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Citing Costs, City Halts Work on Critical Water Tunnel (For Now)

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The project was originally scheduled for completion in 2021

UPDATE: At a press conference this morning, Mayor Bill de Blasio refuted the Times coverage on the water tunnel saying that there had been miscommunication between his office and the publication. Instead he revealed that construction on the final phase would now be moved up to 2020 from the original 2021 plan. Here's what he had to say:

First of all, a timeline was set by the Bloomberg administration for the next phase of construction in Brooklyn and Queens to begin in 2021. Nothing changed that timeline. We were absolutely devoted to that timeline – 2021. The third water tunnel is already in existence in Brooklyn and Queens. What’s needed is to put the additional shafts down to it so it can be fully operationalized. So that was 2021. We took the money that was scheduled for years up ahead – we put it on hold for a budgetary reason. We didn’t think that the estimate was accurate so we pulled it back awaiting a more accurate estimate. I could say very comfortably that probably wasn’t the smartest thing to do in terms of showing people the ongoing commitment. But what we did do in the preliminary budget was started to add the money back because we got very specific numbers. So if you look at the preliminary budget, $52 million was now added back to keep things on the 2021 schedule.

The city's third water tunnel, the main backup source of water for Brooklyn and Queens, won't be ready until sometime in the mid-2020s, the New York Times reports. The De Blasio administration has instead decided to postpone construction on the final part of the tunnel and move that funding to other projects.

However, should the second water tunnel shut down for any reason, Queens and Brooklyn—whose approximately five million residents make up fully half of the city's population—could be left without a primary source of water for up to three months. That is the amount of time an emergency completion of the third tunnel would take.

The third tunnel began construction in the 1970s, and the project has been meandering along ever since. Even though the Bloomberg administration made construction on the tunnel a priority, allocating millions of dollars and hundreds of hours of manpower to the project, the De Blasio administration has since pulled back on that progress.

Why the hold-up? A spokesperson said it was "a matter of setting its own new priorities and addressing the cost of state and federal mandates," but the Times points out that, as public advocate, De Blasio criticized the city's high water prices—which could be tied directly to the cost of building out the third tunnel.

According to the De Blasio administration, work will move forward, but the tunnel is unlikely to be completed by its original 2021 deadline; now, they're looking at sometime in the mid-20s. Here's hoping it holds out until then.