NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — The Metropolitan Transportation Authority board has approved spending an additional $66 million for four contracts to speed up construction on the Second Avenue subway.

Construction on the $4.5 billion project began in 2007, and MTA Chairman Thomas Prendergast expects the first section — extending from 63rd Street up to 96th Street — to open on time in December.

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“It’s very realistic,” Prendergast said. “It’s also essential that we focus on that date for a number of reasons, not just the least of which is we’ve committed to that date.”

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Prendergast said the first phase of the project will help offload the surging ridership on the Lexington Avenue line.

“The sooner we can do that, the better,” Prendergast said. “There’s a laser focus and considerable pressure paid on internal efforts and external efforts through contractors to get that done on time.”

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Last November, the MTA said the second phase of the project — which would extend the line up to 125th Street in East Harlem — will be delayed beyond 2019.