New York Times feature about subway construction costs attracts attention around the world

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This January 2012 file photo shows the view of construction of a newly built concourse underneath the lower level of Grand Central Terminal. The 3.5-mile East Side Access project is estimated to cost $12billion - or $3.5billion per mile (MTA photo published in the Daily Mail.)

A late December report by the New York Times indicating that the city’s subway system construction costs are the most expensive in the world has attracted international attention.

The Daily Mail in London, England, reported:

In New York, ‘underground construction employs approximately four times the number of personnel as in similar jobs in Asia, Australia, or Europe,’ according to an internal report by Arup, a consulting firm that did work for the MTA as well as other agencies worldwide.

The report provoked an editorial in the Times, which asserted that “New York’s leaders have failed the millions of people who use the transit system every day:

The high costs relate to “politically powerful construction companies and labor unions that drive up costs under the lax oversight of public officials who have no incentive to rouse sleeping legislative watchdogs,” the NYT editorial asserts.

As an example, “the first phase of the Second Avenue subway, completed at the end of 2016, cost $2.5 billion per mile; and the extension of the No. 7 line to Hudson Yards, finished the year before, cost $1.5 billion per mile.”

In contrast in Paris, “a dense and historic city with strong labor unions, is building a line extension similar to the Second Avenue project for just $450 million a mile, which is roughly comparable to the average cost for subway projects around the world.”

The NYT editorial concludes:

Ultimately, Mr. Cuomo and the Legislature need to reform the M.T.A. Lawmakers could require that the authority use the “design-build” process, which puts design and construction teams together early and usually reduces the need for big changes later. The state should also make sure the M.T.A. has a voice in negotiations between contractors and labor unions, to reduce the potential for featherbedding that exists when both sides can pass on costs to the government. If that doesn’t happen, no amount of revenue, whether it comes from higher fares, from a tax on millionaires as Mayor Bill de Blasio has proposed, or from congestion pricing as Mr. Cuomo has suggested, will be enough to fix the subways. Too many of those added dollars would be frittered away.

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