $6.29 billion cost with new federal grant money coming from President Joe Biden’s recently-signed $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill.

“[Federal officials] know this is an urgent priority of ours and we’re hoping to get approvals out before the end of 2021, but certainly not too far into 2022,” the governor said.