Between the L Train Shutdown and development along East 14th Street, the whole area is a battered construction zone.
The MTA began working on the Avenue B electrical substation and the purported Avenue A exit for the new 1st Avenue L station in September 2017. Since then, residents of Stuyvesant Town and across 14th Street have endured hellish living conditions. In recent months, cement trucks, drill rigs, pile drivers, compressors, and generators – nearly all of them diesel-fueled – have been running from 7am until 11pm. And the MTA has now received a one-year permit, without community input, for 24/7 work.
Affected tenants at 542 East 14th Street, in particular, told us they’ve submitted scores of complaints to the MTA and Department of Environmental Protection regarding excessive noise pollution and specific site violations, yet with poor response.
“At this point, we expect little from the MTA,” said one resident. “Yet the DEP, which is supposed to be in charge of guarding the safety and health of New York City residents, approved the 24/7 year-long permit anyway without community input.”
Assemblyman Harvey Epstein has been instrumental in working with tenants, and arranged a meeting last week with MTA personnel, including Piyush Patel, Program Manager of Sandy Recovery and Resiliency. Epstein informed the MTA that they have until September 6 to make significant changes to mitigate noise.
During the meeting, however, those in attendance learned something even more disturbing about ongoing digging near the new subway entrance at Avenue A and East 14th Street (work previously presented to the community as necessary for a new exit/elevator). When pressed about the new permit, Patel let slip that the MTA’s intention is actually to use the spot as sole access point for the 24/7 delivery of new Canarsie Tunnel infrastructure, as well as the removal of debris, which the city agency acknowledged is contaminated with asbestos and silica dust.
Not only is this access point directly in front of hundreds of apartments, as well as a number of businesses, it also borders a school. Scope of the project is enormous – get ready for trucks offloading 14,400 linear-feet of track and track bed, 270,000 linear-feet of cable ducts and associated cables, 7,000 linear-feet of concrete lining, and the tunnel’s lighting and fire systems through two-lane Avenue A and the already highly-congested 14th Street. Again, the schedule for this activity is 24/7 for the full fifteen-month term, beginning in April 2019.
An operation of this size – which still has not been publicly announced, presumably because of the unwanted public outcry – could conceivably disable an entire block of 14th Street; a block already reduced to one lane of traffic in each direction. The MTA also acknowledged that this corridor will be most affected by the L-train shutdown, clogged with 50 diesel shuttle buses per hour, along with M14 commuter buses, emergency vehicles, business delivery vehicles, and other traffic.
Not to mention the financial toll on retail.
Four small businesses adjacent to the Avenue A site reportedly shut down due to construction work, and another four report drastic drops in sales. Currently, the only entry and exit point to these businesses, which are blocked from the sidewalk, is a narrow passage from Avenue A that is 28″ wide in some spots.
Residents at the meeting also report troubling comments that were made by the MTA regarding monitoring of the air quality around the construction site, given the glut of diesel equipment (over thirty) currently in operation. The MTA initially answered “yes,” but when further pressed by Assemblyman Epstein, they admitted that they were only monitoring dust. When asked why diesel levels aren’t monitored, the response was that there is too much diesel in the air already so monitoring it wouldn’t matter.
When queried about why no public notice has ever been given to residents about the scope of this project, MTA admitted prior attempts at knocking on residential doors.
In light of the multiple violations and complaints, as well as the misrepresentation of scope of construction work, tenants of 542 East 14th are calling on Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio to impart a moratorium on all work until an independent auditor is brought in to 1) study any and all violations, 2) fully engage the community, and 3) investigate the ramifications of the seemingly covert work at Avenue A and 14th Street.