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Capital Construction Honcho: Expansion possible with popular, political will

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In an article with the online magazine TXCHNOLOGIST, (MTA) Capital Construction Chief Michael Horodniceanu talks about the projects the (MTA) is currently working on, such as the (7)<7> line extension, East Side Access, and the Second Avenue Subway (Q)(T). He also talks about a way to make the transit system less Manhattan-centric, in order to allow travel between the outer boroughs (i.e., from Bronx to Brooklyn, Queens to the Bronx) without having to go through Manhattan (Triboro RX, anybody?). All this in much more in the article, posted below.

 

Time was, building a subway line in New York City was a relatively easy, if terribly dangerous, task. Workers simply cut holes in the middle of streets then covered them up. These days, Gotham’s underground is a mess of fiber optics, century-old steam pipes and electrical lines, some mapped, some not. It’s the job of (MTA) Capital Construction President Michael Horodniceanu to scoop out yet more space for additional projects, notably: the East Side Access tunnel, which will connect the Long Island Rail Road to Grand Central Station; a western expansion of the (7) line; and the long-awaited Second Avenue Subway (Q)(T).

 

Horodniceanu, whose resume includes stints in academia and as a co-owner of the transportation consultancy Urbitran, is a man on an endless charm offensive. His job is to negotiate crises that would reduce lesser mortals to tears – shoring up buildings with shaky foundations that delay tunneling, haggling for infrastructure funding with various government agencies, allaying the concerns of Second Avenue residents who must live through the blasting campaigns. In November, a construction accident in a tunnel underneath Park Avenue killed a worker. It was an incident notable for its rarity but no less tragic on this account. We talked to Horodniceanu recently about the challenges of the job. This interview was edited for length and clarity.

 

Txchnologist: Digging the subways used to be a much more dangerous business.

 

Michael Horodniceanu: Digging the subway was terribly dangerous. The number I heard was seven people per mile died. For us, this is the first time [there’s been a fatality] and we’ve dug lots of miles of tunnels.

 

Txch: Does that speak the pressures that are attendant with capital construction projects?

 

MH: People expect, I call it, “Immaculate Construction.” We’re doing better, we’re more responsive, we’re no longer cowboys. We no longer build in open fields. When the IND was built in Queens, you put that in an open field with no interference. That doesn’t happen anymore.

 

The Second Avenue subway (Q)(T) is an example. It’s being built in the most-dense urban area in the U.S. – over 100,000 residents per square mile. The fact is, there are inconveniences. We are there for a long, long time. I come in and I set up in front of your house and I’m there for two or four years. That’s a long time to be in someone’s face. And as much as you want to make sure that nothing happens, it does happen. Bad things happen in construction.

 

Txch: You came most recently from the consulting world. How does this job compare?

 

MH: [before that] I was commissioner of all of the infrastructure work on roads for all of the City of New York. It was about $4 billion of work. Nothing compares with this because here the diversity and complexity of the work is incredible. You have, in one place, tunneling, utility work, buildings that you need to support, underpinning. You name it, you have it. When all of these things intersect with each other, the problem gets magnified.

 

Txch: In addition to crisis management you have the daily blasting of Second Avenue. So you’re on a constant charm offensive. Where are you with neighborhood relations right now?

 

MH: Look, you can always do better. I’m also realizing that you can never please everyone. I cannot stay and wait for this to stretch longer. I think what’s important is to show people that you are a human being and that you relate to their pain. We had this town hall workshop a few weeks ago and it went very well.

 

Txch: Some of your projects have been going on since the 1920s. Have you had time to think of what you’d like to do for 2050?

 

MH: Right now the challenge is to build what we have. The challenge is also to complete Second Avenue [phase one (Q)]. Second Avenue, to complete it [from 125th Street to the Financial District in Lower Manhattan(Q)(T)], will cost more than all of these projects I’ve done right now. I’m not sure right now that the funding will be available for that for the short term. I think that from my perspective my legacy ends with this project. Other people will have to take the torch and run with it after that.

