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43. Because We Keep Digging

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Beneath Second Avenue near 91st Street, December 3.  

You almost don’t want to say it, for fear of tempting fate, but it’s real. Conceived 80 years ago, funded and canceled twice, surviving even last year’s financial calamity, a subway line is creeping down Second Avenue. Yet even if you live with the construction noise and dust, the scale of the beast has been hidden. This photo, shot on December 3, brings it home. The cavern you see on these pages is four blocks long.

You’re looking at the south end, beneath East 91st Street. Begun in June, scheduled to be finished in February, the space will serve as the launch area for a huge tunnel-boring machine that will chew its way down to 63rd Street. The workers at right are drilling holes and packing them with explosives, for further blasting. The crew at left is breaking up rock for removal. Underground work goes on 24 hours a day, seven days a week. As Con Ed used to say, “Dig we must.

The first run of the T train, as it will be called, is way off, and the whole thing could still go to hell. Opening day has already been pushed back from 2015 to 2017. The budget (about a third from the Feds, the rest from the state) has edged up to $4.4 billion, and just last week the MTA announced yet another shortfall. In the seventies, we actually did quit midway, after three bits of tunnel were built for this line. But this time, even when the economy cratered, we kept at it—armed with bond issues, dynamite, and our abiding optimism.


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