By Mark Hallum
Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered the acceleration of construction projects on MTA bridges and tunnels in expectation of an overflow of cars on roadways this summer. The move comes amid service cuts to the Long Island Rail Road resulting from Penn Station overhauls being conducted by Amtrak over six weeks this summer.
The plan coincides with a recent announcement by the LIRR detailing expected service changes to evening train schedules as the work on the largest transit hub in North America progresses. Cuomo recently said the impending work disruption at Penn Station would create a “summer of hell” and compared the challenges facing commuters to that of a natural disaster in a recent letter calling on President Donald Trump to engage the issue.
“Our top priority is ensuring all New Yorkers can get where they need to go as quickly and easily as possible this summer and we’re taking every conceivable step to prepare for Amtrak’s summer of hell,” Cuomo said. “By aggressively expediting construction, we are taking action to ease commutes and provide New Yorkers with peace of mind.”
The LIRR said it would add trains with extra cars to the modified peak service schedule going east and westbound to accommodate 9,600 more commuters while providing transportation alternatives such as ferries and buses. Overnight, trains will be cut between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. The LIRR will offer free morning transfers to subways and the state agency will offer half-priced tolls for trucks on MTA crossings in and out of Manhattan between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. to alleviate road congestion.
State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) addressed a letter to MTA saying the overnight cuts in service will hurt northeast Queens commuters by creating overcrowding on scheduled trains and the already overburdened 7 train. He said ferry and bus service completely skips northeast Queens and requested the MTA revise the plan to include his constituents.
“As Amtrak conducts much-needed repairs at Penn Station this summer, we have been working hard to find a way to aggressively minimize the impact to LIRR commuters,” MTA Interim Executive Director Ronnie Hakim said. “We’re providing more rush-hour capacity to and from Manhattan by adding trains to the modified schedule, adding cars to existing trains, and creating a brand new bus and ferry network that adds thousands of seats.”
LIRR unveiled a fleet of 200 buses to give commuters options while honoring train ticket fares. The buses will run Monday through Friday from 6-10 a.m., and 3-7 p.m. They will run on strictly enforced HOV lanes and will enter Manhattan from the Long Island Expressway through the Queens-Midtown Tunnel, which is scheduled for accelerated repairs and improvements under Cuomo’s orders.
Originating in eight locations throughout Long Island, buses will drop riders off near Penn Station, East 34th Street and Third Avenue and Grand Central Terminal. Full bus schedule information can be found at www.mta.info.
People will have the option of ferry service with three runs in the mornings and evenings between Glen Cove to 34th Street and Hunters Point in Long Island City to 34th Street Pier. Each route will be able to accommodate about 1,200 people during morning and evening hours.
Cuomo’s plan to mitigate problems for drivers and bus riders will introduce cashless tolling five months early on the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, the Queens-Midtown Tunnel, Robert F. Kennedy Bridge and the Hugh L. Carey Tunnel and ensure that construction projects to increase capacity on the structures be completed by July 8, when Amtrak is scheduled to reduce service through Penn Station, which sees over 300,000 commuters per day.
The completion of a bus/HOV lane will be accelerated on the upper level of the Verrazano Bridge to help with traffic flow and take the total number of cars off the road. Hurricane Sandy reconstruction in the Queens-Midtown Tunnel will be complete with both tubes available to motorists, while the Manhattan Downtown Exit Plaza will open to its full two-lane capacity.
Amtrak, which owns Penn Station and is responsible for upkeep of the facility and the tracks leading to and from the transit hub, announced it would spend six weeks over the summer catching up on long-overdue repairs. Breakdowns and derailments have become commonplace in the station.
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall