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
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.