 

I believe that it’s possible to continue to build Second Avenue and that’s probably the biggest two challenges that exist right now, to complete Second Avenue (Q)(T) and create a new connection to New Jersey. How they can get resolved, I don’t know.

 

Txch: What happens if Second Avenue (Q)(T) isn’t completed?

 

MH: It will be a train that starts at 96th and services the East Side between 96th and 63rd streets (Q). It resolves some of the issues that existed on the Upper East Side. I think that, to go further north would be easy. We have tail tracks that go all the way to 105th street. Then we have a five-block gap. Then from 110th to 120th streets we have a tunnel. If you build a station at 105th to 110th streets you now will have another station. So you can come from 110th Street all the way down. We will also provide the ability to go south from 63rd street.

 

It’s going to be the political will, the people’s will. The same way that No. (7) could go further south. Right now it stops at 34th but we have tail tracks down to 26th street. There are opportunities to expand the system to make it better. It’s just a matter of people’s desire to do that.

 

Txch: The Bloomberg Administration, particularly Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, has pushed to make the city livable, and pedestrian friendly and tourist friendly. Does transit have an identity in the same way?

 

MH: It is unfortunate that the (MTA) has not gotten the recognition that we deserve for the services that we provide. If you walk on the street and say (MTA), people say, “Ugh. The (MTA).” They’ll tell you about it. The fact is New York would not be what it is without this incredible underground transportation system that services 8.5 million people.

So when you start looking at it and you start thinking (MTA) provides a service that is by far not perfect but is incredible. When you take the fact that we are linking rides and the aggregate discount, in constant 1996 dollars, the average fare fell from $1.38 to $1.10 in 2011. Everybody is criticizing us, but they don’t look at the positive side.

 

Txch: What vision of the future can you offer people?

 

MH: The vision of the future is to enable people to travel reliably and conveniently. Not only for work but also for trips that are entertainment, shopping and so forth. And many people do not do that.

 

You want to start relying more on transit and less on cars. We are in Manhattan. As you move out to the boroughs, we are not doing that. If you want to go from Queens to the Bronx, it’s challenging. If you want to go from Queens to Brooklyn it’s challenging because we have a Manhattan-centric system. So the future ought to allow people to travel interborough without going first to Manhattan. Staten Island is probably better connected right now to New Jersey than to New York. We need to provide those connections in a better way.

 

It is imperative that as the population grows that we do what I call TOD – transit-oriented development – that allows people to live in one place close to mass transit so they would not necessitate the utilization of cars. My view of it is, if we are going to compete and survive we must do it by improving our mass transit.

 

Read more- The Hollower in Chief: Questions for MTA Capital Construction President Michael Horodniceanu | Txchnologist

 

Discuss!

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I'm all for making it easier to get to Bk or Bx from Queens. IT's a nice thought, but good luck getting the money for that to make a subway project out of that. If there was adequate demand, more bus lines xcould easily be set up to go between boroughs (and not just express buses, local buses, too). If the MTA did enough surveys of rider's needs and wants, they could come up with some good areas to run those buses that would actually make money. There are a lot of people that have to go from one borough to another each day for work, other than Manhattan.

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Suuuuuuuure. Look at how popular and political will provided people living in the dead zones of Brooklyn and Queens with viable and needed subway service. Which will occur first, the sun going supernova or subway lines extended to Flatlands, Sheepshead Bay and northeastern Queens?

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Not everything has to be a subway extention...

