Digging the Second Avenue Subway

(CBS News) A major project is still under construction . . . and underfoot . . . in one of New York City's most congested neighborhoods. Seth Doane leads us on a tour:


In New York City eyes tend to gaze upward. But these days -- or rather, these years -- there's an equally stunning sight looking down, way down.

Up to 80 feet (or eight stories) below ground, workers are blasting their way through bedrock, building the first new Manhattan subway line in more than 80 years.

What looks like a sprawling underground mine was carved by boring machines as powerful as 12 747s, rumbling beneath the streets of the most populous city in the country.

As you might imagine, some New Yorkers are not amused.

"It's been more or less a war-zone," said Maria Terner.

Construction of this subway line on Manhattan's Upper East Side has unearthed a pile of frustration: complaints about rats, odors, even a so-called "Second Avenue Subway Cough" caused by all the dust.

All in all, says Lynne Cashman, it's not a pretty sight. "All of a sudden, our whole life was turned upside down, topsy-turvy!" she said.

From her balcony overlooking Second Avenue she now gazes onto the above-ground scar from this giant public works project. And, she says, closing her eyes doesn't help.

"Once this came in, we heard generators, blasting, compressors going all night long," Cashman said.

A bulldozer used to remove rock and soil, 80 feet underneath Second Avenue.
Metropolitan Transit Authority/Patrick Cashin

All of this is happening in one of Manhattans most fashionable neighborhoods -- a section of the city that's more "white glove" than "hard hat."

That's certainly changed. Stores have been forced to close their doors, and an area with 100,000 residents per square mile has become a construction zone.

Michael Horodniceanu, chief engineer of this $4.5 billion transportation project, agrees that it's a "pretty difficult" neighborhood in which to work.

"New Yorkers are not easy," he said.

"It'd be different in another city?" Doane asked.

"Absolutely! I think New Yorkers are -- have a sense of entitlement that other people do not have in other parts of the country," Horodniceanu said. "New Yorkers are demanding."

His most challenging role may be that as chief charmer. "That's what people made Zantac for," he laughed. "To take away the heartburn."

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