By Bill Parry
Astoria’s elected officials said they believe the MTA is tone deaf to the community’s needs during a rally in opposition to the $22 million plan to reconstruct the Ditmars Boulevard subway station last Thursday.
The 14-month project is expected to get underway in April to update the platform floors, lighting, public-address system, mezzanine stairs and railings, tiles and artwork. While the station will not be fully closed during the renovation, construction material will be stored on 31st St. and residents and business owners will be burdened with the loss of parking, noise and sidewalk congestion.
During the renovation, the MTA will not improve subway service, update signals, renovate the track, or install an elevator, the elected officials said.
“Our subways must serve everyone, including people with disabilities, seniors and parents with strollers,” City Councilman Costa Constantinides (D-Astoria) said. “The 14-month construction project at Ditmars Boulevard, along with the simultaneous closures along additional stations on the N/W line, is a slap in the face of Astorians. We deserve a reliable subway system that operates with few delays and is accessible to all.”
The MTA began an eight-month shutdown of the 36th and 30th Ave. N/W stations in October to make structural repairs to the mezzanines, platforms and stairs.
“Our community is already feeling the pain of current station closures, and on top of that now we will have to cope with Ditmars Boulevard construction,” State Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas (D-Astoria) said. “All this construction is a recipe for disaster, inconveniencing riders, hurting small businesses and blocking busy streets. 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 is ignoring.”
State Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) provided the harshest criticism.
“The MTA doesn’t get it and the MTA doesn’t listen,” he said. “The subway system throughout the entire city is falling apart, delays are worse that they have ever been, and yet the MTA is squandering what money it does have to make the experience more attractive. While we are waiting for the trains that never come, we can look around and see nicer art.”
Gianaris took to Twitter where he called the projects “expensive cosmetic changes.”
The MTA told a different story, as its communications team guided a small group of reporters on a tour of the active construction site inside the 36th Ave. Station, to show the corroded “dilapidated” steel and crumbling concrete that would be covered by walls and flooring in the Ditmars Boulevard station. Each station along the line was built at the same time and with the same materials and have been exposed to the same elements
“Ditmars Boulevard and the other nearby stations on the N/W line are more than 100 years old, and have not received comprehensive overhauls until now,” MTA spokesman Shams Tarek said. “The longer much-needed repairs are delayed, the longer the repairs will take and the more urgent they will become. The extensive repairs these stations are receiving are essential for public safety — to characterize them as merely cosmetic and unnecessary is absolutely incorrect, and irresponsible.”
Jon Weinstein, the MTA’s Director of Communications summed up the projects at the stations.
“We are replacing steel, we are replacing concrete, we are replacing platforms, we are replacing all the things that keep this standing up,” he said.
Tarek added that the MTA apologizes for the inconvenience faced during the construction and that elevators will be added to one Astoria station in the future.
“A billion-dollar elevator program that’s prioritizing factors such as connectivity and ridership is underway,” Tarek said. “And that includes four new elevators being added to the Astoria Boulevard station, which connects to critical bus lines and is one stop away from Ditmars.”
He did not mention that the two stations are a half mile apart.
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr