09/23/2011 09:27 am ET Updated Nov 23, 2011

First Phase Of Second Ave Subway Construction Complete (PHOTOS, VIDEO)

By ANDREW GROSSMAN, Wall Street Journal

The end of the beginning has begun for the Second Avenue subway.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority said it will finish tunneling for the subway's first phase on Thursday, a significant, if incremental, breakthrough for a project eight decades in the making.

A giant tunnel-boring machine named Adi—for the young granddaughter of the MTA official overseeing the project—is scheduled to burst through a wall of rock underneath 63rd Street in an existing tunnel on Thursday morning. Over 16 months, the machine has dug twin tunnels 29 blocks long, at an average speed of about 50 feet per day.

It will still be at least five years before construction crews leave Second Avenue and Q trains start running underneath it to 96th Street. Work is just beginning on blasting out caverns for the three stations that are part of the $4.45 billion project. Then the MTA has to finish the tunnels with concrete, lay track and build the rest of the line's infrastructure.

The MTA expects trains to start running by the end of 2016, but federal officials overseeing the project have said construction could last longer.

The Second Avenue subway has a history of false starts. Proposed in the 1920s, it has since turned into the transit system's impossible dream. Construction started in the 1970s but stopped because of funding shortfalls.

The current attempt seems more likely to bear fruit. While the MTA does not yet have all the money lined up to finish the first phase of the project, it does have agreements with the federal government that could make halting work more expensive than completing it.

Less certain is the line's future beyond this phase. Planned segments would extend the Q to 125th Street and add a T line to Lower Manhattan, but those projects remain decades and billions of dollars away.


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And check out these amazing photos from the MTA's Flickr: