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2nd Ave. MTA construction tough on locals

Posted by Gold_12TH on Mon Apr 30 15:03:39 2012

A piercing siren rings twice, followed by a loud boom that causes the ground to shake.

Inside Big Daddy's Restaurant on Second Avenue and 83rd Street, some patrons look around in alarm before realizing the noise comes from the construction zone outside.

"Yesterday, people came in and left when they heard the blasts," said the manager, Clark Earthman. "They asked me what was going on, and when I explained, they said they no longer felt safe and wanted to go."

Underground blasting moved to 86th Street this month as the Metropolitan Transportation Authority 's $4.45-billion plan to build Phase 1 of the Second Avenue subway took another step forward.

Since construction began in 2007, residents and businesses have complained of jarring underground explosions, constant jackhammering, air-quality concerns, traffic obstacles and rats forced up from underground.

The purpose of the project is to decrease crowding on the Lexington Avenue lines, the only subway on Manhattan's East Side. The first phase, due for completion in 2016, will run from 105th Street to 63rd Street. There are no firm estimates of cost or completion dates for the next three phases, which would extend the subway to 8.5 miles from Harlem south to Hanover Square .

Businesses suffering

For store owners, the construction has been disruptive and costly. Earthman said his business is down 30 percent from last year and had fallen 50 percent the year before. Because of the blasting, Big Daddy's plans to reduce its hours.

"People just don't want to come in," he said. "They don't want to deal with the noise, and they're scared. All these buildings here are old and they're afraid the blasts may cause an accident."

Nearby at Promises Fulfilled, a toy store, owner Caryn Klausner said she is lucky to still have her doors open.

"The only reason we're still around is because we're a destination store," said Klausner, who has been there for more than 20 years. "We make specialized products and party favors and have our regular customers. But there's no foot traffic anymore because of everything going on outside."

The store owners close to the 86th Street construction site are looking anxiously to what happened on 96th Street, where blasting first began and 30 businesses moved or closed because of the construction.

MTA mitigation efforts

Joe Pecora, owner of Delizia 92 Ristorante & Pizza, at Second Avenue and 92nd Street, said the MTA has since become more responsive to problems, such as picking up trash generated by the construction activity and avoiding electric power interruptions. "Business has picked up some," he said.

In November, the MTA began a series of public workshops to open a dialogue with residents and businesses.

"The MTA has worked to mitigate the impact of construction on businesses -- participating in and promoting the 'Shop Second Avenue' campaign, maintaining access to properties at all times, and employing noise mitigation techniques," MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz said.

The business owners near 86th Street remain worried, complaining of limited sidewalk space, blocked parking and street closures.

Emanuele Caisaguano, owner of Firenze Ristorante, which opened in 1981, said he used to fill 15 to 20 tables during lunch hours at the eatery between 82nd and 83rd streets. Now he manages one or two. "Business is terrible," he said. "I don't know how much longer we can stay open."

Air-quality concerns

Howard Krulewitz, who lives on 81st Street and York Avenue, backs the project. "Getting from Lexington Avenue to my apartment is a nightmare," he said. "Building the subway isn't going to happen overnight, so there are some sacrifices that need to be made."

But as he bought fruit from a sidewalk stand at the corner of Second Avenue and 85th Street, he wondered, "Who knows what everyone is breathing in here?"

Residents complain of chronic coughing known in the neighborhood as the Second Avenue subway cough, and blame the construction, though scientific evidence is lacking.

City Councilwoman Jessica Lappin introduced legislation last month that would require the city's Department of Environmental Protection to monitor air near the construction site and publish monthly results online.

"I constantly hear about the Second Avenue subway cough and other health concerns," Lappin said in a statement. "Residents deserve to know if the air they are breathing is safe."

MTA spokesman Ortiz said the air is already being tested on a regular basis, and "particulates have not exceeded thresholds." He also points to an air-quality test the MTA conducted in September 2011 that measured various pollutants at 10 locations between 69th and 87th streets on Second Avenue. The report found that most pollutants were below national air-quality standards and when there were spikes, they were caused by traffic and dirty boilers, not the construction.

Rental prices down

With all these problems, there may still be a silver lining on Second Avenue. It's cheaper to live there.

Jonathan Miller , president of the Miller Samuel appraisal firm, analyzed rental prices on the Upper East Side and found that rents decreased by 1.7 percent in construction-heavy areas from 2010 to 2011. "The construction appears to be a factor," he said.

Jason Haber, co-founder and chief executive of Rubicon Property, said, "The prices are cheaper, but it's at the cost of a jackhammer."

Prices are expected to rebound when construction ends, real estate professionals said, so if home buyers can endure the disturbances, they may be able to grab a deal.

"People know this isn't forever," said Kathy Braddock, co-founder of Rutenberg Realty. "If they are willing to put up with it for a few years, it may not be a bad investment."

Jeannette Rubenstein moved into a luxury building on 84th Street and Second Avenue two months ago. "It's noisy, but it'll be worth it in the end," she said. "We need a subway here. The city should have done this ages ago."

The Second Avenue Subway: A dream unrealized

1920: Idea to build the subway is floated as part of plan for IND lines.

1929: Stock market crash complicates plans.

1944: Planning resumes. New target date: 1951.

1949: Project delayed as Queens residents demand improved service first.

1957: Planning is shelved.

1964-72: Federal money becomes available, and planning resumes.

1972: Groundbreaking held at 103rd Street and Second Avenue.

1975: Construction stops because of the city's fiscal crisis.

1995: Second Avenue subway idea revived.

1999-2004: Environmental reviews, public hearings and strong economy move project ahead.

2006: Federal Transit Administration gives OK to produce final design for first phase of project.

2007: Construction on first phase begins.

2016: Target completion date for first phase. MTA estimates it will serve 200,000 riders daily.

SOURCE: Metropolitan Transit Authority

---newsday

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