The MTA has many significant projects underway across the city
In this first year of his tenure as President for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority Capital Construction Company (MTACC), Dr. Michael Horodniceanu assumed control of five “mega projects”: the Fulton Street Transit Center, Second Avenue Subway, LIRR East-Side Access into a new terminal at Grand Central, the No. 7 Subway Extension, the new South Ferry Terminal Station which opened in March, as well as security-related construction projects for the MTA. The projects total over $15 billion -- making them the most significant network expansion and infrastructure improvement program in decades.
A seasoned civil engineer, professor, author, and former New York City traffic commissioner, Horodniceanu says that while his job duties are complex, his work is “extremely rewarding.” LowerManhattan.info spoke with him about the vast logistics, construction mitigation, and ultimate benefits of the work he performs to help keep the city moving.
What’s the role of Capital Construction versus the different MTA divisions?
Horodniceanu: Capital Construction was established to tackle the MTA’s large, complex projects with totally dedicated staff, apart from the day-to-day maintenance and rehabilitation work.
The main mission of the New York Transit Authority, Long Island Rail Road, and Metro-North are to run the trains -- to move people. Our main mission is to build, without being encumbered by day-to-day operational responsibility. We have to deliver for our customers, who in this case are [the railroads]. Clearly they’re involved in the process -- they review design plans and there is an interactive relationship. But [through this separation] we can be totally focused on building a project without having to think about the next rush hour.
What’s it like carrying out so many enormous projects?
It’s challenging, but that’s why I’m here. We handle only a few projects -- there were six, now five [with South Ferry open] -- but we have a huge capital program that we are delivering with a small group of highly skilled full-time MTA employees. We also rely on consultants and contractors which provides flexibility to adapt to the program needs. This means we’re not overstaffed -- we have just enough people to run our program -- allowing us to be “lean and mean.”
|South Ferry Station opened in March 2009
Has the economic downturn changed MTA Capital plans?
The slowdown in the economy definitely affected us, but actually in a positive way. Until now we have seen constant creeping costs for all our projects -- once the slowdown came about, our projects were really being bid much more competitively by contractors. So now, at least for certain types of contracts, we are able to get bids that are within our engineering estimates, and sometimes lower than that. When speaking of projects that call for specialized know-how, like tunneling, that’s not been our experience -- those prices are holding because there are fewer qualified bidders for this type of work.
How was the Fulton Transit Center construction repackaged?
I’ll recount history because I was not here [at the time]. When the construction contract for the Transit Center was bid in December 2007, everything was combined within one package -- it was an all-or-nothing bid. We received one bid, and it was significantly higher than our estimates and based on a very aggressive schedule.
So it was repackaged in such a way to provide for more competition. That meant all of the moving parts -- and there are many in this particular case -- were divided [into separate contracts]. We started with the R/W station, where we need to rebuild the platforms -- the southbound is very much related to the east bathtub for the World Trade Center (WTC) site. Then we have the A/C mezzanine, the new entrance at William Street, the 4/5 station rehab with the Dey Street Headhouse, the restoration of the Corbin Building and the Transit Center building. Of course, prior to all of these we started with the contract, underway since December 2008, to build the foundation of the Transit Center building.
Where does the construction stand now?
At the main building site, the piles are done and both pile rigs are gone. We awarded the A/C mezzanine package to Skanska -- that’s the longest contract of all [at 40 months] and we put a shovel in the ground for that work late last month. We also awarded the contract for the 4/5 rehab and the Dey Street Headhouse package.
We expect to have all of the rest of the packages to complete the Fulton Street Transit Center project ready to bid by the beginning of next year.
|Work beneath Dey Street
Are you planning to build yourself an office in the Corbin Building?
It’s an interesting space…but I don’t know what’s going to be in it. I am, in this case, just a builder, a rehabilitator. [Our work there] includes the historical restoration of the exterior, roof, windows and the interior staircase, including new electrical and mechanical systems. The building has a double basement and upside-down arches to withstand the hydrostatic pressure due to the high water table. We’re currently underpinning the front of the building and we’re trying to touch only what is necessary. It’s truly an amazing building.
