Congress launches investigation into why NYC subway construction is so expensive

Written by
Clayton Guse
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Michael Semensohn

New York is an expensive city—anyone who’s breathed air within the five boroughs knows this. But when it comes to reconstructing and expanding its 200-plus miles of subway tracks, Gotham reaches a whole new level of pricey.

When compared to similar transit projects in other cities across the country and world, the New York subway system ranks near the bottom in terms of cost efficiency. In 2011, blogger Alon Levy proved as much when he documented the cost-per-kilometer of nearly 20 massive transit projects around the world. The MTA’s 7 train extension, for example, cost roughly $1.4 billion per kilometer to complete. Compare that to London’s in-the-works Crossrail (expected to cost $1 billion per kilometer) or the North-South Line in Amsterdam ($450 million per kilometer), and it becomes clear that New York’s subway expenditures are strangely high.

Head-scratching writers and a befuddled populace aren’t the only ones wondering why the city can’t complete a subway project in a cost-effective manner—Congress is also looking into the issue. The Times reports that a measure included in last week’s approved omnibus spending bill mandates a study that looks into why transit construction is so expensive in the United States, specifically in New York. The Congressional inquiry follows a separate Times investigation published in December that looks into the city’s astronomical subway cost and comes a little more than a month after the Regional Plan Association, a local transit think tank, published an extensive report on the matter.

The Congressional study will look into a whole host of issues that cause the cost of transit construction to skyrocket, from restrictive building regulations to contracting practices. The measure was a part of the same spending bill that approved at least $550 million for the construction of two essential new Hudson River tunnels, which the U.S. Department of Transportation has previously criticized as too expensive.

It’s unclear whether or not the study will lead to legislation that makes transit projects like, say, the Second Avenue subway less expensive to build. At the very least, it’ll reinforce to the rest of the country the notion that New York is a goddamn expensive place. 

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