SUNNYSIDE — Crews working on the MTA’s East Side Access project have completed digging the third of four underground tunnels that will eventually speed the commute to Manhattan for thousands of travelers — seven weeks ahead of schedule.
Officials with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority touted this week's speedy nine-week finish to the excavation beneath Sunnyside Yard in Queens.
"We are delighted to complete this important milestone,” said MTA Chairman Joseph Lhota. "Each piece of the project that we bring in ahead of schedule means we can dedicate resources to those parts of the project that most need attention."
The dig was made possible by a 642-ton tunnel boring machine — nicknamed "T.E.S.S." for Tunnel Excavation Sunny Side by sixth-graders from I.S. 204.
The swift tunneling rate is linked to the soft earth in Queens, which is "unlike tunneling in Manhattan bedrock," MTA officials said.
The boring machine is also able to build the concrete walls as it moves forward, giving shape and strength to the eastbound 2,200-foot tunnel beneath the busy railroad tracks. In the process, T.E.S.S. excavated more than 875,000 cubic feet of soil as it built the 22.5-foot wide tunnel that stretches from the west side of the yard to its eastern edge.
TESS will remain parked beneath Sunnyside Yard until the tunnel can be connected to the Long Island Rail Road Main Line tracks above it.
The East Side Access project is the first expansion of the Long Island Rail Road in more than 100 years. The $8.24 billion initiative will connect the LIRR's Main and Port Washington lines in Queens to a new LIRR terminal beneath Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan.
The project is expected to be completed in August 2019 and will serve approximately 80,000 commuters a day.
The new connection will shorten travel time up to 40 minutes for Long Island and eastern Queens commuters traveling to the east side of Manhattan, according to the MTA.