The 72nd Street station is served by the Q train at all times, and some N trains during rush hours. It has two tracks and an island platform. The station is built so that it is more wide open than most other underground subway stations in the system, like other Second Avenue Subway stations but unlike existing New York City Subway stations. Due to its openness, the station was likened to a Washington Metro station by Dr. Michael Horodniceanu, President of MTA Capital Construction. The platform is approximately 99 feet (30 m) below ground. The platform for the 72nd Street station, like the other Second Avenue Subway stations, is 27.8 feet (8.5 m) wide.
The station has air-cooling systems to make it at least 10 °F (6 °C) cooler than other subway stations during the summer. This requires the station to have large ventilation and ancillary buildings, rather than traditional subway grates. The station is also compliant with current fire codes, whereas most existing stations are not. Additionally, the station is waterproofed with concrete liners and fully drained.
The 72nd Street station was conceived as a three-track station with two island platforms, but prior to construction was reduced to a two-track, one-island platform station, due to the high cost of building a three-track, two-platform station. Additionally, the station's width was shaved back from 100 feet (30 m) to 70 feet (21 m).
Diamond crossovers are located in the cavern both north and south of the station, with a flying junction to the BMT 63rd Street Line via tracks G3 and G4 just south of the southern crossover. The station cavern, which includes both crossovers, is 1,300 feet (400 m) long. South of this station there are provisions for the Second Avenue Subway to continue further south via Second Avenue. The tracks would pass over track G4, which connects the BMT 63rd Street Line to the uptown Second Avenue Subway track, track S2.
Station artwork "Perfect Strangers" is by artist and photographer Vik Muniz. In February 2014, Muniz was chosen in a MTA Arts & Design competition with more than 100 entrants.
Muniz's artwork consists of 36 mosaic-cast portraits of real people who look like they are waiting for a train. These portraits, based on photographs of his acquaintances, are scattered along the exits and mezzanine. The portraits include those of chef Daniel Boulud and designer Waris Ahluwalia. Muniz also has a portrait of himself, running after a wayward suitcase while papers fly away behind him. A married same-sex couple is also depicted, marking the first permanent, non-political LGBT art in New York City. The depiction is based on a Brooklyn same-sex couple and is meant to showcase the "day to day normalcy of gay New Yorkers."
The current station layout includes 3 numbered entrances/exits, containing 11 escalators in addition to 5 elevators. There are also two ancillary buildings that contain station equipment. One building at the northwest corner of Second Avenue and 72nd Street contains both ancillary equipment and a station entrance.
The entrances and exits are located at:
The two ancillary buildings are located at:Ancillary 1: Northwest corner of 69th Street and Second Avenue
Ancillary 2: Northwest corner of 72nd Street and Second Avenue
In 2007, some area residents filed a lawsuit in opposition to a proposed entrance at 72nd Street between First and Second Avenues, in front of residential buildings at 320 and 340 East 72nd Street, citing that the entrance would take up space on the sidewalk. Due to vocal community opposition, the MTA non-publicly revised plans for the subway entrance in fall 2007, relocating the planned entrance to the southeast corner of Second Avenue and 72nd Street.
Two years later, in 2009, a Finding Of No Significant Impact by the Federal Transit Administration found that a proposed entrance at the northeast corner of Second Avenue and 72nd Street was unfeasible, as was the proposed single sidewalk elevator at the southeast corner. The northeast-corner entrance, within the 305 East 72nd Street apartment building, would have encroached into a portion of CVS Pharmacy's ground-floor retail space as well as the apartment building's basement, which contained its laundry room and several of its utility intake pipes. Building the northeast-corner entrance would have forced the owners of 305 East 72nd Street to move their laundry room and utilities into the retail space occupied by CVS, so plans for the northeast-corner entrance were canceled. The site for the sidewalk elevator on the southeast corner turned out to be located close to a high-pressure steam main that was 48 inches (120 cm) in diameter. After a 2007 steam main explosion in Midtown, utility provider Consolidated Edison changed its guidelines for clearance around high-pressure mains, which meant that the elevator was now too close to the main. Thus, the plan was revised to place the elevator inside a building. Of the three alternatives presented for combining the two entrances, the MTA chose an alternative in which there would be five elevators inside a building at the southeast corner of Second Avenue and 72nd Street. This required the demolition of 300 East 72nd Street so that a new building for the five elevators could be built.
