Months of campaigning by Kew Gardens residents and lawmakers to save stores located on the Lefferts Boulevard bridge above the Long Island Rail Road has apparently paid off.
The MTA announced on Wednesday that it agreed to make nearly $1 million in structural repairs to concrete and iron platforms propping two retail buildings above the LIRR Main Line branch on Lefferts Boulevard, adjacent to the Kew Gardens station. The buildings are home to a litany of mom-and-pop shops that some residents regard as the heart of the community.
Originally, the MTA — citing the nearly 100 year-old platforms’ crumbling condition — planned to raze the buildings as part of an overall plan to rebuild the Lefferts Boulevard bridge. Residents, lawmakers and business owners, however, fought back, circulating petitions and supporting legislation to block the retail structures’ demolition.
Back in May, LIRR President Phillip Eng met with lawmakers at Queens Borough President Melinda Katz’s office and said he would review the matter. On July 10, according to City Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz, Eng informed her and other elected officials that only structural repairs were needed to fully rehabilitate the platforms, thus saving the retail buildings from demolition.
The rehabilitation effort would cost no more than $1 million, Eng said, and would be paid for through city funds that Koslowitz secured for a feasibility study focused on saving the bridge.
“After many conversations with the community and elected officials convened by Borough President Katz, my team looked at this issue more carefully, and we determined that the best use of the funds would be to directly repair the platforms,” Eng said. “We look forward to continuing to work with the elected officials and local community to ensure this bridge’s future.”
Koslowitz, Katz and a host of other local lawmakers — including Congresswoman Grace Meng, State Senator Leroy Comrie, Assemblyman Daniel Rosenthal, State Senator Joe Addabbo and Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi — applauded the MTA’s decision.
“The demolition of the Lefferts Boulevard bridge would have had a devastating effect on the Kew Gardens community,” Koslowitz said. “Speaking for myself, my fellow public officials and the Kew Gardens residents, I commend President Phillip Eng for his willingness to reexamine the problem, bringing his professional abilities and background to the analysis and concluding that the bridge does not have to be demolished.”
“The structural repairs to be made by the LIRR will provide much-needed peace of mind to the business owners on and around the Lefferts Boulevard Bridge,” Katz added. “These businesses are vital to the Kew Gardens community and the new level of certainty on the bridge’s future is welcome news.”
Eng said that the LIRR will award a contract to a firm specializing in heavy structural construction, and expects that all rehabilitation work would be completed by the end of 2019.
“We’re looking to expedite a procurement and have the interested parties bid both cost and schedule so we can evaluate the best value proposition,” Eng added. “The repairs we plan are significant, and will make the platforms safe for continued retail use.”
While lawmakers celebrated the development, others had some skepticism. The Save Kew Gardens Coalition, an organization that’s been on the forefront against the platform demolition plan, noted in a Facebook post that the MTA “has not committed to the full repair of the stores that our little village of Kew Gardens needs in order to continue to be the economically healthy and culturally vibrant town center.”
“The work of the past year, and the outpouring of support for the Kew Gardens Lefferts Blvd. Bridge, has shown the MTA, Governor Andrew Cuomo, that we are united in our resolve to save the heart of our village,” the coalition wrote. “The work continues.”