By Paul Lomax
Special to DNAinfo
UPPER EAST SIDE — When Grand Central Terminal was first unveiled to the public nearly a century ago it was hailed as a marvel of engineering architecture and admired around the world for all its elegance, functionality and construction.
Now the New York City landmark and railway building, which boasts the most platforms and train tracks in the world, is about to get bigger.
Just a few hundred feet below the busy streets of Manhattan, workers are busy expanding this historic travel terminus by excavating more than two million cubic yards of hard rock and soil, and preparing tunnels to help streamline commutes for straphangers who will be able to shuttle back and forth between Manhattan, Long Island and Queens.
"This is nothing short of a signature project in exactly the same way that Grand Central Terminal was back in its day. When it's finished, the East Side Access is going to be 'the blueprint' for all future transportation construction projects worldwide," project consultant Richard Gottsegen told DNAinfo.
Upon completion of the project, which is expected to happen by 2016, the new terminal will have eight new station tunnels — each with a diameter of 22 feet — will expand the total number of tracks from 67 to 75, and will add another four platforms taking the total number in the Terminal to 48.
A new mezzanine will provide stores, restaurants, bars, food halls, public amenities and other facilities.
The tunnel length will stretch approximately 7,200 feet — from 37th St. up to 63rd St. The area of the mezzanine will take up to 60,000 square feet, an MTA spokesman said.
The lower platform levels will take up to nearly 48,000 square feet, while the upper platform sections will measure out to 46,000 square feet and the concourse itself will take up 350,000 square feet.
The project is considered perhaps the most ambitious and challenging one undertaken by the MTA in recent years, and comes as other major transportation projects across the city have been mired with budget constraints, including Moynihan Station, which is one day destined to become a gleaming rail hub.
Officials have also been mulling an extension of the 7 line into New Jersey.
The new station will lie directly beneath the Lower Levels of Grand Central Terminal — approximately 140 feet beneath street level — and aims to significantly speed up travel times for commuters using the Long Island Rail Road, as well as to serve passengers traveling into Manhattan from Eastern Queens.
Upon completion the ESA project also aims to help reduce passenger congestion during morning rush-hour services into Penn Station, decrease the overcrowding on LIRR trains, while boosting East River revenue streams helping to maximize the MTA's bottom line.
"We've been working hard on the four escalators that will carry people to and from the platforms and mezzanine for the last three years, and although the progress is slow, it's also sure, and definitely heading in the right direction," said Dale Estus, 61, a project engineering superintendent.
The construction workers' daily commute to the underground complex begins with a walk to an elevator that takes them to the tunnel excavation areas. Most workers take water before heading off to make their way through muddy, brown puddles and silt pathways to reach the numerous work stations.
Safety for all the crews is of paramount importance and rigorous inspections and checks are carried out on a regular basis.
"I know most workers by their first names and their safety is something I take very seriously. We ensure that every possible precaution is taken and that the conditions in the tunnels and caverns are constantly monitored for any possible danger," Gottsegen said.
Earlier this year, all of the Manhattan tunnels had been successfully mined. The new tunnels will start at the western end of the 63rd Street on Second Ave and then curve south under Park Ave to enter the new LIRR terminal under Grand Central Terminal.
"I've been on this project for the last two years and for me this is the most challenging mining job I've ever worked on, but it's also the most enjoyable," miner Mark Poleway, 46, from Rutland County, told DNAinfo. "I love coming down here every day."
Foreman Mike Artwich, 60, added, "I've worked for the MTA all my life and this is a massive job. This is something I'll be telling my whole family about for generations. I can't wait to walk around here in the years to come and tell everyone about all the work that went into this project."