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Relentless Tunnel Construction Noise and Traffic Jams Drive Neighbors Mad

By Noah Hurowitz | August 2, 2016 8:50am
 Cars back up on their way to the Queens Midtown Tunnel.
Cars back up on their way to the Queens Midtown Tunnel.
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DNAinfo/Noah Hurowitz

MURRAY HILL — Noise from ongoing construction in the Queens Midtown Tunnel and traffic jams caused by tube closures are keeping area residents up at all hours of the night and early morning, with no end in sight, they say.

Neighbors are upset, calling their elected representatives and flooding the city with 311 complaints in response to what they describe as around-the-clock cacophony from a pair of construction projects in the tunnel, which they say have resulted in early-morning noise from machinery and honking from late-night traffic.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is currently doing Hurricane Sandy-related repairs inside the tunnel, which require nightly closure of one tube, leading to the non-stop traffic jams as cars queue up in a bottleneck, honking away to the annoyance of people in the neighborhood.

At the entrance and exit plazas between East 36th and East 37th streets, parts of which haven't been touched since the tunnel opened in the 1930s, roadway construction gets started about 7 a.m., jolting residents awake with the sound of jackhammers and other machines, they said.

“The vacuum truck, which sucks up rocks and gravel, it’s the worst vacuum sound you can imagine,” said Scott Rifkin, who lives 19 floors above the hubbub at 255 E. 36th St., which sits above the tunnel entrance. “Literally it sounds like an airplane engine taking off, the building itself shakes.”

There have been more than 100 "311" complaints filed on the blocks surrounding the tunnel in the past year, according to city data, with 37 of those complaints relating to construction noise and at least 80 concerning noise from honking cars. The majority of those complaints have been listed as closed.

Following video shows a traffic jam near the tunnel entrance shortly before midnight on July 21:

As part of the tube reconstruction, the Manhattan-bound tube closes Monday through Thursday from 9:30 p.m. to 5:30 a.m. and Friday and Saturday nights from 11 p.m. to 8 a.m., according to an MTA spokesman. The work is expected to last for another 14 months, officials said.

The closures require traffic going both ways to run through the inbound tunnel, leading to massive jams on the Manhattan side as cars get snarled in traffic as they try to leave town, according to Rifkin and Tanya Codispodi, who lives on the side of the building affected by traffic noise.

But despite all the 311 complaints and attempts by residents to bring their concerns to the MTA, the problem has yet to be diffused, according to Rifkin.

"Talking to the MTA is like telling my 3-year-old daughter to put her toys away," he said. "I'll tell her to do it and she will, but when I turn around again everything is scattered around."

Part of the problem, residents said, is a lack of signs warning drivers of the upcoming trouble. Motorists aren't informed of tube closures before they get to Tunnel Entrance Street — which runs from East 34th Street to the tunnel — so they start laying on the horn, they said, leaving residents like Codispodi tossing and turning in her apartment 11 floors above the ruckus.

“There’s absolutely no signage saying anything about nightly construction,” Codispodi said. “People drive in there not knowing what the heck is going on and decide to start honking the horn like crazy.”

In addition to the ongoing work in the Manhattan-bound tube, starting on Tuesday, construction in the Queens-bound tube will require a lane closure between 10:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. every day through Friday this week, according to an MTA announcement.

The MTA and Department of Transportation have taken some steps to make the work easier on neighbors, according to letters from officials to residents and local pols.

In January, after meeting with Councilman Dan Garodnick, the MTA agreed to put up “no-honking” signs in the plaza, and coordinated with the NYPD to get eight traffic agents assigned to the area to enforce the measure, according to a letter to Garodnick from DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg.

Chris McKniff, a spokesman for the MTA said the agency is aware of complaints from neighbors, but said in order to expedite the projects, work crews need as much time as possible to get the work done.

“We are making every effort to limit the impact to the surrounding residential area, and regret any inconvenience caused by our critically needed repairs at the Queens Midtown Tunnel,” he said. “We appreciate the patience of our neighbors and customers as we proceed with this challenging work, that will deliver not only restored but improved facilities to our customers.”