In 2013, the MTA filed to change the location of Entrance 1, moving it onto from the sidewalk, away from its original proposed location inside 301 East 69th Street. This was because designs for entrances inside the building failed to both satisfy the building's residents as well as meet the MTA's engineering requirements. With the New York City Department of Transportation planning a bike lane along the east side of Second Avenue after construction is finished, the MTA could widen the sidewalk to make room for the entrances without ultimately disrupting traffic flow.
The Second Avenue Line was originally proposed in 1919 as part of a massive expansion of what would become the Independent Subway System (IND). Work on the line never commenced, as the Great Depression crushed the economy. Numerous plans for the Second Avenue Subway appeared throughout the 20th century, but these were usually deferred due to lack of funds. In anticipation of the never-built new subway line, the Second and Third Avenue elevated lines were demolished in 1942 and 1955, respectively. The Second Avenue Elevated had one station at 72nd Street and Second Avenue—right above the same intersection where the current subway station is located—while the Third Avenue Elevated had two nearby stops on nearby Third Avenue at 67th Street and 76th Street.
As part of the New York City Transit Authority's 1968 Program for Action, the construction of the full-length Second Avenue Subway was proposed. It was to be built in two phases—the first phase from 126th to 34th Streets, the second phase from 34th to Whitehall Streets. The line's planned stops in Manhattan, spaced farther apart than those on existing subway lines, proved controversial; the Second Avenue line was criticized as a "rich man's express, circumventing the Lower East Side with its complexes of high-rise low- and middle-income housing and slums in favor of a silk stocking route.” People protested for almost a year over the lack of stations at 72nd Street, and a stop at Lenox Hill (72nd Street) station was added in October 1970.
In 1999, the Regional Plan Association considered a full-length Second Avenue Subway, which included 72nd Street as one of its planned 31 stations. The entrances to 72nd Street station were to be located at 70th, 72nd, and 74th Streets. The final environmental impact statement was released for the station in April 2004. The initial design of the 72nd Street station lasted about eight years, between 1999 and 2007.
In November 2007, Mary Peters, the United States Secretary of Transportation, announced that the Second Avenue Subway would receive $1.3 billion in federal funding for the project's first phase, to be funded over a seven-year period. However, due to cost increases for construction materials and diesel fuel affecting the prices of contracts not yet signed, the MTA announced in June 2008 that certain features of the Second Avenue Subway would be simplified to save money. One set of changes, which significantly reduces the footprint of the subway in the vicinity of 72nd Street, is the alteration of the 72nd Street Station from a three-track, two-platform design to a two-track, single island platform design, paired with a simplification of the connection to the Broadway Line spur. Supplemental environmental impact studies covering the changes for the proposed 72nd Street station was completed in June 2009.
In March 2007, the Second Avenue Subway was revived. The line's first phase, the "first major expansion" to the New York City Subway in more than a half-century, included three stations in total (at 72nd, 86th, and 96th Streets), which collectively cost $4.45 to $4.5 billion. Its construction site was designated as being from 105th Street and Second Avenue to 63rd Street and Third Avenue. The MTA awarded a $337 million contract—one that included constructing the tunnels between 92nd and 63rd Streets, building a launch box for the tunnel boring machine (TBM) at 92nd to 95th Streets, and erecting access shafts at 69th and 72nd Streets—to Schiavone Construction, Skanska USA Civil, and J.F. Shea Construction.
On June 5, 2009, an apartment building at 1772 Second Avenue was evacuated by the NYC Department of Buildings (DOB) after it was determined that the building was in danger of collapse. The evacuation of the building, as well as a mixed use building at 1768 Second Avenue/301 East 92nd Street on June 29, 2009, had delayed the contractor's plan to use controlled blasting to remove bedrock in the southern section of the launch box. Until the blasting permits could be issued, MTA required contractors to use mechanical equipment to remove the bedrock, which is slower than blasting out the rock. As of October 2009, one building had been shored up, and work was in progress on the second; MTA had rescheduled blasting to begin during the week of November 2.
In May 2010, a tunnel boring machine beginning at 92nd Street started to dig down Second Avenue through the 72nd Street area, to 63rd Street and Lexington Avenue.