How are you coordinating Cortlandt R/W reconstruction with the Port Authority, which is on the other side of the WTC retaining wall?
We have an agreement with the Port that, because the station is on the other side of the WTC construction tub, we will review their design and construction plans as we continue to coordinate with their work. The northbound side of the station is currently being reconstructed and will re-open by this year end. The southbound side of the station will re-open by September 2011. Re-opening the southbound side of the R/W station is more complex because it is impacted by WTC construction.
Does your team have to do a lot of coordinating with other agencies?
Well we have to work with [the city Department of Transportation] a lot, because our construction requires comprehensive maintenance and protection of traffic plans (MPT) to keep traffic moving while we build. With the Fulton project, we’re not impacting traffic that heavily because further down, Broadway is constricted by the police security checkpoint narrowing at Cedar. In fact one may look at it as a mitigating measure because it allows [traffic lanes to be reduced further north before the checkpoint.]
Now that the new South Ferry terminal is open, do you have to think about it at all anymore?
I just came from a meeting about it! South Ferry is done, yet we need to achieve an administrative stage of “substantial completion,” which will occur this September. The station is open and “beneficial use” is there, although according to the administrative definition of substantial completion, manuals and other administrative items need to be finalized to reach this stage.
What stands out about the new South Ferry?
This one is different from all the other stations in the system. First of all, it’s not a station, it’s a terminal -- the trains end and start there. Then if you look at the ferry terminal and the buses there, it is actually an intermodal hub. You have water, rail and buses at one location, and actually the bike lane is just next to it. It’s a true intermodal terminal. Once [Peter Minuit] Plaza is finished, that will kind of articulate the whole system into one. So that’s a pretty neat thing, and it’s a first in the system.
And the station itself…has some special things that other stations do not have. It is air-tempered, and that makes a difference by keeping the station cooler than it is outside during the summer. The walls have a more modern design with white glazing, it’s bright and inviting. The artists’ designs for the station really bring the park above it into the station -- it’s a nice integration between the two. It’s also one of the first times we incorporated historical artifacts into the station. This is the area where New York started; this is New Amsterdam, and a portion of the historic Battery Wall uncovered during construction is on display right in the station.
How do other cities like Paris and London afford such costly upgrades to their subway systems?
To begin with, their sources of funding are pretty stable. They’ve had the payroll tax as a source of funding for a long time, and it was just recently introduced here as a new source of funding for the MTA. They’ve found that it’s the most reliable source partly because it’s inflation proof -- salaries change, the percentage of that tax stays the same. And interestingly, over there the percentages are different from region to region depending on certain factors. In France they also have direct subsidies… The funding struggle is common to transit systems all over the world and I think it will be interesting to see how new sources are realized.
The federal stimulus dollars that came in…
Great dollars. That’s what helped us push the Fulton Transit Center project forward, as well as funding for Second Avenue and East Side Access, so this was for us a very important source of funding.
What are some of the challenges of overseeing $15 billion in capital projects?
It is, quite frankly, extremely rewarding. As an engineer, there’s nothing more exciting than to see mega projects completed. This summer I was just in Sicily, and visited Agrigento, where the Greeks built these incredible temples 2,500 years ago. One stands there and wonders how they hauled these huge columns and carved them -- how did they do it?
I hope that our work will be looked upon by generations to come similarly. If one visits the caverns of our mega projects and sees the huge open spans and the tunnels that we’re digging -- all while everything aboveground is moving along without ever knowing that we’re digging tunnels to make room for an additional station under Grand Central. You cannot help but be in awe. It’s exciting and rewarding to be part of it.
What do you think the downtown community should know about the MTA’s downtown capital projects?
One of the things that you should know is that the Fulton Street Transit Center project is not something that you have to wait until the end to enjoy its benefits -- they are rolled out as they are completed, at the end of this year with the opening of the northbound platform of the Cortlandt R/W, and others following in 2011 and 2012, with the crown jewel [main building] opening in 2014. And we’re tracking it very closely because I am committed to meet the budget and schedule as presented to the MTA Board this past May.
|With the stimulus funds, the transit center moves forward