As the U.S. Department of Transportation's inspector general said Monday he will begin an audit of the East Side Access project later this month, the head of the MTA reassured the public that the complex, overbudget construction between Queens and Manhattan will be complete by 2019. NY1's Transit reporter Tina Redwine filed the following report.
Long Island Rail Railroad trains were originally supposed to start lumbering into Grand Central Station next year, and the project was supposed to cost $6.3 billion.
On Monday, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority officially confirmed that the East Side Access project will not be a reality until August 2019. Its completion has been pushed back for the third time, and is six years behind schedule. The final cost, $8.4 billion, is more than 30 percent over the original estimate.
Asked why it was so, MTA Chairman and CEO Joseph Lhota said, "The complexity of the project as outlined in the presentation and combined with all the issues we’re finding on the Manhattan side, but most importantly on the Queens side."
On the Queens side, more than 700 trains roll across the Sunnyside rail yards through a switching area known as the Harold Interlocking. It is the busiest rail-switching intersection the country, and the construction has to be done at and below this interlocking.
The trains are from three different companies — LIRR, Amtrak and N.J. Transit — so there have also been coordination issues.
There have also been issues with contractors and problems removing debris from the site, but Lhota said New Yorkers can trust the revised start date and budget.
"This project is well on its way, it's well-planned and we're proceeding, working with our partners, Amtrak in particular, as well as the FTA [Federal Transit Administration] to make sure the project comes in as we're saying," said Lhota.
FTA officials would not comment on the revised date or budget and would only say their monthly review of East Side Access should be ready by the end of the week.
The FTA's parent agency, the federal Transportation Department, seems to be at least a little concerned about the $2.6 billion it has already sunk into East Side Access. The department's inspector general said he will start auditing the project at the end of this month.
Lhota called the federal audit "routine."