What's really going on with the East Harlem branch of the 2nd Avenue Subway?

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The first phase of the Second Avenue subway line (between 63rd and 96th street) is steadily inching towards its scheduled 2016 completion, but for East Harlem residents, an end to their transportation woes is starting to look further and further away. While the MTA's five-year capital plan goes through the review process in a lead-up to a January vote, transportation officials are under fire for a $1 billion budget cut to the Second Avenue Subway's next phase, an expansion up to 125th street.

"This screams of transit inequality and economic injustice," Assemblyman Robert Rodriguez said at a press conference yesterday, as reported by DNAinfo. “There is no reason phase one should stop on 96th Street and in the shadow of public housing we can’t make the second phase go up.” Rodriguez was joined by the city Comptroller, the Manhattan borough president, and numerous city council and state assembly members who called for the money to be put back into the plan.

As for the MTA? They say the criticism is bunk, and their plans have been totally misconstrued. "We are full speed ahead. We wouldn’t be spending half a billion dollars on this project if we didn’t want to build it," said Adam Lisberg, the organization's director of communications, noting that $533 million is still set aside for continued work on phase 2 over the next five years.

The reason for the rest of the cuts, per the MTA, is that since construction won't even start on the next phase until 2019 (and a new budgeting session), it makes no sense to set aside the extra money now, while they're focusing on planning, design, and "infrastructure work" like clearing sewage lines—all of which are presumably much cheaper than construction. (As WNYC recently pointed out, even the contract for eventual tunneling won't be awarded until 2019.)

Regardless, with the final vote on the budget still a couple of months away, politicians say they'll keep the pressure on the MTA to add that billion dollars back into the budget, and for their part, MTA officials say that they're looking into ways to speed up the timeline for finishing phase 2. Somehow, we don't think this is the last we'll be hearing off all this mess.


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