M.T.A. presents early plans for Second Ave. subway

By Syd Steinhardt

As the Second Avenue subway line’s scheduled 2004 groundbreaking approaches, New Yorkers are excited about the prospect of the new subway, but are displeased with aspects of the project’s current plan.

That was the consensus at a public hearing held last Monday night to discuss the project’s Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement. Elected officials, neighborhood activists and other concerned citizens – some embittered and angry — signed up to offer their perspectives on the long-awaited project, which promises to bring relief to cramped straphangers on Manhattan’s East Side.

Despite the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s $1.05 billion commitment to the project’s planning, design and initial construction in the agency’s current capital plan, some feared that the entire project might fall victim to the current economic climate. Estimates for the entire project go as high as $17 billion.

U.S. Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney led off the hearing by urging the three presiding M.T.A. officials to boost the revitalization of Lower Manhattan by beginning construction at the southern end of the line at the end of 2004, the target date to begin construction.

“It makes sense to begin building the lower portions of the subway first, to ensure that the Downtown community reaps the greatest possible benefits from the subway and to emphasize the subway’s status as a component of the Lower Manhattan redevelopment project,” she said. “To delay building the Downtown segments would make it much harder to access resources that are dedicated to revitalizing the area.”

Her fear was prompted by the M.T.A.’s original proposal for an abbreviated Second Avenue subway in 1999. This plan envisioned a Second Avenue line from 125th Street to the 63rd Street tunnel, at which point trains would proceed along the express tracks of the N and R trains under Broadway. After much public protest, including that of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, the plan was amended to a full-length 8.5-mile, 15-station line to the Financial District.

The current plan did not satisfy Jeff Zupan, the senior transportation fellow at the Regional Plan Association, an ardent backer of improved regional transportation links. In addition to finding the draft environmental statement “seriously deficient” by not providing service to the outer boroughs, he raised the specter that the discredited “stubway” option could rise again.

“I am concerned (that) the 125th Street to 63rd Street option will be built under the guise of fiscal security,” he said.

Peter Cafiero, the M.T.A.’s director of rail service design, began the hearing with an overview of the project’s construction techniques. Most of the Downtown portion of the line will be built using a boring machine suitable for the bedrock that lies deeper than the portion north of E. Sixth St.

The proposed line would have Downtown stops at 14th, Houston, Grand Sts., Chatham Sq., the Seaport and Hanover Sq. The line would run down Water St. in its southern-most section.

Other sections of this portion will be built using the “cut and cover” method, in which a trench is built in the street. A deck supported by vertical walls is then built over the trench, allowing for vehicular and pedestrian traffic to continue. However, the M.T.A. warned that excavations for insertion and removal of machinery, personnel and other material will cause “significant street disruptions.”

Yvonne Morrow, an to aide of Assembly Speaker Silver, insisted that any park space in his district taken for subway entrances and vents such as at Sara D. Roosevelt Park be replaced in the community, not “elsewhere in the city,” as the M.T.A. promised in the S.D.E.I.S. The M.T.A.’s solution is “unacceptable,” she testified. Morrow said three smaller Downtown plazas are also threatened by the plan: Kimlau Sq. in Chinatown, Fulton St. Plaza near the Seaport and Coenties Slip in the Financial District.

Long a dream of planners and cramped straphangers, the idea of a mass transit line along Second Avenue has been kicked around since the 1920s. The demolition of the Second and Third Avenue elevated trains in the postwar decades and the increased development along those corridors mandated a need for an additional mass transit line. After many false starts since then, actual construction of the Second Avenue began in 1972. Three unconnected tunnel sections were built in Upper Manhattan before the city’s fiscal crisis caused Mayor Abraham Beame to halt the project in 1975.

The need for an additional line is even greater today, said Ellyn Shannon of the New York City Transit Riders Council.

“Trains on the East Side are suffering from over-capacity, and so are the stations,” she said. This situation will worsen in 2010, when the Long Island Rail Road’s East Side Access project will begin to funnel more than 62,000 additional riders into Grand Central Terminal. “The Second Avenue subway will provide the much needed capacity to the system.”

Other speakers found various flaws in the M.T.A. document.

Neighborhood activist Florence Daniels, a retired engineer, told the panel that a two-track system extending the length of Manhattan is “ridiculous.” She also criticized the spacing between stations, saying that 15 blocks is “too far to walk.”

Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz advocated a connecting tunnel to downtown Brooklyn. A Bronx man denounced the M.T.A. for not including his borough in the planned project, and others took the opportunity to blast the MTA for its recent fare hike.

The final environmental analysis is scheduled for completion later this year, after which the project’s final design phase will commence.


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