By Maria Rocha-Buschel
East Village residents and local politicians demanded detailed mitigation plans from transit officials about noise and air quality relating to the upcoming L train shutdown at a recent town hall.
Speakers at the meeting, held on Monday night, brought up the construction that has already taken over East 14th Street and Avenue A as part of the work for the new subway entrance for the L train, with multiple others commenting on the increase in diesel buses in neighborhoods throughout Lower Manhattan.
“I think many of my neighbors were still surprised to realize that this will be a 24/7 construction zone moving forward in the months and years ahead,” Council Member Keith Powers said at the meeting, noting that he has already been hearing from constituents living near the construction zone at Avenue A who are dealing with noise, dust and vibrations in their apartments.
“That is in addition to everything else that we’ve talked about, which is making sure that people will be able to get to work every single day and get around the city,” Powers said. “I would ask again that we have a real plan to address long-term construction area around 14th Street, that we have a dust mitigation and noise plan. We can still do better in addressing these issues.”
MTA spokesperson Shams Tarek told a Town & Village reporter later in the meeting that referring to the construction zone as “24/7” could be misleading, noting that not all construction will be happening above-ground and on the street. Tarek added that additional noise and dust mitigation plans have not yet been announced but are forthcoming and these are measures not yet in place that will be implemented at some undetermined point in the future. Calls for further requests for comment from the MTA and DOT on these plans were not returned by T&V’s press time.
Regarding the phrasing of a “24-hour” worksite, work is not scheduled for 24 hours a day, seven days a week but will be allowed 24 hours a day during the work week. A notice from the Department of Environmental Protection shared by local blog EV Grieve on the day of the town hall specifies that the work will be done during “24-hour weekdays” from 7 a.m. to 7 a.m., between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m. on Saturdays and from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sundays.
Assembly Member Harvey Epstein told Town & Village that his office has been in contact with the MTA about the noise issues around the current construction site, as well as the debris removal that’s already going on, and he noted that while he has seen progress on some issues, others remain a concern.
“They changed the surrounding area and put better noise dampeners in so those issues are starting to get resolved but the hours, the staging area and what they’re removing is still something that hasn’t been resolved,” Epstein said. “Noise has been a big concern but then the longer-term issue of what the staging area is looking like is something that hasn’t been addressed.”
Epstein noted that while the “24-hour” timeframe for work will allow the agencies to move ahead with the project more quickly, there are still a number of questions about how the damage for local residents as a result of the ongoing work will be minimized.
“For something they’ve been planning for two years there’s still a lot of information that we don’t have,” Epstein added. “I don’t think the city agencies have coordinated enough with each other. We have to make sure DOB permits aren’t being issued (during the shutdown), make sure Sanitation isn’t doing unnecessary pickups and other agencies aren’t doing unnecessary work.”
Stuyvesant Town resident Lawrence Scheyer said that he had concerns about the effects of walking by the site every day for people who live in the neighborhood because of possible health hazards.
“I’m concerned about the effects of dust, diesel and the silica bits that may be coming out of the tunnel and we’ve had experience with 9/11,” Scheyer said. “I feel like we should ask what the longterm effects will be 15 or 20 years from now, breathing in this stuff, even if it has not caused damage yet.”
New York City Transit President Andy Byford said that the agency is acutely aware of the need to control the debris that comes from the site.
“We’ve got to be very careful with how we control dust emissions coming from out of the tunnel,” he said. “We are using a very experienced contractor to do that. We’re going to be very careful in making sure that the dust will be contained in the tunnel. The contractors we’re using are specialists at suppressing that kind of emission.”
State Senator Brad Hoylman expressed concern at the meeting about the increase in diesel emissions that will likely result once the shutdown begins due to the increase in buses and asked about the possibility of using buses that run on compressed natural gas instead of diesel.
“We do have some CNG buses. They have to operate out of particular garages because they have got to have the specific depot structures in order to recharge with CNG,” Byford said. “It would be impractical for Manhattan use because they would spend so long driving across into Manhattan they would probably end up just causing more problems than being solved.”
Byford said that the agency is also unable to build a closer depot for using the buses in Manhattan because of the limited time available.
East Village resident Ken Ettinger wanted to urge agency officials not to keep all the adjustments made to the neighborhood once the shutdown is over and while Byford said that the busway would be redundant with full L train service reinstated, DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg asked residents to keep an open mind about some of the other additions, such as the new bike lanes.
“Six months before the end of the shutdown, if it looks like it’s something that people like, we’ll have a discussion about it, but we’re not likely to keep all the treatments,” she said.
Byford jokingly added that if the shutdown goes as poorly as some residents seem to be predicting, he’ll likely be out of a job.
“You won’t be seeing me again is this goes badly,” he said. “I have a certain self-preservation motive to get this right.”