Subway and street closings on Cortlandt St.

By Skye H. McFarlane

Cortlandt St. — the short thoroughfare whose name means “short land” — will be long on problems in the new year, according to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

In order to speed up renovations of the Cortlandt St. stop on the R and W subways lines, the street will be closed to vehicles for half of a year starting sometime this month. The subway stop, meanwhile, will remain closed indefinitely due to a conflict with the Port Authority’s construction of the east bathtub on the World Trade Center site.

The work is part of the M.T.A.’s Fulton Transit Center project, which will revamp and connect 12 subway lines in the Fulton St. area and create a glassy new above-ground hub for the station at the corner of Broadway and Fulton St.

The news of the Cortlandt St. snags, which M.T.A. officials delivered to Community Board 1’s World Trade Center Committee on Monday night, caught some community members off guard.

“I’m worried that there’s no deadline for the R/W station,” said C.B. 1 member Barry Skolnick. “I’m worried that it’s just some vague, open-ended time frame that will just continue and continue until it’s done.”

M.T.A. representative Ray Finnegan explained that because the southbound entrance to the station falls within the construction zone for the W.T.C.’s eastern slurry wall, no one will be able to enter or exit the station until the Port Authority finishes it’s work in the area. Although the M.T.A. is negotiating with the Port to coordinate an earlier opening date, the station would presumably be able to open, at the latest, on Dec. 31, 2007 — the day the Port is contractually obligated to turn over that part of the site to Silverstein Properties so that the developer can build Towers 3 and 4. The northern part of the bathtub, where Tower 2 will be built, is to be delivered to Silverstein by June 31, 2008.

As for Cortlandt St., Finnegan said that the M.T.A. made the decision to close the street entirely after consulting with the Department of Transportation, the Lower Manhattan Construction Command Center and local businesses at a public meeting last month. The authority determined it would be better to close off the street for six months (although pedestrians, local deliveries and emergency vehicles will still have access) than to maintain a partial closure for 18 months, the length of time the project would take if it had to be done in stages.

To try and keep east-west traffic moving despite the closure, the M.T.A. said that Liberty St. would be repainted to allow two-way traffic west of Broadway. Committee member Joel Kopel suggested putting a moratorium on spring street fairs on Fulton St. to keep the traffic flowing and several community members asked the M.T.A. to smooth out the potholes and metal plates near its work sites to make travel easier for bicyclists, strollers and residents with limited mobility.

“It’s a little bit of chaos,” said Finnegan, showing the committee a picture of Dey St., one block north of Cortlandt.

Dey St. has been, and will remain, closed to traffic while the M.T.A. installs a tunnel connecting the R and W lines to the current tangle of Fulton St. subways — the 4, 5, A, C, J, M, Z, 2 and 3. An additional connector, which would add the World Trade Center E train to the subterranean superstation, looked to be on the chopping block at the end of November when the M.T.A. declared that the Transit Center project was running over its $844 million federal budget. On Monday, M.T.A. officials reassured the community that not only would the E train connector remain in the project but that — despite several published reports to the contrary — the transit station’s glass dome would not be scaled down any further to save money.

When asked how this was possible, given the $15 million budget shortfall, the officials at first would only say that the project “would be funded.” When pressed, however, they said that the additional money will come out of the M.T.A.’s capital fund.

Because the E connector will also require Port Authority coordination, the M.T.A. is currently pushing forward on other parts of the project. The renovations on the 2/3 platform finished up on Nov. 30 and the 4/5 is set to be complete by next September. Above ground in 2007, the M.T.A. must decontaminate and deconstruct several buildings along Broadway (189 and 204-208) to make way for the new hub.

Despite the setbacks, Finnegan was clearly excited about the scope of the project’s underground engineering.

“If you’re walking by the site,” he said, “It’s a good idea to poke your head down the hole. It’s really incredible how deep it is.”