QUEENS — Three new elevators — part of a long-awaited project to improve access to one of the busiest subway stations in Queens — have opened for subway users Friday.
One of the newly opened elevators at the 71st-Continental Aves station in Forest Hills is at street level, a significant upgrade for wheelchair-using commuters.
“This a great day for Forest Hills,” said local Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz at a ribbon-cutting ceremony Friday. “I see a lot of people struggling to get up and down the steps. Now, they have this wonderful elevator.”
Work at the 71st Avenue station, where the E, F, R and M lines stop, started more than two years ago and was initially scheduled to be finished in January 2014.
The $24.7 million project was delayed, in part because of problems related to Hurricane Sandy as MTA employees were dispatched elsewhere in the city to restore the flooded subway system, according to the MTA. Required electrical work also took longer than expected.
Prior to the completion of the elevators at the Forest Hills station, the closest stations with elevators were Union Turnpike in Kew Gardens and Roosevelt Avenue in Jackson Heights.
“I’m very excited,” said Dustin Jones, 26, of Disabled in Action, an organization working to end discrimination against people with disabilities.
Jones, who has used a wheelchair since 2011, lives in Hollis, but he said he comes to Forest Hills often to visit friends.
“It was extremely hard,” he said about his commute. “I would have to take a bus, which is very slow.”
Now, he said, he will be able to take the train. "It will be a much faster way to get home," he said.
“This station was a priority for us given its high ridership and key transfer point for customers along the Queens Boulevard Line,” said Carmen Bianco, New York City Transit president.
The Forest Hills station is among the busiest in Queens. It ranks fifth in ridership in the borough, with average weekday ridership of about 27,000 people, according to the MTA.
“We’d like to have some more ADA-compliant elevators in the borough of Queens, but it’s a small step to make transportation just a little easier in this borough,” said Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, who lives in Forest Hills.
The project also brought two new mezzanine-to-platform staircases to the station and improved electrical and signal installations. It also included reconstruction of the platform edges.
The station has become the 12th in Queens and the 81st in the city to offer elevators, according to the MTA. There are 468 subway stations in the city, 78 of them in Queens.