Felice Farber is celebrating her 10th anniversary as the director of external affairs of the General Contractors Association. The trade association has been building New York City’s roads, bridges, schools, parks, airports, water main, transit and sewer systems for over a century and represents 275 heavy construction companies, which employ more than 20,000 professional and trade workers throughout the city.
Some of their current projects are the creation of the Second Avenue subway, the East Side Access project, which will bring the Long Island Railroad to Grand Central, and the extension of the 7 line. “It’s interesting to look at how transit service develops and how having quality service really makes a difference for a community,” she said.
Farber, who has never lived anywhere but New York City, has seen that system improve dramatically since her F train commutes from her home in Brooklyn to attend NYU in the ‘80s. “When I went to school, it was pretty common for the train not to go all the way through and dump you somewhere along the line where you had to change to another train to head into the city,” she said.
As an Upper East Side resident, she is understandably excited about the arrival of the Second Avenue subway. As part of her job, she has toured the construction site – which can have up to 1,000 people working on it at one time – and calls it “an impressive engineering feat.” And as for the perpetual question of when the project will be finished, Farber assures, “It’s close to being done. It’s scheduled to be completed by the end of next year. I’m looking forward to that one-seat ride to the west side.”
You earned both your undergraduate and law degrees at NYU. What was your experience like there?I loved going to school at NYU. I was a commuter as an undergraduate and lived there when I was in law school. It really was very interesting seeing the transition in the transit system, going to school in the ‘80s when it was not the heyday of New York City transit. Things have improved tremendously. Even seeing the difference in a place like Washington Square Park and how redeveloping the park has made such a difference in community life. When I was at NYU, I took an internship class there on New York City government and interned at PDC, which was, at the time, the Public Development Corporation, which has become the Economic Development Corporation. In addition to working at a city agency, the class included a series of panel discussions with government and civic leaders. One of the panels that really stuck in my mind featured Gene Russianoff from the Straphangers Campaign and Alair Townsend as Deputy Mayor. It really got me interested in government and the things you can influence by being involved in government. My internship at PDC included work on the environmental impact statement for the Atlantic Terminal and MetroTech projects. I gathered research for the blight study portion of the EIS. It was fascinating driving around these communities that are now these really desirable places to live and that have changed dramatically since the 1980s.
What was your first job after law school?Like many people, I come from a working-class background and was seduced by the large salary that you get from working at a big law firm. And I did that for a couple of years and was miserable. If you don’t care about what you’re doing and you’re not passionate about it, it doesn’t matter how much money you get paid. And so, I left big law to work for the New York City Department of Transportation where I was special counsel to the commissioner. Then, I worked for private bus companies, four of them had common ownership. It was interesting from a larger, public policy standpoint, if you step back and look at how transit has developed in the city. In the early part of the 20th century, many immigrants started independent bus and trolley service in Manhattan. They were pushed out of the city and sent to what were the far reaches of Queens and Brooklyn which were, at the time, farmland.
Tell us about the Second Avenue subway.Our members are building the Second Avenue subway and it’s a very exciting project. The city started building the Second Avenue subway in the 1970s. The project put some long-time GCA members out of business – companies that had been in existence for 150 years. Even when they first started doing the utility relocation and my daughter was much younger, we’d walk down the street and talk to the contractors and the construction workers and ask them what they were doing. And everybody was so friendly and so happy to talk about the job – and I never said who I was. I was just an ordinary person walking down the street and it was great to see how friendly everybody was to really explain the project and let you know what was going on.
Explain what the East Side Access project entails. East Side Access is more complicated than the Second Avenue subway because of the soil conditions, the complexity of the project and coordinating with Amtrak and through the busiest rail yard in the country. But that will allow the Long Island Railroad to come into Grand Central Station and make it a much easier commute to the east side for Long Islanders. And ultimately, allow for a greater reverse commute out to Long Island.
Another big project is the 7 Line Extension.The opening of the 7 line is scheduled for September 13th. GCA members built the 7 Line Extension. You can see the impact transit access has on a community. Hudson Yards would not be happening if it weren’t for the extension of the 7 line to the far west side. It’s unfortunate that the 10th Avenue station was canceled. There was supposed to be a station at 10th Avenue and 41st Street. As part of the initial tunneling, the contract included an option to dig out the cavern for the 10th Avenue station. The option was never exercised and, I think, the decision was shortsighted. Ultimately, when someone decides we need to go back in and build a station for the 7 line at 10th avenue, it will be so much more expensive than simply having moved forward with the station initially.
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