 

Buses, which

 

1. require more maintenance per unit,

 

2. carry less passengers when compared with an equal number of subway cars and

 

3. are subject to surface traffic conditions and weather related variables which affect their performance

 

 

are less economically feasible. Subways, for the most part, run pretty much on schedule and operate, with the exception of extraordinary weather/passenger related circumstances or emergencies, without stoppages and serious delays. Also, you never see a herd of trains running through a station with a "Next Bus" sign posted. :P

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Buses, which

 

1. require more maintenance per unit,

 

2. carry less passengers when compared with an equal number of subway cars and

 

3. are subject to surface traffic conditions and weather related variables which affect their performance

 

 

are less economically feasible. Subways, for the most part, run pretty much on schedule and operate, with the exception of extraordinary weather/passenger related circumstances or emergencies, without stoppages and serious delays. Also, you never see a herd of trains running through a station with a "Next Bus" sign posted. :P

 

There are other solutions as well. Include light rail in the mix.

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There are other solutions as well. Include light rail in the mix.

 

That's absolutely true; but, when studying the history of rapid transit in New York City, it's painful to read about all the misguided, imprudent and plain stupid decisions made regarding the system. At one time, one was able to take streetcars from Long Island all the way to Westchester County, making a few tranfers and paying a minimal amount in fares.Then, the braintrust operating the Transit Board decided to get rid of trolley service altogether without providing a viable replacement, tear down the Els and abandon further subway expansion. Throw in Robert Moses and his maniacal obsession to ram through parkways and expressways, who singlehandedly destroyed entire communities in the process and at the expense of further improvements in the rapid transit system.

 

The MTA is the archetype on how not to run a transit system. The agency is rife with inefficiency, waste, mismanagement and fiscal irresponsibility. The ponderous and maddeningly ridiculous bureaucratic impediments in place prevent efficient execution of any project, from replacing a damned lightbulb to completing the 2nd Avenue tunnel within reasonable time and cost.

 

In a nutshell, Mr. Capital Construction Honcho, and the pompous winbags running this racket, are full of shit. What they attempt to palm off on the public is a fantasy-inspired utopian dream filled with empty promises and equally disappointing results.

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That's absolutely true; but, when studying the history of rapid transit in New York City, it's painful to read about all the misguided, imprudent and plain stupid decisions made regarding the system. At one time, one was able to take streetcars from Long Island all the way to Westchester County, making a few tranfers and paying a minimal amount in fares.Then, the braintrust operating the Transit Board decided to get rid of trolley service altogether without providing a viable replacement, tear down the Els and abandon further subway expansion. Throw in Robert Moses and his maniacal obsession to ram through parkways and expressways, who singlehandedly destroyed entire communities in the process and at the expense of further improvements in the rapid transit system.

 

The MTA is the archetype on how not to run a transit system. The agency is rife with inefficiency, waste, mismanagement and fiscal irresponsibility. The ponderous and maddeningly ridiculous bureaucratic impediments in place prevent efficient execution of any project, from replacing a damned lightbulb to completing the 2nd Avenue tunnel within reasonable time and cost.

 

In a nutshell, Mr. Capital Construction Honcho, and the pompous winbags running this racket, are full of shit. What they attempt to palm off on the public is a fantasy-inspired utopian dream filled with empty promises and equally disappointing results.

 

Lots of harsh and tough words, but no real solutions or even hints for one. Everyone can critique, but when it comes to the action, the critics disappear. Typical. Taken in the equation of how many instances there are for the TA to deal with, as of today, it's miracle that the entity even exists in the shape it was designed to be.

P.s Misha Gorbachev too wanted to make USSR a better place, you know how it ended.

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Lots of harsh and tough words, but no real solutions or even hints for one. Everyone can critique, but when it comes to the action, the critics disappear. Typical. Taken in the equation of how many instances there are for the TA to deal with, as of today, it's miracle that the entity even exists in the shape it was designed to be.

P.s Misha Gorbachev too wanted to make USSR a better place, you know how it ended.

 

Harsh and tough? Really? Is that what you call presenting facts? What part of my skreed would you deem as inaccurate and fallacious? I related a pretty accurate synopsis of the history of rapid transit, in less than 200 words. What do you, being an expert and all, find that wasn't a statement of fact?

