Leading New York’s transit improvements and capital projects

An interview with Jamie Torres-Springer, president of MTA Construction and Development

Jamie Torres-Springer, president of MTA Construction and Development.

Jamie Torres-Springer, president of MTA Construction and Development. Metropolitan Transportation Authority

Jamie Torres-Springer joined the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in 2021 with the monumental task of leading the largest expansion of the subway system in the 21st century without major service interruptions. Torres-Springer’s fingerprints have been all over marquee capital projects, including Grand Central Madison, East Side Access, the extension of the Second Avenue subway, and an entirely new light rail line connecting Brooklyn and Queens. But he’s just as proud of efforts leading a systemwide modernization of subway signals and adding elevators to dozens of stations and making them more accessible. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Congestion pricing is the biggest story for the MTA right now, but what are the other big MTA infrastructure projects coming up?

It’s an age of major investment and capital in the transit system in the city. We’re really focused on the state of good repair, the sometimes unglamorous projects that keep the subway system running and help us achieve on-time performance. After decades of disinvestment, we’re tackling our core infrastructure needs like resigning and making major upgrades in how those systems operate. Power upgrades, structural repairs and other unglamorous work to keep the system running.

And we’re making big improvements too. We’re doing (Americans with Disabilities Act) work at a faster pace than ever before. We finished 28 stations and we have another 38 in construction right now. And we (recently) announced we have a resilience roadmap. We conducted a hazard assessment and have a $6 billion roadmap to make the system more resilient. Climate change is here and we have some serious needs to protect our system and what we’ve done is take a big step back and look at all the hazards to protect our system, like coastal storm surge, sea level rise, and torrential rainfall events and high heat. Looking at all those things together leads us to an assessment of what we need to invest in the system which is $6 billion over the next decade.

How exactly will the influx of funds from congestion pricing help finance the MTA’s capital program? What share of the increased funds will go to system maintenance and repairs versus big infrastructure projects?

Congestion pricing will make an enormous positive impact on the city, but to me the most exciting thing is the $15 billion in capital projects it will pay for. That will include more than 20 additional stations becoming ADA accessible, resignaling the Fulton line (A/C in Brooklyn) that runs all the way from Washington Heights to Far Rockaway, and connecting the B, D, F and M to lines that have been resignaled in Queens and Brooklyn. Altogether, those lines carry 1.5 million people a day, and they’ll get more reliable service and enhanced capacity by making that investment.

A lot of state of good repair work will be funded by the $15 billion, as well as purchasing new train cars, new railroad train cars on Metro-North and LIRR, and Second Avenue subway Phase 2 will be enabled by congestion pricing.

How far will the Second Avenue subway extension go and what’s the timeline and cost? And how likely is it that the MTA would extend the line along 125th Street to the west side of Manhattan?

It’s a project that has federal support but we need the congestion pricing dollars in that program. We’ve already kicked off that project to East Harlem, the most transit-dependent neighborhood in New York City. Even people in East Harlem walk over to the other Lexington line or ride the bus. This is the whole concept of restoring service on Second Avenue since they historically had those elevated lines. That’s serving residents of East Harlem and providing more options to East Midtown, and also while we’re at it, we’re very excited the governor secured funding to take a look at the potential of future expansions to continue to run Second Avenue tunnel across 125th Street to Broadway as a crosstown line. 

That’s all the work that’s getting started now. Not to leave behind how critical it is to add Phase 2, which we’re starting construction on, which will add three new stations and 100,000 more daily riders on the Q train. That makes it one of the most cost-effective projects per passenger in the country. 

Phase 2 is important. We took a look at options of expanding transit service across the city and the idea of expanding service across 125th Street to Broadway performs very well in terms of potential future riders versus the cost and in terms of how much time it would save. If you think about it, connecting to all the subway service up there already, the 1-2-3 lines, the ABCD, all those riders will have more opportunities to get to East Midtown and we’re starting out with funding from the state legislature for a feasibility study that the governor included.

The timeline is a detail to be determined. We’re just at the outset of looking at this as an idea. It performs very well in terms of cost benefit analysis. Projected daily ridership is about 240,000 passengers. Cost estimated construction cost is $7.7 billion (for Phase 2).

What’s the latest on the proposed Interborough Express light rail between Brooklyn and Queens? What’s the possible timeline and cost and how likely at this point?

The IBX is a really exciting project. It’s a project the governor has been very supportive of, an opportunity to convert that freight line between Bay Ridge and Jackson Heights in Queens, to serve 120,000 passengers a day. It would save a ton of time and for the first time acknowledge support movement of people between Brooklyn and Queens along the 14 miles of the route. With the governor’s support we’re funded to get the preliminary design and engineering work done and move through environmental review.

We continue to update in the preliminary stages what the cost is. We have a number in that comparative evaluation $5.5 billion construction cost. We haven’t made a decision on tunnels or running on local streets. We need to share space with freight rail. There’s a lot of federal regulations that apply to that. For a lot of the route we have a dedicated right-of-way that’s below grade, which is what we call open cut. 

There are a couple areas where we have to figure out the right-of-way. There are a few areas where there are tensions between the infrastructure that’s there. There are a lot of bridges with streets running over them, about 40, so in each case where you have a conflict with other infrastructure you have to figure out what the best thing is for providing service and surrounding property and all the different stakeholders for creating a big urban transportation service. Tunnels under the cemetery have not been ruled out.

Are there any other major projects of this size and scope?

We’re all very excited about the opportunities to expand our system. We’re moving 5 million passengers a day, so the most important thing we can do for the future of the city is the investment in state-of-good-repair, ADA accessibility, and resignaling existing lines. About 83% of our capital program is state-of-good repair and the other 17% is system expansion like Penn Station Access and Second Avenue Phase 2, and opening new stations in the East Bronx to get people into Midtown and points north and Westchester where there are great job centers.

What are some key technological innovations during your tenure? Any predictions of what we could see in 10-20 years?

The only other forward-looking thing is we’re very focused on the presence of technology in our system. We’re retrofitting very advanced technology into the system like countdown clocks, digital screens, signaling technology and PA systems that get better and better. All of it is connected and requires a massive investment in technology to communicate through customers, and manage service through our rail control center. We’re very focused on how we manage that system and improve service to customers.We signed a deal with Transit Wireless, now called Boldyn, which has helped us wire cell service to all our stations already. They’re now bringing cell service into the tunnels. They’ll be working the crosstown G line, where we will be installing fiber cable this summer. That’s important in giving customers access to cell service continuously through their ride, and all the things we can do with very good fiber service throughout the system.We don’t know what some of them are yet, such as new software innovations or hardware technologies, but wiring the system is the infrastructure move that enables us to adapt and be successful in the coming decades.