The MTA is hoping that the people who complain the loudest about problems with the Second Avenue subway construction are also the people with the best ideas about how to fix them. Last Thursday night, about 75 residents congregated in a basement room at Temple Israel on the Upper East Side to ask questions and strategize solutions about the massive construction project with representatives from the MTA’s Capital Construction division.
The structure of these meetings is new for the MTA. Small groups meet with MTA project representatives and facilitators to have detailed discussions about what’s happening at each of the future subway stops—East 63rd, 72nd, 86th and 96th streets—in the first phase of construction. Residents asked detailed, technical questions, about blasting techniques, environmental concerns and logistics of the future stations, as well as broader questions about how the contractors combat excessive dust at the sites.
“We know you’re here because we’re making too much noise,” said Sam Schwartz, a traffic engineer with his own firm and the director of community outreach for the Second Avenue subway project. “We need you as the eyes and ears of this project.”
Participants listened intently to the representatives describing each segment of the project and dove right in with their own questions and suggestions. Some people looked longingly at the renderings of what their streets will look like by 2016, when the project is finished. Paul and Kathy Trupio pointed to a rendering that shows their building on East 69th Street, hopeful that the giant structures currently parked outside would eventually give way to the clean, bright subway entrance they saw pictured.
Claudia Wilson, an MTA community liaison, chatted with the couple about their experience and sympathized with their construction woes.
“I know it’s disconcerting; I know it’s upsetting to everybody, but when it’s done, you’re not only going to have a new subway,” Wilson said. “You’ll have new sidewalks, new trees, new streetlights. It’s going to be beautiful.”
The Trupios said that while learning more about the project doesn’t make the problems go away, it does comfort them to a certain extent.
“It’s an understanding of why the equipment is there, why so many people are there, what they’re doing that they need it all,” Kathy said. “Aesthetically, it’s still ugly. The air quality is still terrible. But it’s good to understand what they’re doing.”
Paul said that he thinks Second Avenue is in better shape than he expected it to be during the construction, and that he’s content to wait out the worst of times in order to enjoy the revitalized neighborhood when the new subway is running. The couple bought their apartment in 2003 and expect that it will see a big bump in value once the subway entrance is open right below them.
“With the aging baby boomer population, there’s a premium on convenience,” he said. All of the new entrances will be accessible to the disabled.
Michael Horodniceanu, the president of MTA Capital Construction, was on hand to deliver opening remarks and stayed to mingle with residents and answer their questions. One woman stopped him to ask if she would be able to hear the subway from her apartment once it was completed and operational, and he launched into a technical explanation for her.
Horodniceanu said that people often come to him with very detailed questions, and that he feels that these workshops are helping put people at ease and understand the project at a granular level.
“It’s very helpful, because it’s a forum for people to actually not only describe what they would like to see and what their questions are, but also to potentially suggest solutions,” he said.
At the end of the evening, each group’s top concerns were announced, and they ran the gamut from truck noise to parking restrictions to the acrid smell lingering in the air after controlled blasts. Horodniceanu said they would look at each one and open the next meeting in three months, at the suggestion of one participant, by listing progress made on each of the concerns raised in this session.
“The construction managers—the guys that were here today—will summarize all the issues, then we’ll see what we can actually address, and that will be addressed,” he said.
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