East Side Access, a tunnel married at Roosevelt Island, may now be Andrew Cuomo’s worst legacy

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Originally pegged at $3.5 billion, expected to open a decade ago, East Side Access is the most expensive project of its kind in the world. And the state estimates that it will carry a mere 162,000 weekday riders, at best. But that’s around 50% of all LIRR riders, marking the estimate as wildly optimistic. This boondoggle will saddle New Yorkers with the costs for decades.

By David Stone

The Roosevelt Island Daily News

Now, Governor Kathy Hochul owns it

Critics say that East Side Access was doomed from the start, thanks to Cuomo’s mismanagement and incompetence. The original budget was pre-Cuomo and grossly underestimated, but he expanded the mistake, which some saw as a sweetheart deal, billed to taxpayers, for campaign contributing labor unions and their contractors.

The project was plagued by delays and cost overruns caused by union rules requiring nonproductive labor. The final price tag is estimated at over $12 billion – from an original $3.5 billion. The original opening date? 2010. And now, Cuomo’s successor, Kathy Hochul, projects a December 2022 finish line.

Ever combative, Cuomo devoted two years to blocking plans for a new Metro-North Station in East Harlem. He didn’t want competition for East Side Access. East Side Access would ease the commute for an estimated 162,000 people a day—roughly half of LIRR riders during the morning rush—by 2023.

East Side Access Married to Roosevelt Island?

Over ten years, a Roosevelt Island eyesore, the East Side Access project.

When Roosevelt Islanders pass, board or exit the F Line station, across the street, surrounded by free parkers is an air shift built when the subway tunnel was laid under the East River in the 1980s.

An unusual design, with a trench dug as a bed for pre-fabricated sections of tunnel, it had foresight attached. Although unused for nearly thirty years, the completed tunnel has a twin. An identical lower tunnel runs directly under the subway line.

That in itself was a legacy, the remnant of a plan from the Fifties where a major crosstown subway line would connect Queens with a terminal near Lincoln Center. But funding ran out during New York City’s prolonged financial crisis, and the tunnel was a ghost for most of three decades. In recent years, it served as a link for construction materials to and from Sunnyside Yards.

Conclusion

After years of delays and billions in taxpayer dollars, the East Side Access project is finally nearing completion. This tunnel, married to Roosevelt Island, will let Long Island Railroad trains travel down Park Avenue to Grand Central for the first time.

The latest estimates show that this project may be Andrew Cuomo’s worst legacy. As a result of its high cost and lack of benefits for commuters who have been waiting decades for better transit options, other more beneficial projects died. Bridges and tunnels went unimproved. Airport upgrades and subway projects idled while East Side Access gobbled up the MTA’s capital budget.

And along with low ridership, taxpayers will wind up funding operating losses, starting on the day East Side Access opens.

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