Local leaders pressed MTA officials and the agency’s contractor for proposals and promises from the authority this morning, but the biggest payoff appears to be for residents of Gerritsen Beach and communities east of Sheepshead Bay.
“Did a magic bullet appear? No,” said Councilman Lew Fidler of the meeting. “The thing that probably will come out of it – and we’re optimistic will come out of it – and it doesn’t affect a whole lot of people, but it does affect Weinstein’s constituents and mine – there was some willingness to consider reversing some of the service cuts on the BM3 and BM4 buses. That’s the thing we’re most optimistic will happen, but obviously it doesn’t help the vast majority of people affected by the construction.”
It appears the MTA came unaware of the demands and complaints awaiting them.
“They were there to tell their side of the story, and I think that’s all they thought they were there for,” said George Broadhead, president of the Gerritsen Beach Property Owners Association. Broadhead said they came to discuss the construction plans, not alter them. However, the meeting changed direction when Broadhead brought up the recent service changes to the BM3 and BM4 buses, which provide alternative Manhattan-bound service to Gerritsen Beach and the eastern portion of Sheepshead Bay. Those bus routes now leave many riders with only the handicapped B/Q line.
The MTA officials present only represented the subway service, and according to sources at the meeting, they were unaware of the bus division’s actions and dismissed it as the other branch’s responsibility.
“[State Senator Carl] Kruger blew his top,” said one source who asked not to be named. “[The MTA was] there to really apologize for all the bullcrap. But I think they got a taste of it from Kruger.”
Kruger scolded the MTA for its dismissive attitude towards bus alternatives, reportedly saying, “We bailed you out with billions of tax-payer dollars, and now you’re telling me the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing?”
Other elected officials, including Fidler, Assemblywoman Weinstein, and Assemblyman Maisel chimed in to represent their constituents who have had their options wiped off the table in recent months. The MTA representatives got the message: they committed to get the ball rolling on restoration of Manhattan-bound bus service.
Subway commuters in Sheepshead Bay didn’t fare so well. A partial restoration of express service isn’t being considered.
However, Fidler proposed that construction work continue later into the evening. Presently, the contractor works from 7 a.m. until 5 p.m., and Fidler was joined by Kruger and Chairperson Theresa Scavo in asking to extend it an extra two hours, hoping that it will decrease the planned two year duration for the project.
“Would it decrease the length of time of the job by 10 percent? That’s what I want to know,” said Fidler.
The MTA has promised to collect data on the proposal. They’re comparing evening ridership numbers and cost estimates to see if the benefits outweigh the inconvenience. To complicate matters, the project has already been hampered by a court order received by 36 property owners along the B/Q tracks that bars the MTA from doing work past 5 p.m. The agency will have to approach those homeowners and ask them for permission to do work later in the evening, and may have to offer a compensation incentive, raising the price of the project.
Still, the promise to study the issue has inspired confidence in the local officials. Theresa Scavo, who last night said she expected the MTA to ignore the group’s pleas altogether, seemed somewhat optimistic about the ground gained.
“The meeting went very well,” she said. “At this point I don’t think there’s any other way to proceed except trying to find the best deal. People don’t need to be inconvenienced until the next year.”
Another alternative proposed to decrease the overall time of the project was to increase the number of total weekend shutdowns, meaning no train service at all between Kings Highway and Prospect Park. The MTA has committed to collecting data on weekend ridership, but officials also suggested that they’d like to check back with their constituents to see if that is preferable.
MTA officials, meanwhile, insisted that service was getting better and commute times were shortening since the project began. The agency blamed rider confusion and initial work during the “transition period” for increased train delays, but insists that things are getting better all the time. According to sources, Scavo – who rides the train frequently – and others, balked at the assertion.
“They’re going to gather some statistics – granted it’s their statistics – to see how much it takes with the express service, how long it took during the transition period, and how long it takes now, so that we can see if their claim that it’s getting better has any basis in reality,” said Fidler. “I’m not going to be that idiot that’s screaming all is well and things are getting better if they can’t prove it.”
Councilman Michael Nelson was also at the meeting, and his efforts focused on ensuring the work doesn’t become “another MTA debacle where the project lasts forever,” said Steve Zeltser, legislative aide for Nelson.
“Our primary concern is that it has to be done no later than the expected finish date. As of now it’s late 2011 – originally the plans were to last four years. They’ve now pushed that down to two years,” said Zeltser.
The leaders and the MTA will meet again after the agency has collected data on the alternative proposals. Still, it looks unlikely that any express service will be restored within the next two years, and there have been no promises that it won’t extend longer.
“We’ll have to wait and see that the MTA will live up to their word and their promises that they’ll finish when they said,” Zeltser said. “These tracks are old, they need to be worked on. There’s no doubt about that.”