Wait is over for NYC subway expansion

Subway construction on 2nd Avenue in Manhattan's Upper East Side.

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Stacey Vanek-Smith: If you look at a map of the New York City subway system, you'll see one big part of Manhattan's not covered: the far east side. There have been plans in the works to build a subway line there since the 20's. But every time it's about to get built, the economy turns down and plans get shoved aside. Until now, as Jeremy Hobson reports.


Jeremy Hobson: That's the sound of subway construction deep below the high-rises on Manhattan's far Upper East Side. Despite tight budgets, it's actually happening -- the biggest expansion of the New York City subway since the 1940's.

The Metropolitan Transit Authority's Jeremy Soffin says it'll be worth the $4.4 billion price tag. And that's just for the first few stations.

Jeremy Soffin: If you put something aside every time there's a fiscal crisis, then it's an entire generation before you can pick it up again.

And he says New York needs this subway. Right now, the only line serving the entire east side of Manhattan is the Lexington Avenue Line.

Soffin: We have approximately 1.7 million trips taken on the line on an average day, which to give you some perspective, is more than the number of trips on the Washington and Chicago systems combined -- the entire systems.

Other cities hoping to expand their transit systems are having a tougher time getting funding in this economy.

Robert Puentes is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution's Metropolitan Policy Program:

Robert Puentes: The unfortunate reality is that we're facing not just cuts in service in many of these places, but they're also having to cut back on some of the expansion plans.

New York was lucky: most of the funding for phase one of the 2nd Avenue line came before the Great Recession. Though even as construction's gotten underway, the finish line continues to slip back.

Benjamin Kabak follows every toss and turn on his blog, secondavenuesagas.com:

Hobson: Do you think that you will ever be able to blog about the day when one of the stations finally opens?

Kabak: I think I will. I think, I think we'll see some stations open in five or six years, or seven years. Whether or not we'll ever be able to ride the second avenue subway all the way from Hanover Square all the way up to 125th Street, I wouldn't put too much money on that.

But voters from New York to Phoenix do seem willing to put money into public transit expansion. Again, Robert Puentes:

Puentes: These are the kind of bold investments that this nation used to make a few decades ago. I do sense that there is some desire to move back to those kinds of investments.

He says the important thing for elected officials is to make sure taxpayers can see results.

In New York, I'm Jeremy Hobson for Marketplace.

About the author

Jeremy Hobson is host of Marketplace Morning Report, where he looks at business news from a global perspective to prepare listeners for the day ahead.

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