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Sunnysiders Demand MTA Protect Them From 'War Zone' Construction Noise

 An East Side Access tunnel being constructed under Sunnyside Yards in 2012.
An East Side Access tunnel being constructed under Sunnyside Yards in 2012.
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Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

SUNNYSIDE GARDENS — Queens residents want the MTA to build sound buffers along the LIRR tracks in Woodside and Sunnyside to muffle noise from the massive, ongoing East Side Access project that they say is turning their neighborhood into a "war zone."

Residents say they've been subjected for years to hammers and drilling, and worry the noise will only continue when construction is finished, as the project will move the tracks even closer to their homes and bring hundreds of more trains through the area each day.

"I live about 200 feet directly behind the tracks and I can't keep my windows open at night. I haven’t been able to do so for the last couple of years," said Stephen Cooper, a member of Community Board 2 who lives nearby.

He and other local leaders say the MTA told them a decade ago that it would install a barrier to help muffle noise from the tracks, running from 43rd Street to 61st Street in Woodside — though the MTA says it told the board years ago that it couldn't build sound walls there.

The $10.2 billion East Side Access project has been underway for years, and when finished, will connect LIRR riders to a new terminal beneath Grand Central Terminal. Construction in Queens began around 2002, and the entire project is expected to wrap up in 2022. 

"We will endure over 20 years of construction in this community, and at the end of that process have trains that will be closer to our homes," said City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, who lives in Sunnyside Gardens and held a press conference Tuesday about the noise issue.

Neighbors say construction goes on at all hours of the day, and is loud enough to shake the foundations of their houses. 

"It's like living in a war zone," said Maryann Joyce, who lives on nearby 50th Street, where her windows face the direction of the train lines.

Even when construction wraps up, the project will have cleared the way for more trains to pass by daily, and a set of new tracks that are between 20 to 30 feet closer to neighbor's houses.

"We understood that we'd be inconvenienced for a time," Cooper said of the ongoing construction. "But the the idea now is we're going to be inconvenienced forever."

Though he says CB2 was promised a sound barrier by the MTA, the agency says it told the community years ago that it wouldn't be building one in the area.

In a statement, the MTA said it previously conducted two different studies on the potential noise that the increase in train service would bring — both of which found that it "would not be perceptible in comparison to existing train noise."

The agency said it presented these findings to Queens CB2 back in 2008, pointing to meeting minutes from October of that year which say the agency told the board it couldn't build a sound wall but could add "vegetation" along the tracks.

The MTA said it could still potentially do this, but that the plantings would be merely for beautification purposes, as the studies found they wouldn't work in blocking sound.

"The construction of a barrier, or vegetation on chain link fencing, would not be effective in reducing noise in the area, would be potentially dangerous to yard workers, trains, and their passengers, and would create other adverse impacts including graffiti, shadows and public safety concerns," the agency said.

But neighbors say its relief from noise they need.

"There must be some way to make our life a little more pleasant," said Dorothy Cavallo, co-president of the tenants association at nearby Phipps Garden Apartments. "We need the quality of life."