East Side Access Takes Shape Underground

LIRR riders will one day be able to arrive at Grand Central Terminal

By Andrew Siff
|  Friday, May 18, 2012  |  Updated 3:45 PM EDT
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The nation's most expensive mass transit project is invisible to most New Yorkers, but when it is complete, the East Side Access Project will change the commute for hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers. Andrew Siff reports.

Andrew Siff

The nation's most expensive mass transit project is invisible to most New Yorkers, but when it is complete, the East Side Access Project will change the commute for hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers. Andrew Siff reports.

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The nation's most expensive mass transit project is invisible to most New Yorkers but will change the commute for hundreds of thousands -- a new Long Island Rail Road Terminal is under construction 140 feet beneath Park Avenue and 50th Street.

"It's a total game-changer," said Michael Horodniceanu, the MTA's chief engineer for major projects.

Hundreds of sandhogs are digging around the clock. Their task: completing the East Side Access Project, which would allow LIRR passengers to go directly from Nassau and Suffolk County to Grand Central Terminal, instead of having to backtrack through Midtown from Penn Station.

Michael Kent, an attorney from Great Neck, now spends an easy 25 minutes commuting to Penn Station, but then adds another big chunk of commuting time through rush hour crowds on the E train.

"East Side Access first, Mars second," said Kent.

For years, he and his wife Lore have read about the MTA's ambitious plan to give them more time in the day. Now, they've learned the project's completion, once estimated for 2012 and then 2016, has been pushed back to 2019.

"I'm ecstatic at the idea," he said.

LIRR President Helena Williams dismissed skeptics who have wondered if the massive tunneling project will remain an unfinished pipe dream.

"This is the real deal," she said. "It will happen."

The MTA has secured federal funds and also applied stimulus dollars towards the $8 billion project. For commuters, like Estee Soleimani, the mere idea of a shorter trip is worth the wait.

"Time is precious," she said.

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