What’s thicker than shampoo, but thinner than pudding? Anything in the way of two new tunnel boring machines at Sunnyside Yards.
The machines, unveiled at the site during a press conference on Friday, will pulverize everything before them to create four tunnels connecting tracks of the Long Island Rail Road Main Line in a tunnel under the East River leading to Manhattan. As part of the East Side Access project, a Long Island Rail Road stop will also be added in Sunnyside. The project is expected to be completed in 2016 and work began in 2007.
In addition to the creation of around 800 construction jobs in the borough, residents who live in western Queens and work on Long Island will have a quicker commute and Long Islanders will be able to come to Queens to work, shop, or for other reasons.
According to Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D- Queens and Manhattan), the service will bring money to Long Island City’s central business district — already the city’s fourth-largest. “This will be a boon to local businesses and enhance the attractiveness of Long Island City as a place to live and work,” Maloney said.
In 2006, she secured a $2.6 billion federal grant for the East Side Access project, currently the nation’s largest transportation construction project. The funds will be matched by the state.
Sandhogs, elected officials and transportation experts were in a celebratory mood as they gathered in front of one of the 642-ton tunnel boring machines to reveal its name and that of its counterpart. “Tess,” which stands for Tunnel Excavation Sunnyside, was named by Sangida Bagum and “Molina,” a play on the word Mole, was named by a team of three students, Mohammad Malik, Michael Morales and Angel Peralta. Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman Jay Walder presented Sangida, Michael and Angel, all sixth graders at IS 204 in LIC, with plaques to commemorate their achievements.
The machines are specially engineered to handle the earth in Sunnyside, which is a mixture of sand, clay and boulders with a high water content. The 300-foot long German-made giants will remove the sediment and install a series of interlocking concrete rings, creating a tunnel as they proceed. “It’s an ubelieveably complex enterprise which involves working around the busiest rail yard in the United States,” said Michael Horodniceanu, president of MTA Capital Construction. He said the mixture of materials made the dig particularly difficult, but called the project the most exciting one he has worked on in his entire life.
At their other-worldly worksite many feet beneath the ground, the all male team of sandhogs, electricians and laborers from various unions were proud of their work on the $730 million dig as well.
Gerard Egan and David Harvey, both 35-year-old Irish immigrants helping to excavate the 5,500-foot tunnel, pointed toward a centrally located steel beam upon which an American and an Irish flag were placed side by side with a clover spray painted between them. “We thought we’d never be holding a shovel again,” they joked, before introducing their supervisor and posing for pictures. They said the job pays well.
When complete, the East Side Access project should reduce commute time by as much as 40 minutes for 160,000 people who currently arrive at Penn Station and have to walk or take trains or buses to the East Side. The project will also reduce crowding at Penn Station.
After a few hours of marveling at the construction site, Walder concluded the press conference.
“At the end of the day this is about actual service and that means we all need to get back to work,” he said.