 

Sorry to burst your bubble, dude. I'm not Jimmy Hoffa; therefore, I don't disappear. I have more than a few solutions to put forth. Only thing, it matters squat if I do so here; no one here can do anything to implement any of them. Whatever rants and complaints posted on these boards are therapeutic in nature, allowing one to vent. Nothing more; nothing less. Nothing gets solved in a public discussion forum. The politically-appointed elitists, who aren't held accountable to the public for the way this private fiefdom is run, couldn't care less about suggestions from the "little people".

 

The MTA is responsible for creating its own monster because of the reasons I stated previously. It is solely responsible for the unfinished, unfunded and unrealized projects on the drawing boards. What you consider a miracle, as it pertains to getting anything done, is the MTA doing the absolute minimum required to justify frequent fare increases, surcharges and its own existence. What the MTA was originally created for, and its original mission, are no longer what is the present reality. It doesn't exist in any form as it was originally intended.

 

Now, why don't you explain, in concise terms, why I'm wrong, big shot.

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Harsh and tough? Really? Is that what you call presenting facts? What part of my skreed would you deem as inaccurate and fallacious? I related a pretty accurate synopsis of the history of rapid transit, in less than 200 words. What do you, being an expert and all, find that wasn't a statement of fact?

 

Sorry to burst your bubble, dude. I'm not Jimmy Hoffa; therefore, I don't disappear. I have more than a few solutions to put forth. Only thing, it matters squat if I do so here; no one here can do anything to implement any of them. Whatever rants and complaints posted on these boards are therapeutic in nature, allowing one to vent. Nothing more; nothing less. Nothing gets solved in a public discussion forum. The politically-appointed elitists, who aren't held accountable to the public for the way this private fiefdom is run, couldn't care less about suggestions from the "little people".

 

The MTA is responsible for creating its own monster because of the reasons I stated previously. It is solely responsible for the unfinished, unfunded and unrealized projects on the drawing boards. What you consider a miracle, as it pertains to getting anything done, is the MTA doing the absolute minimum required to justify frequent fare increases, surcharges and its own existence. What the MTA was originally created for, and its original mission, are no longer what is the present reality.

 

Now, why don't you explain, in concise terms, why I'm wrong, big shot.

Now where I said you are wrong, point it please. I have realized all you said was a lousy rant and I should have ignored it.

Still I believe its amazing that huge and cumbersome entity the TA is, is still out there not fractured into smaller pieces.

Do you want me to tell you why TA can't get anything done?

It's too big - The attention and money wonder all over the state, instead of being focused locally, transit would be better off with each having different budgets and independently controlled. I suspect the unification into MTA was done for easier state control, which was supposed to be good for everyone. Well there is no such thing that is good for everyone.

:tup: for "big shot" no one yet called me that:cool:

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Now where I said you are wrong, point it please. I have realized all you said was a lousy rant and I should have ignored it.

Still I believe its amazing that huge and cumbersome entity the TA is, is still out there not fractured into smaller pieces.

Do you want me to tell you why TA can't get anything done?

It's too big - The attention and money wonder all over the state, instead of being focused locally, transit would be better off with each having different budgets and independently controlled. I suspect the unification into MTA was done for easier state control, which was supposed to be good for everyone. Well there is no such thing that is good for everyone.

:tup: for "big shot" no one yet called me that:cool:

 

I was specifically responding to your "disappearing critics" remark. :)

 

:tup: for "big shot" no one yet called me that:cool:

 

Take it as a compliment. ;) :tup:

 

You are correct. The MTA is bloated; that is one of the reasons it operates in such an ineffectual manner. Whenever an entity expands beyond what one can consider self-sustaining, as the MTA was originally supposed to be, the oversized organization begins to become wasteful and irresponsible fiscally and resourcewise. The problem with the MTA was, and still is, that it started to bite off more than it can chew. It undertook more projects than was realistically able to tackle. This caused extended delays because the monies available needed to be spread out over too many things. Plus, the bidding process for outside contractors, necessary because the MTA essentially phased out most of the positions which were once filled by TA employees, has contributed to the siphoning off of capital required to fund the projects. The MTA thought it was being smart by phasing out Tier 1 and 2 positions. Outside labor costs have caused the pricetag for these projects to skyrocket way out of proportion to the actual or projected costs.

