BY SAM RAPPAPORT
Western Queens elected officials blasted the MTA’s plan to renovate Astoria’s Ditmars Boulevard subway station during a rally last week.
The MTA announced its construction plans for the Ditmars Boulevard station—which will run from April 2018 through June 2019—at a Community Board 1 meeting on Feb. 5. Since then, elected officials, community leaders, business owners and residents have pushed back against the initiative, decrying its failure to provide accessibility upgrades and improve the efficiency of subway service.
At a rally held underneath the Ditmars Boulevard subway tracks on Feb. 8, U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) said that the MTA has not given sufficient grounds for undertaking such a disruptive project.
“For years, the MTA has failed to address the needs of our aging subway system,” Crowley said. “Tracks have fallen into disrepair, subway signal systems are outdated, and many stations throughout Queens are inaccessible to those living with disabilities. I fully support plans to address these shortcomings. However, the MTA has, so far, failed to justify the extent to which this upcoming project will disrupt local businesses and the lives of my constituents.”
Councilman Costa Constantinides (D-Astoria), State Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria), Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas (D-Astoria) and Community Board 1 Chairwoman Marie Torniali also spoke at the rally.
Torniali accused the MTA of dismissing the community board’s plea to include elevators at the station, saying, “What is necessary is improving service and structural changes to make our stations accessible to all Astorians.”
Gianaris echoed these sentiments.
“Our subways are in desperate need of better service and more accessibility, yet the MTA continues to embark on projects that inconvenience communities at great cost without improving either,” he said.
The MTA repudiated the idea that the station renovations would neglect necessary structural work.
“The extensive repairs these stations are receiving are essential for public safety—to characterize them as merely cosmetic is absolutely incorrect and irresponsible,” MTA spokesman Shams Tarek said.
Since October, the 36th and 30th avenues subway stations along the N/W line in Astoria have been closed for renovations under the MTA’s Enhanced Station Initiative. The Ditmars Boulevard subway station is not a part of the Enhanced Station Initiative and will not receive the same top-to-bottom makeover, which will allow the station to remain open throughout renovations. Work on stations included in the Enhanced Station Initiative typically takes nine months. Construction on the Ditmars station is expected to last 14 months.
The MTA said that the staging impact at Ditmars Boulevard will be minimal. According to the agency, only 100 feet is needed to hold all of the construction equipment, and that staging area will run underneath the overhead subway tracks along a corridor where there are no businesses.
Tarek said that while the MTA is spearheading a $1 billion elevator program, Ditmars Boulevard does not top the list of stations in need of an elevator.
“A $1 billion elevator program that’s prioritizing factors such as connectivity and ridership is underway, and that includes four new elevators being added at the Astoria Boulevard station, which connects to critical bus lines and is one stop away from Ditmars,” Tarek said. “More elevators will be added to the subway system in the future and none of the current work precludes such additions.”
At the rally, Simotas voiced an often-heard grievance of New York City commuters—the MTA doesn’t care.
“Our community is already feeling the pain of current station closures and, on top of that, will now have to cope with Ditmars Boulevard construction,” Simotas said. “The MTA seems oblivious to this pain and the things that subway riders really need—working trains that run on time and elevators to help the elderly, the disabled and parents with children.”
The MTA apologized for the inconvenience.
“We apologize for inconveniences faced during construction, but the result will be safer, more comfortable, more convenient stations that will help Astoria residents with their commutes,” Tarek said.