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Out of Sight, Out of Mind

Under New York City's street are buried miles and miles of tunnels, tubes, wires and water mains. For the most part, we walk the streets oblivous to what's under our feet.

Last week’s accidental explosion at 72nd and 2nd on the Upper East  side of New York City was a rare mishap in what is a massive undertaking  beneath the streets of New York. It focused my attention on all the underground infrastructure that makes the city work.  The building (or boring) of the Second Ave. subway line, the East Side Extension project  and also an extension to the No. 7 subway line
have been going on for over 5 years.


Most of us traverse the streets of the city without thinking of all that is below us.  Subway and railroad lines are just a part of it.  The extensive mains of the city’s water distribution system, storm water drainage lines, sewer lines, and gas and electric  lines are also part of the city’s “understructure”.

For five years the Metropolitan Transit Authority has had a fleet of seven massive tunnel-boring machines – each weighing 200 tons.  Several weeks ago a milestone was reached.  The boring of the last of section of tunnel to complete the connection of the Long Island commuter railroad to Grand Central Station in Manhattan was completed. The MTA chairman, Joseph J. Lhoya, announced that “Sixteen brand new, concrete-lined tunnels now exist under New York City where none did five years ago”.  Wow, and we didn’t even notice!

Six of the seven tunnel-boring machines will be retired, dismantled or buried.  Interestingly, each of these machines has a name by which it is known among the tunnel-boring workers.  Molina  and  TESS (Tunnel Excavation Sunnyside), named by sixth graders) will be scrapped.  Georgina and Emma, named for Mayor Bloomberg’s daughters, were dismantled after finishing work beneath the Port Authority Bus Terminal in 2010.  Robbins and Seli were named for their manufacturers.  Robbins was dismantled and Seli was buried beneath  Park Avenue and 37th St – its final resting place.   Only one tunnel-boring machine will live on. Adi is refurbished and is now hard at work under Indianapolis. 


The recent explosion was unfortunate and, happily, didn’t result in personal injuries.  But it was an event that reminds us that for a city like New York to be livable, work is going on all the time – out of sight and out of mind.

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Betsy Shaw Weiner August 28, 2012 at 11:53 AM
The city's underground spaghetti is fascinating and scary all at once. Considering the complexity, it's amazing that more does not go wrong daily. But it's not just New York City, of course. Look at yesterday's massive water main break in Yonkers that shut down the Saw Mill River Parkway and had (has still?) so many without water. That pipe was more than 100 years old, I understand. Got to pay more attention to our infrastrure everywhere.

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