 

The supervisory manpower levels are also way out of proportion to be effective. Instead of cutting back on service-level personnel, there should be an across the board reduction in managerial (lower, mid and senior). Oversupervision can, and has been, a detriment. Reassigning managerial personnel to supervise larger groups, and to be responsible and answerable for their productivity, is a start. Top-heavy organizations are never successful in the long run.

 

Streamline the bidding process, and mandating that work be completed on schedule and within the agreed contract figures. Sure, this was done with the contract for the Williamsburgh Bridge. That job was completed ahead of schedule. The problem with that job was that the contractor received a bonus for every day under schedule. That needs to be eliminated from any future construction contracts. There is no logical reason to pay out more money than was agreed to in any bid just because it was finished ahead of schedule. The contractor is already receiving what is due. Prosecute the ones who pad on extraneous and questionable extra costs.

 

Reassess all capital projects. Determine and prioritize the projects deemed as absolutely essential for continued operations and require the most immediate attention. Stop proposing some pie-in-the-sky future dreamworks until the core of the system has been rehabilitated and can be maintained at satisfactory levels. Too many projects spread the limited available resources too thin to effect anything approaching actual improvements. Otherwise, good money is thrown in after bad and nothing will be accomplished. Fiscal responsibility and oversight from within, and by independent groups from the outside, are the keys to making this possible.

 

Having dual, and independent, oversight would cut down on mismanagement and waste. Force the MTA to open its books for public scrutiny. Make the governing board of directors take responsibilty for the financial state of this white elephant. This autonomous agency nonsense needs to be rescinded; the charter should be rewritten to make the MTA subordinate and answerable to the State Senate and Assembly. MTA exists for the benefit, and at the pleasure, of the people of New York, not the other way around. The people of this state fund this agency by way of fares, surcharges tacked on to utility bills, drivers license fees and other sources. This makes them accountable to us.

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I was specifically responding to your "disappearing critics" remark. ;)

 

 

 

Take it as a compliment. ;) :tup:

 

You are correct. The MTA is bloated; that is one of the reasons it operates in such an ineffectual manner. Whenever an entity expands beyond what one can consider self-sustaining, as the MTA was originally supposed to be, the oversized organization begins to become wasteful and irresponsible fiscally and resourcewise. The problem with the MTA was, and still is, that it started to bite off more than it can chew. It undertook more projects than was realistically able to tackle. This caused extended delays because the monies available needed to be spread out over too many things. Plus, the bidding process for outside contractors, necessary because the MTA essentially phased out most of the positions which were once filled by TA employees, has contributed to the siphoning off of capital required to fund the projects. The MTA thought it was being smart by phasing out Tier 1 and 2 positions. Outside labor costs have caused the pricetag for these projects to skyrocket way out of proportion to the actual or projected costs.

 

If you want to look at where this all started, it started with Pataki's tenure. He wanted to build grand expansions, wanted to have showcase capital program- all without wanting to pay for it. So what did he do- he just added more debt to the MTA, more debt then it can afford- and the due date for those bills is coming closer and closer. And it didn't help that he appointed people who virtually had no experience in transit- basically, they were political hacks, and that helped speed up the decline of the MTA's finances, since they had no experience in running a transit system, they just did whatever the Governor's office told them to do- grand projects without set funding in place, and now, it's killing the MTA.

 

The supervisory manpower levels are also way out of proportion to be effective. Instead of cutting back on service-level personnel, there should be an across the board reduction in managerial (lower, mid and senior). Oversupervision can, and has been, a detriment. Reassigning managerial personnel to supervise larger groups, and to be responsible and answerable for their productivity, is a start. Top-heavy organizations are never successful in the long run.

