Already gritting through two complete subway station closures, Queens politicians and advocates rallied Thursday against more planned construction on Astoria’s aboveground train line.
The MTA is planning to begin a 14-month, extensive reconstruction of the Astoria-Ditmars Boulevard subway station this April that the authority says is needed to rehabilitate what it considers a dilapidating, century-year-old station. There are rusted-out holes in beams and the wooden staircases between the platform and mezzanine buckle under steps from commuters. The station will remain open during the repairs.
But elected officials slammed the agency for poor public outreach — local politicians were notified Monday; not including the addition of elevators in its repairs; and for tacking on the construction while the 30th Avenue and 36th Avenue stations remain closed as part of a separate, controversial renovation program. Since those two projects began this fall as part of what’s known as the Enhanced Station Initiative, it’s apparent that any good will between the agency and the community has been lost.
“I don’t believe them at all; I’ll start with that,” said local City Councilman Costa Constantinides, on the MTA’s assurances that the work won’t be disruptive to commuters and businesses. “Minimal disruption — they don’t know what that means. They don’t know how to listen; they don’t know how to work with communities.”
Constantinides and others, including Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas and the local community board, also voiced concern that the MTA was embarking on another cosmetic project instead of focusing on improving service.
Shams Tarek, a spokesman for the MTA, said that only one staircase in the Ditmars Avenue station will be closed at a time as crews work to fix crumbling staircases, concrete slabs and support structures. New lighting will be added. The leaky, wooden roof will also be replaced with a new steel structure and new outdoor windscreens will be added. The agency will also renovate and balance platforms to fix gaps between trains and the platforms and make small changes that will improve access.
Staging for the project will require the complete curb space under the Hell Gate Bridge overpass, but it will not block businesses nearby, Tarek said. The project will cost the MTA $22 million, the elected officials said.
“Ditmars Boulevard and the other nearby stations on the N/W line are more than 100 years old, and have not received comprehensive overhauls until now,” Tarek said in a statement. “The longer much-needed repairs are delayed, the longer the repairs will take and the more urgent they will become. The extensive repairs these stations are receiving are essential for public safety — to characterize them as merely cosmetic and unnecessary is absolutely incorrect, and irresponsible.”
Tarek also assured that the MTA plans to bring elevator access to the nearby Astoria Boulevard station, but electeds doubted that project, too.
“I’ve been in office for well over a decade and I’ve been hearing about the Astoria Boulevard elevator ever since,” said Queens state Sen. Michael Gianaris. “It’s funny that we’ve been hearing promises about that elevator for years and years and years and yet they’re doing this before while they’re still promising that.”