Today’s news:

East Side Access delayed until 2019

Officials now estimate that the East Side Access project will be completed in 2019.
TimesLedger Newspapers

MTA officials, who recently disclosed yet another delay in the East Side Access project, now say there is more bad news: It will now cost $8.3 billion.

This means the East Side Access to bring the Long Island Rail Road into Grand Central Terminal — now expected to open in 2019 — has been delayed three times with the cost rising from $6.3 billion to $8.3 billion.

Not welcome tidings for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which faces crippling debt of more than $34 million.

“The era of underestimating the cost of big projects is over,” said MTA Chairman Joseph Lhota, who recently announced the new completion date while speaking on Long Island. “We will stay on budget.”

The new target date for East Side is August 2019.

The long-awaited East Side Access has been touted as a savings of 40 minutes for LIRR commuters to Manhattan’s East Side. Many of the 230,000 Long Islanders who pass daily through Penn Station now have to change from Penn Station to taxis, subways or buses to jobs on the East Side.

The MTA has lately encountered major obstacles in boring tunnels in Queens, where some soil is both soft and sandy. Then there is also the problem of the Harold Interlocking, a complex system of switches and signals in Sunnyside which serves trains for Amtrak, the LIRR and New Jersey Transit. Some 800 trains a day traverse the system.

The MTA has been forced to change some LIRR schedules over several weeks this summer to provide elbow room for work on the East Side Access.

It also comes at a time when Amtrak will soon start its own long-planned project of renovating the East River tunnels, which could further complicate the East Side project.

“It’s just going to require a lot of coordination and communication,” Lhota said of the latest challenge.

When completed, the East Side Access will include an LIRR station 110 feet below Grand Central Terminal with 47 escalators, 13 elevators and 22,000 square feet of retail space.

The project, to which the federal government has so far contributed $2.6 billion, will also provide a new LIRR station at Queens Boulevard and Skillman Avenue in Sunnyside.

It would be the first expansion of the Long Island Rail Road in more than a century, when Pennsylvania Station opened in 1910.

Reach contributing writer Philip Newman by e-mail at timesledgernews@cnglocal.com or phone at 718-260-4536.

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