MTA to tear up 5 blocks in East Harlem for Second Avenue subway

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By Dan Sears

The MTA plans to tear up five blocks of streets in East Harlem in order to keep costs down on its $7.7 billion extension of the Second Avenue subway.

Transit officials on Monday revealed they plan to use the “cut and cover” method to build a portion of the subway tunnel from East 105th Street to East 110th Street. The technique means crews will dig up the street, excavate a tunnel and then rebuild the roadway above.

The method was used for the construction of much of the city’s subways, and officials said it’s cheaper than using underground boring machines to dig the tunnels.

“This critical milestone will put shovels in the ground for the next phase of this transformative project,” Gov. Kathy Hochul wrote in a statement. “East Harlem has dreamed of transit access for decades and we’re committed to getting the job done.”

Before the MTA begins excavating the tunnels, they’ll first relocate utilities like water, electric, sewer and telecommunications lines that sit in the path of the planned subway. The agency awarded a $182 million contract for relocation of the utilities on Monday and said the work would begin next month.

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Mark Roche, who’s in charge of the project for the MTA, said the agency will begin alerting nearby residents to the construction.

“You’ll see us out there with probably too many notices,” Roche said. “We can’t tell people enough. So we have community centers built, we have people out there to tell everybody what’s going on.”

The extension of the Second Avenue subway will run 1.5 miles, and comes with three new stations: East 106th Street, East 116th Street and one that will sit 110 feet underground, beneath the existing station at East 125th Street and Lexington Avenue.

MTA officials said the southern two stations on the extension will be 40 to 50 feet underground, shallow enough to enable the MTA to use the cheaper cut-and-cover method. Tunnel boring machines will be needed to dig out the deeper station at East 125th Street

The MTA also plans to use tunnels in East Harlem that were dug out in the 1970s as part of a previous, failed effort to build the subway line.

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Roche said the stations in the extension will be smaller than the ones built for the first phase of the Second Avenue subway, which opened in 2017 at East 72nd, East 86th and East 96th Streets.

“They’re bigger than they need to be,” Roche said of the existing Second Avenue stations. “These [new] stations will be only as big as they need to be to be safe.”

But the MTA is still in a holding pattern for much of the work on the extension. The MTA needs money from its planned congestion pricing program in order to pay for the work. Officials said they would not issue any further contracts for the Second Avenue subway until a slate of lawsuits aiming to stop the congestion tolls are resolved.

“That money is necessary for this project,” MTA spokesperson John McCarthy said.

If construction begins this year, as planned, the MTA expects the three new stations could be completed sometime in the early 2030s.

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