Since the early 1940s, the number of people traveling in and through the East Side of Manhattan has steadily grown, severely straining the capacity of the area's streets, highways, buses, and subway lines. With the conversion of neighborhoods from industrial to corporate, commercial and high-rise residential buildings have dramatically increased the population density of the East Side.
To make way for development, two subway lines were removed. The Second Avenue "El" was taken down in 1942, followed by the Third Avenue "El" in 1956. This left only the Lexington Avenue Line ( trains) to accommodate the growing East Side population. No new transit facilities were provided to serve the new residential and office buildings that sprung up.
Proposals to build a north-south subway line along Second Avenue date back to 1929, preceding the demolition of the elevated trains. Several detailed plans were proposed in the following decades. The plan developed in the 1960s proposed a two-track subway line from the Bronx to Lower Manhattan. This plan culminated in the actual construction of several tunnel segments. However, construction was suspended in the 1970s due to the citys financial crisis.
The MESA Study
In 1995, MTA New York City Transit began the Manhattan East Side Alternatives (MESA) Study. This project was carried out as a federal Major Investment Study/Draft Environmental Impact Statement (MIS/DEIS). The MESA Study goal was to recommend a course of action(s) to reduce overcrowding and delays on the Lexington Avenue Line, and to improve mass transit accessibility for residents on the far East Side of Manhattan.
Through extensive research, technical analysis, and frequent meetings with the public, the following major transportation problems were identified:
Lexington Avenue express service currently operates with passenger loads that exceed New York City Transit guidelines in the AM and PM peak periods. The overcrowded conditions are expected to increase in future years.
Convenient access (1/4 to 1/2 mile) to subway service is lacking on the far East Side of Manhattan.
Passenger crowding commonly lengthens trip times and causes delays in service.
The majority of rush hour buses are crowded and travel speeds are slow due to traffic congestion.
Severe traffic congestion on local streets and the FDR Drive contribute to the Citys inability to meet National Ambient Air Quality Standards.
With the help of the public, the MESA study team compiled a list of more than 20 alternatives to resolve existing and future transportation issues identified within the study area, including a new Second Avenue Subway.
An alternative was eliminated if the analysis uncovered a fatal flaw that would prevent it from providing a viable solution. Alternatives were eliminated if they contained obvious technical flaws or were not responsive to stated goals, objectives and/or needs. Several alternatives were eliminated because they were:
cost prohibitive compared to expected benefits
not physically feasible
disruptive to an existing mass transportation system
disruptive to a neighborhood or community
not helpful in reducing travel time or congestion
unable to comply with governmental or agency policy
Based on this process, a short list of alternatives was selected for in-depth environmental analysis:
No Build Alternative: A "no-build" option, which analyzed future conditions if no improvements were made.
Transportation System Management (TSM) Alternative: Improvements to East Side bus service, including the installation of designated bus lanes on First and Second Avenues.
Build Alternative 1: A new subway line under Second Avenue from 125th Street to 63rd Street, with a connection to Lower Manhattan via the Broadway subway line. The new subway line would be designed to allow for future extensions northward into the Bronx and southward to Lower Manhattan.
Build Alternative 2: A 125th Street to 63rd Street subway line, as in Build Alternative 1, with the addition of a light rail transit line linking the Lower East Side to Union Square and Lower Manhattan.
Upon completion of the environmental analysis phase in August 1999, the MESA Draft Environmental Impact Statement Report was issued for public review and comment, and a public meeting was held.
Comments from the public hearing in response to the MESA DEIS document showed an overwhelming preference among elected officials, community groups, and the general public for a full-length Second Avenue Subway from 125th Street to the Financial District in Lower Manhattan.
The development of a full-length subway alternative was undertaken by the Second Avenue Subway (SAS) team based on data previously collected during the MIS/DEIS phase of the study and MTA's Lower Manhattan Access (LMA) Study, which evaluated a southward extension of the Second Avenue Subway from 63rd Street to Lower Manhattan.
On March 22, 2001, the SAS Study published a Notice of Intent in the Federal Register to undertake a Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement (SDEIS) to evaluate a full-length Second Avenue Subway. On April 19, 2001, a public meeting was held to describe and discuss the new subway alignment, the project schedule, and next steps.
In October 2001, NYCT published a Summary Report describing the full-length alternative and outlining the process by which the full-length alternative was selected.
In April 2003, the Second Avenue Subway Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement (SDEIS) was published. Public hearings on the SDEIS were held on May 12 and 13, 2003.
In April 2004, the Second Avenue Subway Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) was published.
In July 2004, the FTA issued a Record of Decision (ROD), which stated that the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act have been satisfied for the Second Avenue Subway Project. In July 2004, Preliminary Engineering for Phase One was completed. In December 2004, Preliminary Engineering for Phases Two, Three and Four was completed. In April 2006, Extended and Final Preliminary Engineering was completed. In April 2006, The Federal Transit Administration authorized the MTA to begin Final Design of Phase One of the project and the Final Design contract was awarded.
In March 2007, the first construction contract for Phase One of the Second Avenue Subway was awarded. The official groundbreaking ceremony took place on April 12, 2007.
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