On October 1, 2010, MTA awarded a $431 million contract to SSK Constructors (a joint venture) for the mining of the tunnels connecting the 72nd Street station to the existing 63rd Street station, and for the excavation and heavy civil structures of the 72nd Street Station. Construction was to be done through two shafts at 69th and 72nd Streets, the locations of the future entrances; shaft sinking work was started in late 2010. Projected completion of the contract was estimated at November 2013. The rock around the area is mostly Manhattan schist, and was generally considered to be a stable location for blasting, so blasting for the station commenced on January 18, 2011.
On August 8, 2012, a controlled blast at 72nd Street caused rocks to fly over the station site. Nearly two weeks later, on August 21, 2012, an uncontrolled blast for the Second Avenue Subway station at 72nd Street was done incorrectly, causing a large explosion that sent debris into the air and broke windows of buildings in the area and damaged nearby sidewalks.
Cavern drilling was finished in August 2012; however, blasting for the station entrances was not completed until February 28, 2013. Demolition of a muck house, erected in August 2011 to remove mud from the tunnels, started in April 2013 and was finished by October 2013. By January 2013, almost 96.3% of excavation was completed, with 177,873 cubic yards (135,994 m3) of dirt excavated from the station; waterproofing was also being done in the station and the tunnels south of it. The contract for the station's finishing touches, including the electrical, plumbing, track, and signal systems, as well as entrances and exits, was awarded to Judlau Contracting at a price of $258 million in February 2013. As of May 12, 2014, the mezzanine level of the station was completed and being used to store equipment. In September, the station's size was gauged by Gothamist to be so large that "55,000 elephants could fit" within the enormous cavern.
The station's ancillaries at 72nd and 69th Street were planned to be completed in winter 2014–2015, but by October 2016, the finishing touches on the ancillaries were still being applied. The station's mezzanine, plumbing, electricity and machinery were originally scheduled to be finished in fall 2015, but the estimated completion date was pushed back to September 2016 and then later to simply the "fall of 2016".
As of April 2015, the station was 56% complete, and as of October 2016, the station was 92% complete. However, in July 2016, it was reported that the station's opening could be delayed because the station's elevator had not been delivered and because the communication systems at the station had yet to be finished. The elevators and communication systems still needed to be finished by October 2016, and it was possible that the station's opening could be delayed. With the station being delayed, the possibility of opening the other two stations of the line in December but skipping this station was being considered. On December 14, though, the MTA announced that all of the line's stations would open at the same time. Still, systems testing at this station had not been completed by December 19. The station opened on January 1, 2017.
Once construction on Phase 2 of the Second Avenue Subway, which runs from 105th Street to 125th Street and Lexington Avenue, is completed, it is expected that construction will then take place on Phase 3. Phase 3 would extend the Second Avenue Subway south from the provisions for the line to continue further south on Second Avenue. The tracks would diverge from the tracks that continue to the BMT 63rd Street Line running south on Second Avenue. There is currently a large provisional cavern, or bellmouth, for this line. The line would continue down Second Avenue to Houston Street, where the third phase would end. However, no funding has been committed to this phase. After Phase 3, a new T service will operate from 125th Street to Houston Street.
An additional two-track connection, tracks ST-1 and ST-2, is planned between the line toward Lower Manhattan (around 63rd Street) and the IND 63rd Street Line toward Queens using existing bellmouths that are at 63rd Street and First Avenue. Current plans do not call for it to be used by regular service, but instead to be used for non-revenue moves, and to provide a connection to the Jamaica Yard maintenance depot. The connection would allow for trains to run from the Financial District to Queens if the capacity of the IND Queens Boulevard Line was increased, or if the Queens Super-Express Bypass was built.
Business declined during the construction and blasting of the station, with many storefronts losing business and some even being forced to close. However, starting in 2013, construction of the station has caused the value of real estate in the area to start to rise. Although the surrounding area's real estate prices had been declining since the 1990s, there had been increases in the purchases and leases of residential units around the area, causing real estate prices to rise again. On the Upper East Side, prices of real estate west of Third Avenue had historically been higher than prices east of there, but due to the subway's construction, prices of real estate east of the avenue had risen dramatically since the station's construction started. With the opening of the new station, business owners hoped to see an increase in patronage.