Opposition to South Ferry subway project grows

By Dana Young

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s proposed $400-million-dollar renovation of the South Ferry subway station is getting a cold reception Downtown.

The proposal for renovation of the station, which serves the 1/9 subway lines in Lower Manhattan, includes relocating the platform and making it accessible to all 10 train cars for easier passenger boarding. Currently, passengers must walk to the first five cars of the vehicle to exit, a lengthy process that can cause schedule delays. The sharp curve of the tracks at the current station also causes schedule delays.

The M.T.A. maintains that extending the station and providing for a quick turnaround would speed commuting times all along the line because trains would not have to slow down as they approached South Ferry.

But Richard Kennedy, chairperson of C.B. 1’s W.T.C. redevelopment committee, said the time saved would not be worth the investment. “I don’t know what it does for Lower Manhattan,” Kennedy said. “The [M.T.A.] study says four hundred million buys four minutes.”

Although most agree that the station needs modernization, there is a great deal of discussion surrounding the project and its funding. “We are not in favor of using Lower Manhattan Development Corporation funds for this renovation,” Ray O’Keefe, chairperson of Community Board 1’s Financial District committee, said. “It would be a nice thing to do but in the greater scheme of things that need to be accomplished right now, it is not necessary.”

Jennifer Hensley, director of intergovernmental and community affairs for the Alliance for Downtown New York, shares the board’s feelings. “How can you suggest spending L.M.D.C. money when this site was not impacted by 9/11,” she said.

At last week’s C.B. 1 full board meeting, the overall sentiment regarding the proposal was that if the M.T.A. wants to go forward with the construction, slated to start this November, they should pay for it out of their own capital budget. “This renovation helps people going from Staten Island to Midtown, which is fine for Staten Island and Midtown, but it shouldn’t come out of Lower Manhattan money,” Madelyn Wils, C.B. 1 chairperson and a L.M.D.C. director, said.

Even some of the beneficiaries of the project question the value of spending $400 million. A visit to the South Ferry station on Monday at presumably one of the busiest times, the morning rush hour, showed trains coming in and out quickly enough to avoid crowds on the platform.

“I’m so used to this that it doesn’t matter,” Richard Douglas, 33, said of his commute from Staten Island to Midtown. “In this economy there are a lot of people who need money for food stamps, housing and basic living needs, that is where the money should go. Besides, we’ll probably be more inconvenienced while all the construction is going on.”

Paula E. White, who travels through the South Ferry station from her Staten Island home to 23rd St. everyday, questioned the need for renovation at all. “The 1/9 trains come one after another and I’ve never had difficulties,” she said. “Most of the time this platform is empty.”

In addition to the costs, the trees of Battery Park will take a beating as well. With extensive construction needed to complete the project, Battery Park’s conservancy is concerned with the environmental damage that could occur. At last estimate, 27 trees would have to be taken down for construction, with the possibility of 20 more being adversely affected and most likely dying off, according to Pat Kirshner, director of operations at The Battery Conservancy.

“Until we receive complete information, the conservancy is not inclined to comment on this issue,” she said. “We still have grave concerns about the destruction of The Battery.”

M.T.A. spokesperson John McCarthy said the agency is working hard to minimize the environmental impact on the park and all options will be discussed at a public hearing this week. “We have been going to the community on this issue and we will continue to go to the community,” McCarthy said of the renovation proposal.

As part of this community outreach program, the M.T.A. is holding a public hearing regarding the reconstruction of the South Ferry station on Sept. 24, 2003 from 4-9 p.m. at The U.S. Custom House.