 

I agree with you on this one, there is just too much management to be the MTA to be on use. A great place to start would to consolidate the separate legal divisions in the MTA (NYCT, LIRR, MNNR, MTA Bus all have their own legal divisons) into one, unified legal division that would serve all department's-not just one. However, we can't just consolidate all departments into one, large department- because then things would get messy.

 

Streamline the bidding process, and mandating that work be completed on schedule and within the agreed contract figures. Sure, this was done with the contract for the Williamsburgh Bridge. That job was completed ahead of schedule. The problem with that job was that the contractor received a bonus for every day under schedule. That needs to be eliminated from any future construction contracts. There is no logical reason to pay out more money than was agreed to in any bid just because it was finished ahead of schedule. The contractor is already receiving what is due. Prosecute the ones who pad on extraneous and questionable extra costs.

 

The problem is, there are not many contractors willing to do business with the MTA- it's a huge risk to do so.

 

Reassess all capital projects. Determine and prioritize the projects deemed as absolutely essential for continued operations and require the most immediate attention. Stop proposing some pie-in-the-sky future dreamworks until the core of the system has been rehabilitated and can be maintained at satisfactory levels. Too many projects spread the limited available resources too thin to effect anything approaching actual improvements. Otherwise, good money is thrown in after bad and nothing will be accomplished. Fiscal responsibility and oversight from within, and by independent groups from the outside, are the keys to making this possible.

 

Compared to how the subways were in the 70's and 80's, they're in a good state. However, we need to keep improving the system, because there really are some parts of the system that desperately need work (Sea Beach, Crosstown, Myrtle, Concourse, to name a few)- and the signal system is already showing it's age constantly- some of the signals in the system haven't replaced since service began. Stations are another matter entirely (Chambers St, anyone?). However, SAS (T)(Q), ESA Fulton St, and the (7) line extension (as much as I despise the extension), are too far into the building stages to be stopped in their tracks.

 

Having dual, and independent, oversight would cut down on mismanagement and waste. Force the MTA to open its books for public scrutiny. Make the governing board of directors take responsibilty for the financial state of this white elephant. This autonomous agency nonsense needs to be rescinded; the charter should be rewritten to make the MTA subordinate and answerable to the State Senate and Assembly. MTA exists for the benefit, and at the pleasure, of the people of New York, not the other way around. The people of this state fund this agency by way of fares, surcharges tacked on to utility bills, drivers license fees and other sources. This makes them accountable to us.

 

It already is at the mercy of the state government, it terms of confirming officials to the board, and by the power of the purse- funding. And in fact, it has often left the MTA in dire straits. Pataki, as I said before, wanted big expansions, big plans- and got some of them, while at the same time, not putting up the cash for them, and putting off due date for payments until later. The due date is almost here, and we're the ones suffering, courtesy of the State of New York. Making the MTA more subordinate to the state government then it already is would push it to the limits, since it really doesn't give two shits about the state of the system- otherwise they wouldn't have cut funding and be threatening to rescind the payroll tax, which has become a vital source of revenue for the MTA. Although they did sign a transit lockbox to protected so called dedicated funding, the Governor (a representative of the people of New York, supposedly) has vetoed and instead watered it down- all while continuing to raid the MTA's funding. And the books are open to the outside world- a FOIA request is all you need. Lastly, the CBC (Citizen's Budget Commission) has found out that the MTA is one of the most efficient transit systems in the country- but for now, it is the mercy of the state of government- and that is not a good sign.

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Yeah, the Triboro RX should definitely be looked into, it's not nearly as expensive as your typical brand-new line idea.

Thats true, most of the infrastructure/ROW already exists to allow such a line to take place. Most of the proposals suggest for it to follow the LIRR Bay Ridge ROW, and this link gives more information on the proposal.

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