NEW YORK — Manhattan and Queens have never been closer.
The tunnel is part of the MTA's $8.24 billion East Side Access project, scheduled to finish in 2019. The ambitious plan features a new LIRR terminal beneath Grand Central, shortening commutes for thousands of riders and marking the first expansion of the railroad in more then a century.
"For the first time since the East Side Access project began, there is now a continuous path through [a] newly built tunnel from Queens to the East Side of Manhattan," MTA Chairman Joseph Lhota said in a statement Thursday.
"This is the path Long Island Rail Road trains will follow when this project is completed."
The 3.5-mile tunnel, which measures 22 feet in diameter, runs from Sunnyside Yard in Queens to the new LIRR terminal at 37th Street and Park Avenue, 12 stories below Grand Central, the MTA said.
Workers digging the tunnel from both sides met Thursday beneath Northern Boulevard in Long Island City, a particularly tricky area because of the many nearby subway lines, the MTA said.
The MTA had to build a new foundation to support the subway lines during construction and also had to freeze the area's soft dirt to make it easier to control, said Michael Horodniceanu, president of MTA Capital Construction.
"This is the most complicated and challenging 120 feet of tunnel we’ve built on any of our construction megaprojects," Horodniceanu said in a statement.