State Senator Mike Gianaris, who was among those to attend the meeting, said he and his colleagues went in armed with a number of suggestions that the community has been trying to achieve for years.
“Most notably, we’ve continually suggested a shuttle to Manhattan,” Gianaris said in a phone interview after the meeting. “It’s clearly the best way to get people back and forth, but the MTA has been almost belligerent in their refusal. They argue that it is quicker to take a shuttle to Queens Plaza and then to take a train to Manhattan.”
Gianaris expressed frustration with the MTA, saying that trying to convince MTA leadership to adopt a community-sourced solution is like “hitting our heads against a brick wall.”
“They’re very polite, they’ll give us a meeting and they’ll sit there as long as it takes to tell us they’re not going to do anything for us,” Gianaris said. “They gave us all sorts of excuses that seemed completely surmountable. One reason they gave was that it’s hard to find a place for the bus to turn around and come back.”
MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz said there are several reasons why a 7-train shuttle that runs to Grand Central Station, as proposed by the elected officials, is “simply not a viable alternative.”
“First of all, it assumes that the destination of majority of commuters is Grand Central Station,” said Ortiz. “It would not make any sense to create a shuttle service to Grand Central when they would have to change to a subway anyway.”
Ortiz said the biggest problem with a shuttle running to Grand Central Station is there is nowhere for buses to cue up around the terminal. However, Queens residents feel that a shuttle to Manhattan makes more sense than the MTA’s current plan to provide a shuttle to Queensborough Plaza.
“You’re assuming that there’s no traffic here in the tunnel, that there’s no traffic along First and Third avenues and no traffic in and around Grand Central,” Ortiz said. “We feel that taking the E or the N, R or the Q is the best alternative.”
Gianaris disagreed and said he and his colleagues had “asked if they had done any studies to document that it takes longer and they hadn’t.”
During the weekend closures, the MTA will be completing three major repair and revitalization projects, including the initiation of a Communications-Based Train Control (CBTC) upgrade, which will include installation of much-coveted countdown clocks at 7 train stations and allow the MTA to increase capacity by making it possible to send more trains per hour in both directions on the line.
The second project is the repair of the Steinway tubes that the 7 train uses to transport straphangers between Manhattan and Queens. These tubes were among those that saw flooding as a result of Hurricane Sandy, and while repair work in the tunnels is minor, Ortiz said there’s no way for the trains to run while workers are repairing this section.
“The Steinway tubes, back when they were built 1907 were originally trolley tubes,” Ortiz said. “There’s no room to do any type of work while trains are running.”
Finally, the MTA will be completing overdue track panel replacement during the weekend shutdown.
“Track panels are large sections of tracks that are hoisted up and put into place,” Ortiz said. “There are portions of the elevated track line of the 7 that have exceeded their 25-year life span. If we don’t replace these panels, we will have to enact slow speed orders. Wait times for trains could double because we won’t be able to run as many trains per hour.”
Despite the MTA’s reassurances that shuttle service to Queens Plaza will be the best option for straphangers in the interim, Gianaris promised to continue pushing for other viable options for his 7-dependent constituents.
“We’re going to keep fighting until we get some common sense accommodations,” Gianaris said. “We have a lot of work to do to get through the bureaucracy there but we’re committed to whatever is necessary.”