It’s a street orchestra with too much brass even for New Yorkers.
Early-morning noise from construction at the Queens Midtown Tunnel and traffic jams from related lane closures are driving Manhattan residents mad.
Murray Hill neighbors describe jackhammering that jolts them out of bed before 8 a.m. and horn honking from drivers attempting to navigate a mess of lanes during overnight tunnel closures near Manhattan’s side of the tunnel entrance and exit, between 36th and 37th streets approaching Third Avenue.
“It sounds like the loudest vacuum you’ve ever heard sucking rocks,” said Scott Rifkin, 41, an accountant who lives above the construction, on 36th street. “And when it stops, then there’s the gridlock each night.”
The MTA has been working on two concurrent construction projects on the 76-year-old tunnel since last spring. One daytime project at Manhattan’s exit plaza will bring repairs the area’s deteriorated roadbed, some of which dates back to the 1930s.
The other project, taking place overnight inside the tunnel itself, involves Superstorm Sandy-related rehabilitation. During that work, one of the tunnel’s two tubes is closed at a time as crews replace the control and communication systems and install new LED lighting, drainage pumps and the fire lines.
By tackling both projects simultaneously, the MTA reasoned that it would be able to take advantage of the tube and lane closures and minimize the length of time that the tunnel would be under construction.
But neighbors say that approach as led to an around-the-clock nuisance. In the past 16 days, there have been 11 3-1-1 complaints logged relating to either morning noise or nighttime traffic.
“There’s already too much traffic here and the construction has made it very bad,” said Mark Babayev, a haircutter at City Barber Shop, which overlooks construction from 37th Street.
With an anticipated three more years of Sandy construction ahead, local Councilman Daniel Garodnick penned a letter to the MTA recently, offering a five-point plan to better mitigate the work.
“This construction is a constant disruption for people in the neighborhood and it can’t be endured for four years,” Garodnick said. He’s asked the MTA for more clarity of road configuration and stricter enforcement of blocking the box and horn honking violations.
Christopher McKniff, a spokesman for the MTA, said the agency is “making every effort possible” to respond to issues relating to the project and has instituted accelerated work schedules to complete the work ahead of schedule.
“We are making every effort to be responsive to both residential and customer issues related to construction at the Queens Midtown Tunnel,” McKniff said in a statement, adding that the agency constantly sends out traffic alerts through social media, text and email messages and press releases.
“We continue to provide extensive outreach to residents, the local community board, and elected officials,” he said, “to inform on our plans and update on the progress we are making.”