By Bill Parry
The MTA is scaling back its original plan to overhaul and modernize 32 subway stations throughout the five boroughs after most of the program’s $936 million budget has already been spent on 19 stations, including two in Astoria on the N/W line’s 30th Avenue and 36th Avenue stations.
Astoria will not be spared additional closures during the scale-back of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Enhanced Station Initiative as projects planned for the 39th Avenue station and the Broadway station remain on track beginning in June and the partial closure of the Ditmars Boulevard station will begin in April because it was not part of the governor’s initiative.
“The budget for ESI is unchanged,” MTA spokesman Jon Weinstein said. “We are looking to do as much work as possible during the station closure, which is more than we originally scoped in order to take advantage of increased productivity and reducing station closure time, resulting in less inconvenience for our customers. These additional tasks beyond those originally estimated in the scope have included platform, column and state-of-good repair work. We will have a surplus of about $90 million after completing 20 stations, and we will put that money towards making an additional station fully accessible and ADA-compliant.”
Astoria’s elected officials and community leaders rallied several times in recent months to protest the projects because they did not include improved subway service, updated signals, or renovation of the track or elevator installations to make the stations more accessible to people with disabilities, seniors and parents with strollers. State Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) and City Councilman Costa Constantinides (D-Astoria) frequently referred to the work as “expensive cosmetic changes.” which made the MTA communications bristle.
In February, the MTA escorted a small group of reporters inside the 36th Avenue station construction site to show that the work was necessary, pointing out corroded and dilapidated steel that holds up platforms made of crumbling concrete.
“We are replacing steel, we are replacing concrete, we are replacing platforms, we are replacing all the things that keep this standing up,” Weinstein said during the February tour. MTA chairman Joe Lhota told the Wall Street Journal Monday that costs rose after contractors began work on stations and discovered “infrastructure rot,” particularly on the Astoria line, which broadened the scope of the work.
So the work will continue on the Astoria line stations, inconveniencing residents and endangering small businesses along the 31st Street business corridor according to Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas (D-Astoria) who will continue to urge passage of her legislation to provide tax relief to any New York small business that experiences significant loss or dislocation from a state or local infrastructure project,
“My bill will strike a balance so that costs of achieving a common good stemming from infrastructure projects are shared and not borne solely by a struggling small business sector,” Simotas said. “Astoria’s merchants, small shops and restaurants are absolutely essential to the life of our community, giving the neighborhood its vibrancy and character. These businesses must survive.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr