Neal Boenzi/The New York Times
Mayor John V. Lindsay swung his pickax at a subway groundbreaking in 1972. Looking on, from left, were Percy E. Sutton, the Manhattan borough president; Senator Jacob K. Javits; John A. Volpe, United States secretary of transportation; and Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller.
By WILLIAM NEUMAN
Published: April 9, 2007
The neckties are wide and the sideburns long, the pickaxes gleam in the sunlight. The governor thanks the president for providing money. The mayor jokes that â€œwhatever is said about this project in the years to come, certainly no one can say that the city acted rashly or without due deliberation.â€
The governor swings his pickax, but the pavement is too hard. A jackhammer is brought in to loosen things up. Now the governor and the mayor lay to with gusto.
The Second Avenue subway is born.
Or so it seemed at the time.
The sideburns were long and the neckties wide because it was 1972. The president was Nixon. The governor was Rockefeller. The mayor was Lindsay. And nearly 35 years later, no trains have ever run under Second Avenue.
But the line has had at least three groundbreakings.
On Thursday it will get another one.
Gov. Eliot Spitzer and a host of dignitaries will descend through a sidewalk hatch at Second Avenue and 102nd Street, a block south of the spot where Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller and Mayor John V. Lindsay held a groundbreaking in October 1972. They will go into a never-used section of a three-decade old subway tunnel, stretching from 105th Street to 99th Street. The governor will give a speech, hoist a pickax and take a few cracks at the concrete wall, symbolically beginning the construction where it left off in the 1970s.
â€œThere used to be a saying in New York, â€˜I should live so long,â€™ â€ said William J. Ronan, the first chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, who presided over the groundbreaking in 1972.
â€œWell I sure hope theyâ€™ll do it this time because time is moving on,â€ Dr. Ronan, 94, who lives in Florida, said. â€œAnd of course itâ€™s going to cost a fortune, more than back when we were going to do it. It was expensive enough then.â€
Several factors actually suggest that this time the outcome may be different. The financing for the $3.8 billion project appears more certain than in the past, including an anticipated federal commitment to cover about a third of the cost.
And the plan is more measured. The goal is to build a first section of the subway with stops along Second Avenue at 96th, 86th and 72nd Streets and at 63rd Street and Lexington Avenue. It is intended to operate as an extension of the Q line and is expected to open in 2013. Once further financing is secured, later phases of construction will extend the line north to 125th Street and south to Lower Manhattan
[ATTACH]4612[/ATTACH]It was September 1929 when the city formally announced plans to build the Second Avenue subway, running the length of the East Side and into the Bronx. The cost of digging the Manhattan portion of the tunnel was estimated at $99 million, although there would be additional expenses, including the cost of real estate and equipment.
The Second Avenue plans were part of an ambitious expansion to add a 100-mile network with an overall estimated cost of about $800 million. But within a few years, during the Great Depression, planning for the new line came to a halt.
The plans were revived during World War II. In 1951, voters approved a measure that allowed the city to raise $500 million for transit improvements, with the expectation that most of it would go to build the new line. But the money was used to fix up the existing system. No work was performed on Second Avenue.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority took over the cityâ€™s subway system in 1968. Dr. Ronan began championing an ambitious range of projects, including the Second Avenue subway, from Whitehall Street to 138th Street in the Bronx. In 1968 the subway line bore a remarkably modest price tag of $335 million, but by the time of the groundbreaking in 1972, it had risen to $1 billion.
That ceremony was preserved in an 8 millimeter film shot by Robert A. Olmsted, who was a top planner at the transportation authority.
In the film, the sun is shining brightly, although some of the men are wearing coats and fedoras. There is a holiday air, and the mayor and the governor are all smiles. The two have been feuding for years, but on this day, they manage to keep their pickaxes aimed at the street.
â€œWe were optimistic,â€ recalled Mr. Olmsted, who is 82. â€œIt looked like we were going to get something done.â€
Dr. Ronan recalled feeling that, â€œat long last, weâ€™re going to have the Second Avenue subway.â€
â€œIt was a great day when they got to the groundbreaking,â€ he said. â€œEverybody was congratulating everybody. It got good play. It should have.â€
Sidney J. Frigand, who was a spokesman at the authority in 1972, said he was more skeptical, especially about how the project would be financed. â€œThere were a lot of flaws that had to be ironed out, and I sensed that it wouldnâ€™t proceed as rapidly as we hoped,â€ he said.
Last week, a reporter described the film to Mr. Frigand, including the portion where the governorâ€™s pickax failed to make the desired impact and the jackhammer had to be called in. â€œThatâ€™s the perils of groundbreaking,â€ Mr. Frigand, 81, said.
In October 1973, a year after that ceremony, another groundbreaking was held for the start of work on the downtown section, at Canal Street. Mayor Lindsay had gone bareheaded the previous year but now, according to a report in The New York Times, he wore a hard hat and talked ominously about â€œbrinksmanship,â€ suggesting the city could not afford to keep building the subway without a large infusion of federal money. The cost had reached $1.3 billion.
This time, the pavement had been broken up in advance. After the speeches, The Times reported, the mayor attacked the loosened paving blocks with his pick.
In July 1974, Mayor Abraham D. Beame attended a groundbreaking at Second Avenue and Second Street. He went at the pavement with a jackhammer. The plan was to build the subway piecemeal, contracting out short, disconnected sections.
A year later the city was near bankruptcy; Mayor Beame called a halt to further construction. The stretch of tunnel he broke ground on was never built, although three other sections were finished and sealed. They included the two that Mayor Lindsay inaugurated, from 99th Street to 105th Street and Canal Street to Chatham Square, and a section from 110th Street to 120th Street.
Edward I. Koch was a congressman in 1972, and he appears in the film of the groundbreaking, although he said last week that he did not remember the event.
â€œI have no recollection of that day,â€ said Mr. Koch, who became mayor in 1978. â€œI do have a recollection that the Second Avenue subway â€” the first shovel went into the ground when God created the earth.â€
Now, did i hear anyone complain about the Port Tunnel!!!