Volume 20 Issue 10 | July 20 - 26, 2007

Schematic of some of the subway station work under Battery Park.

Despite hitting a wall, South Ferry project running on time

By Joe Orovic

Residents tired of perennial construction delays all over Lower Manhattan as well as the clanging metal and construction eyesores in and around Battery Park, take heart. The South Ferry station project is currently on budget and scheduled to be completed by August 2008, to the delight of Community Board 1’s Financial District Committee and the Battery Park Conservancy.

“It’s been a real military operation,” Joe Trainor, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s senior vice president of capital construction, said last week in a presentation before Community Board 1’s Financial District Committee.

“So you’re not here to tell us you’re off schedule?” asked a surprised Ro Sheffe, the committee’s chairperson, after listening to a half-hour-long list of obstacles to the project.

“It’s quite a feat, if I do say so myself,” Trainor replied.

The project is approaching its final stages. On the date of the presentation, only 150 feet of concrete needed to be laid down to finish the new terminal’s platform. “Everyone I spoke to in the surrounding buildings said the structure came up fairly quickly,” Trainor said.

The project has also remained close to the budget. The M.T.A. is currently on pace to spend $498 million, compared to the original $450 million estimate. “It’s a bit over the budget, but when you think of the size of the project, it’s actually a really good job,” said Trainor.

The most difficult part — the new tunnel — is nearly complete. What remains is the reconnecting of wires and setting up the station with elevators, escalators, vents and other equipment.

“This project will expand the options for the community,” said C.B. 1 member Rebecca Skinner. Most of the other members agreed with the sentiment. “The current station wasn’t that great.”

Most commuters can attest to the current terminal’s problems. Complaints often range between noise levels and having to be in the front-half of the 1 trains.

The Battery Conservancy has been working alongside the M.T.A. throughout the project. “It’s hard ’cause we’re trying to keep the park alive while all of this construction is working through and around it,” Warrie Price, president of the conservancy, said in a telephone interview. “Fortunately, they’ve been very responsive to our requests.”

The M.T.A. has funded the replanting of some cherry trees, while more than 80 other trees have been removed. The M.T.A. will also contribute to the park improvements planned after the new terminal is opened — including a new bikeway, a carousel, and a great lawn.

Price said the conservancy sees the construction destruction as a clean slate. She hopes to bring back the native plants that originally grew Downtown when the Dutch came 400 years ago.

Price said the new terminal provides an impetus to improve the park. “We want to have parity between the subsurface and the park outside,” she said.

Ultimately, Price said the conservancy welcomes the progress and changes. “Over 40 percent of the park’s visitors come off the 1 train, so we welcome the efficiency and improvements,” she said.

The only park area still egregiously occupied by construction materials is Peter Minuet Plaza, located outside the Staten Island ferry terminal. The M.T.A. opened up the gash in the ground to allow construction materials into the new tube.

It’s been an arduous two and a half years since the contract was originally awarded in February 2005.

Since then, the project’s speed bumps have come in droves. Trainor emphasized the delicate task of working around decades-old wiring encased in metal tubes. Verizon and Con Edison crews first had to clear away the wiring, cutting carefully through the tubes without damaging the wires.

Next, more than 50,000 yards of rock were dug out from under the financial district. The new subway tube goes under the existing South Ferry loop, which was originally built about a century ago.

Probably most surprising was the much-publicized discovery of a wall from either the 17th or 18th centuries. It’s been over a year since the first parts of the wall were discovered, and M.T.A. workers are still finding pieces during the construction.

Work comes to a standstill after archaeologically important materials are found. Trained crews must come in and gently remove all materials, which besides the wall includes pots and tools, so that nothing is damaged.

Trainor said so much of the wall was found intact, some of it will be used to line the escalators of the new terminal.

The conservancy hopes the remaining parts of the wall will be raised to ground level, on the footprint of where the wall originally stood, but no decision has been made yet. “Too often you have an amazing find like the wall, and they move it off to the middle of nowhere,” said Price. “I think keeping it where it originally stood gives you an idea of the context and perspective of New Amsterdam’s original dimensions.”

Despite the issue of the wall, Trainor remains optimistic that nothing will take the project off schedule. “If I was even to think that way, it would open the door for someone to let up and we like to keep people’s feet to the fire.”

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