NYC's newest subway line set to open, 98 years after first proposed

Riders take part in the New Years Eve inaugural ride on the new Second Avenue Subway December 31, 2016 in New York. 

KENA BETANCUR/AFP/Getty Images

NEW YORK -- It’s been an on-again, off-again, “believe it when you see it” project since the Jazz Age. Construction started 45 years ago. 

But New Yorkers’ long wait to take a subway under Manhattan’s far Upper East Side ends Sunday, when a stretch of the new Second Avenue line opens to the public.

A ceremonial first ride took place on Saturday night for an invitation-only crowd of dignitaries, about 90 minutes before the New Year’s Eve ball drop in Times Square.

The new extension of the Q Train along Second Avenue opens on Sunday between 63rd and 96th streets – a mere 98 years after it was first proposed, CBS New York reports. The first trains run at noon.

For enthusiastic commuters such as Morgan Perry, it is long overdue.

“We’ve always lived near Second Avenue, and have just been waiting for this for a very long time,” Perry said, “so exciting.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo took an inaugural ride on the line around 10:30 p.m. Saturday, along with Mayor Bill de Blasio, Metropolitan Transportation Chairman Thomas Prendergast, and other officials.

“Now that you have subway service on the East Side of Manhattan, those people won’t have to go to other lines,” Cuomo said, “so it will reduce pressures on the entire system.”

Seen as crucial to alleviating congestion in the nation’s biggest subway system, it is on a line expected to carry about 200,000 riders a day. The entire system transports about 5.6 million riders on an average weekday.

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New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and his wife Chirlane McCray take part in the New Years Eve inaugural ride on the new Second Avenue Subway December 31, 2016 in New York.

KENA BETANCUR/AFP/Getty Images

The city’s transportation board first envisioned a Second Avenue subway in 1929, but the stock market crash and the Great Depression derailed the plan.

Ground was broken in 1972, but a fiscal crisis in the city slammed the brakes on the project again. The project finally got into high gear when major tunneling work began in 2007.

The $4.4 billion section opening Sunday was initially supposed to be completed in 2013. Delays stemmed partly from concerns about construction noise.

Next, the line is slated to expand north into East Harlem. No date has been set for starting that phase of construction. 

On Saturday evening, business owners at the 72nd Street stop said they never thought the moment would arrive. Years of constructions took a toll.

“I’m glad this thing is over,” said Lawrence Michael. “This was like a nightmare.”

Michael said he poured his life savings into his Indian restaurant, and was very close to shutting its doors.

“I lost customers. I lose business. Sometimes it’s very hard for me to pay to my staff, you know?” Lawrence said. “I sell my car to pay the rent.”

The dry cleaners next door also suffered. Casey Seng said her longstanding family-run business on the Upper East Side almost closed because of construction and traffic congestion.

“The construction – I lose a lot of customers,” Seng said. “I lost customers because not convenient to come here, you know.”

But for the retail shops, there is quite literally light at the end of the tunnel. The hope is the new line will bring a big boost to their businesses.

Residents such as Brian Rand are also happy the trains will be up and running.

“It was loud, but you know, these guys worked around the clock the last couple of months. I’ve seen them out here at night,” he said. “They did a good job – and hats off to them.”

A ceremonial ride will take place at a New Year’s Eve party before the official opening Sunday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said earlier this month.

But full service will not start up for a full week. The trains will start going around the clock starting Jan. 9.

The second phase of the Second Avenue subway project, to be completed in years to come, would extend the service to 125th Street.

“That’s also exciting, because that will serve an entirely different community,” Cuomo said.

The long-anticipated subway will extend the Q train north to 96th Street. The W Train has been revived to take over the Q Train’s former route in Queens.

On Sunday at 11:30 a.m., the MTA and the Second Avenue Merchants Association will pass out free MetroCards to riders near the new subway on a first-come, first-serve basis.