With the benefits of a subway come the detriments of construction

By · Published in 2012

It has become cliched to discuss the ways in which the Second Ave. Subway construction is impacting the Upper East Side. Residents have been complaining for years; businesses have struggled; and rent, as The Times has so kindly pointed out, is going down. In fact, as the MTA has moved further along in the process, the complaints have only grown louder.

And those complaints are numerous. Besides the issues surrounding the physical presence of construction, Upper East Siders have complained about the location of station entrances, the hours of blasting and the hours of truck service into and out of the site. They have bemoaned dust and have even tried to claim that their dogs are suffering animal post-traumatic stress from the constant blasting. I’m sure once the subway is open, they’ll complain about headways the lack of a full line.

Now, I don’t mean to belittle these complaints. The MTA has not been, for much of the project, a very good neighbor. The launch box site in the low 90s was a mess for years, and the authority has learned to mitigate the spread of dust and debris through an awkward trial-and-error process during construction. It hasn’t been particularly easy for residents, and some of their complaints have merit.

That said, their latest stink stinks. Because of their previous complaints, the MTA has had to adjust work hours, and now residents are complaining about the impact of their earlier complaints because work is now going on into the night. DNA Info broke the story:

MTA officials are considering nighttime visits to apartments around East 72nd Street, after repeated complaints by residents who say the overnight construction for the Second Avenue subway is keeping them awake. Engineers for the authority are planning the visits to hear — and feel — for themselves what’s going on late-night and try to find ways to mitigate the problems, MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz said…

Ortiz said in an email that the MTA had tried shifting the drilling work to daytime hours, but said that was only “partially effective” since the construction must be completed in a specific order and there was no arrangement of work that would prevent the drilling from happening at night. The MTA is restricted to blasting between 3 and 7 p.m., and there’s no trucking allowed after 10 p.m. Therefore, the window for drilling to prep for the blasting has to occur in the middle of the night, Ortiz explained.

Unfortunately, the DNA Info story, while quite representative of the neighbor’s complaints, doesn’t tell the fully story. Why does the MTA have to do work overnight? Because residents asked the authority’s contractors not to conduct blasting after 7 p.m. and not to allow trucks in after 10 p.m. The MTA eventually obliged, but the flip side of this compromise in a 24-hour work site means late-night work. Now, the residents are complaining about the work the MTA must conduct in order to adhere to the blasting and trucking deadlines. It is seemingly a catch-22.

It’s hard not to be a bit skeptical here. If the Upper East Side residents had their ways, the MTA wouldn’t have a window to do the work it needs to do to build a subway. There wouldn’t be time to prep for blasting or remove the debris. There would be a 10-hour workday, and construction would take five extra years and billions more. No one wants that.

Building a subway is messy work, especially when the route goes through such a densely populated area. We don’t yet know what the future holds for the Second Ave. subway, but we know that Phase 1 will continue, noise and all. It’s the price we pay for progress.

8 Responses to “With the benefits of a subway come the detriments of construction”

  1. Dave says:

    Yes it’s noisy, yes it’s dusty, yes it’s uncomfortable. Sometimes we need to swallow salt water but at the end wouldn’t it be worth it? We’ve been down this road before in any major construction site, the cacophonous and the inconvenience is inevitable but we going to benefit out of it so much once its over.
    I’m so proud to live in NYC.
    Dave Azoulay (dave5214@gmail.com)

  2. Alek says:

    I’m wondering what going on when the F is rerouted for the 2nd ave subway connection on 63rd. What the workers are doing at 63rd street station when there is no F trains coming by? Are they working behind the blue wall or the F platform. It would be nice to see photos of what is behind of that wall.

  3. Larry Littlefield says:

    Perhaps hell for a couple of years isn’t worse than purgatory for a decade after all.

  4. John-2 says:

    It would be interesting to question some of the more vocal complainers about the SAS construction and ask them how they think all the existing subway lines in New York got there. I spent a couple of years in the late 70s-early 80s living on Connecticut Avenue in Washington when the Red Line was being plowed through, and the areas around UDC, Cleveland Park and the National Zoo were a wood-planked mess where the station caverns were being built, and Tenley Circle over on Wisconsin Ave. was even worse.

    But you never saw the chronic nit-picking there that seems to perpetually plague the MTA’s project, to the point that the complaints go past the legitimate concerns and to the point the critics would seemingly only be satisfied if the Rail Fairies would magically hollow out all the station caverns, or the MTA could set up their matter transporter to beam all the dirt and debris at least out to the Great Kills landfill.

    • Hank says:

      Having lived in both NYC and DC, the unique sense of entitlement NYCers have never ceases to amaze me. My personal theory is that the deadening of the ability to acknowledge/perceive/take into account others necessitated by living cheek by jowel in such a cramped environment, along with hostility to anything outside you, and the complaint-driven culture of the city’s ample social services leads to this type of behaviour.

  5. Jerrold says:

    “I’m sure once the subway is open, they’ll complain about headways and the lack of a full line.” Excellent point, Ben!

  6. Bolwerk says:

    This confirms it. They should have FastTrack™’d the construction with cut and cover, and saved the TBM and blasting for the river crossings.

    It could still be five times more expensive than it needs to be, but a fraction as expensive as it is now. :-O

  7. Peter says:

    This is Manhattan. There’s noise. All the time. I don’t live near the construction zone so admittedly I can’t speak from first-hand experience, and I’m sure that there have been a few extraordinary disruptions, but I would wager that a lot of the noise that’s generating complaints isn’t all that much worse than your typical Manhattan clamor. For most Manhattanites, if there is honking and loud trucks and ambulances and people yelling out in the streets all night, there’s not much you can do about it, other than install thicker windows. The difference is that people on the UES have somewhere to direct their anger: the MTA. So they do.

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