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East Harlem Locals Blast MTA's $1B Cut to Second Ave. Subway Expansion

By Gustavo Solis | October 30, 2015 5:02pm | Updated on November 1, 2015 9:44pm
 The MTA cut its budget for the second phase of the Second Avenue Subway system by $1 billion, according to its capital plan.
The MTA cut its budget for the second phase of the Second Avenue Subway system by $1 billion, according to its capital plan.
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MTA Capital Construction/Rehema Trimiew

EAST HARLEM — The glass is half-a-million dollars full, according to the MTA.

On Wednesday the MTA cut $1 billion in funding from the Second Avenue subway line’s expansion into East Harlem. The move came as a surprise to some as it was not publicly discussed before the MTA’s vote and the cut was buried in a 237-page proposal, according to the New York Times.

News of the cuts prompted outcry from locals and elected officials in East Harlem.

“The MTA’s vote to drastically cut the Second Avenue Subway budget is shocking and indefensible,” said state Assemblyman Robert Rodriguez. “For over a century, New Yorkers from the Lower East Side to Harlem have patiently waited for transit equality to become a reality. Yet, the MTA’s approved plan has dashed those hopes and told New Yorkers north of 96th Street that they don’t matter.” 

But with more than $500 million for the Second Avenue line still in the budget, the project is not dead or even on hold, according to the MTA.

“There is more than half a million still in the capital program so by the end of 2019 people are going to be seeing visual construction, but we won’t start the tunneling process,” MTA spokesman Adam Lisberg said.

While digging for the tunnel will be pushed back to 2019, the MTA will keep it alive by performing a detailed study and environmental reviews, he added. They'll also plot out every inch of what will get built and where, start property acquisition for stations, and begin moving utility lines to make way for the tunnel.

The cuts were made because, even with all of the money in the world, the MTA cannot begin digging the tunnel until 2019, Lisberg said. It did not make sense to keep that money in the budget if the MTA could not use it right away.

Still, residents of East Harlem felt frustrated by the budget cut and saw it as a slight against their neighborhood.

“I’m not surprised because these sort of MTA improvements only come when the money comes,” said Marina Ortiz, the founder of East Harlem Preservation. “I’m not talking about money from the state, I’m talking about gentrification. We only get the good stuff when we are getting pushed out.”

Others are used to getting this treatment in El Barrio.

“It’s extremely unfortunate," said local advocate Clark Pena. "Once again we get the short end of the stick.”

Others were concerned that the move could further delay the project.

The 4, 5, and 6 line is one of the most congested in the city. More than 1.3 million daily riders use the Lexington Avenue line. That is more than the entire DC metro system, according to the Riders Alliance.

With the city wanting to rezone East Harlem and let developers build more developments to boost the city’s affordable housing stock, the subway will only get more congested, said resident James Garcia.

“It’s very disappointing that the MTA is not making phase two a priority considering the rezoning,” he said.

Garcia, who lives near Second Avenue, avoids the 6 train and walks a mile to Lenox Avenue and 110th Street to take the 2/3 train every day.

“I get to work faster, I get home faster even walking the extra mile,” he said.