Building Big – East Side Access for the LIRR

One hundred and forty feet below Grand Central Terminal sandhogs have excavated caverns spacious enough to dock a Carnival Cruise ship. The caverns will eventually support eight tracks and four platforms to handle Long Island Rail Road trains carrying upwards of 160,000 daily commuters to and from Manhattan’s East Side. This enormous construction project will cost over $8 billion when completed. It will redraw New York City’s commuter map by adding 7.75 miles of new tunnels that will run from Sunnyside Yards in Queens under the East River, down Park Avenue, into Grand Central, and continue down to 35th Street for a train holding yard. This big project is virtually invisible to office workers, commuters and tourists who happily continue on their way while the sandhogs blast and work in floodlit caverns below.

Dr. Michael Horodniceanu, the President of the MTA Capital Construction Company, is in charge of the project. He described the project at a CityLaw breakfast on October 14, 2011. [See the video on]. On November 8, 2011, Dr. Horodniceanu led a tour of the caverns and construction sites. From the Lower Level of Grand Central, the tour members, outfitted with vests, hard hats and muck boots, entered a subterranean world of anthropomorphic earthmoving machines and floodlit rock- and mud-scapes. Sandhogs were blasting three massive shafts for escalators that will eventually descend via slopes of 60 degrees to the mezzanine and platforms below. At the lower platform level workers waterproofed and finished the cavern’s ceiling. Other workers were applying, pouring or finishing concrete walls. The subterranean work will continue probably until 2016.

The scale of the East Side Access project rivals the original construction of Penn Station or Grand Central itself, although the artistry and grandeur of those earlier projects remain unequaled. The Robert Moses era of building big may have ended forty years ago, but big public works projects can still be built: witness the Second Avenue subway, the extension of the No. 7 line, the Third Water Tunnel and East Side Access. Robert Moses famously disliked tunnels because they did not change the skyline. The subterranean infrastructure projects currently being built will not change the skyline, but they ensure that New York City will continue to be a livable city.

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