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Queens Leaders Rail Against 7 Train Service Suspension

LONG ISLAND CITY — Elected officials and business owners in Hunters Point are fed up with years of 7 train service disruptions, saying the MTA has repeatedly ignored the interests of the community as it overhauls the line's signal system.

The latest disruptions start this weekend, as construction will suspend 7 train service between Times Square and Queensboro Plaza for 13 consecutive weekends, through March 25. Free shuttle buses will run between the Vernon Boulevard-Jackson Avenue station and Queensboro Plaza instead.

Hunters Point residents and elected officials say the latest shutdown comes after years of poor service on the 7 train in the neighborhood. Most recently, service was halted for five weekends this past fall, and the Court Square station was closed for 10 weeks earlier this year.

"This is crazy," said Richard Mazda, who runs the nearby Secret Theatre and said his business has been plagued by 7 train service outages since he opened in the neighborhood in 2005.

"Every single year, I've been hit for many, many weekends," he said.

The MTA says the construction is necessary to make infrastructure repairs in the Steinway Tunnel connecting Manhattan and Queens, and to upgrade the line's signal system, which will ultimately mean faster and more reliable service for riders.

But Queens City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, who held a press conference Friday to protest the upcoming weekend suspensions, said he and other local leaders were unaware of the maintenance work until earlier this month, adding that the suspensions coincide with several vital weekends for the community's business owners, including the Lunar New Year and St. Patrick's Day.

"What we have said to the MTA in the past is let us know in advance. Come to us, talk to the community, talk to the cultural institutions, talk to the small business owners, talk to the officials and say, how can we do this best in a way that doesn’t devastate communities?" Van Bramer said. "That did not happen here."

An MTA spokeswoman said letters were sent out to elected officials and community boards in September notifying them of track work, and more detailed letters were mailed on Dec. 3.  The MTA also took out ads in local papers, the spokeswoman said.

But Van Bramer said the agency has been inflexible about the plans.

"I wish that the head of the MTA would be here over the weekend when people are freezing...waiting for shuttle buses that don’t come nearly frequently enough," he said at Friday's press conference. "I wish they would come to these restaurants and see fewer people in them."

Sheila Lewandowski, who owns the Chocolate Factory Theatre on 49th Avenue, said she worries the 7 train service outages will keep potential customers at bay. She has four productions scheduled during next three months and said audience members might not be willing to walk in the cold from train stations farther away.

"If our audience can't get here, what are we saying to our artists?" she said.

City Councilman Peter Koo said his Flushing constituents are outraged the train won't be running during Lunar New Year, the neighborhood's biggest event of the year, culminating in a giant parade. Koo likened the holiday to Thanksgiving, saying Asian immigrants from all over the city travel to Flushing for weeks in advance to shop for the celebration — and they rely on the 7 train to get there.

"The MTA, year after year, shows a disregard for its customers," Koo said.

Koo and Van Bramer said they would prefer the work be done during the summer months — so riders won't have to be out in the cold as they wait for a shuttle bus or walk from another station — or, they say, the MTA could apply the FASTRACK program, which shuts down stations overnight so work can be done more quickly.

But MTA spokeswoman Deirdre Parker said neither option is viable for the amount of work being done on the 7 train line. 

"We need to get this done during the winter months so that we don’t interfere with Mets baseball, U.S. Tennis Open and other summer events," Parker wrote in an email. "If we shut it down completely instead of working weekends, we’d have to shut the tunnel down for two months straight."