MURRAY HILL — Ongoing complaints about traffic jams, noise and safety issues near the Queens Midtown Tunnel have come to a head — after a recent hit-and-run nearby left a woman seriously injured and the MTA announced that the tunnel would now have to be closed for construction every weekend.
While neighbors have been railing for months over the impacts of tunnel repairs, a recent hit-and-run collision outside the tunnel — in which the driver of a van hit and dragged a 60-year-old woman before fleeing the scene — has prompted local elected officials to say enough is enough.
“The situation on Second Avenue has simply gotten out of hand. We need a plan to allow pedestrians, bikers, and drivers to navigate the area without creating an unsafe or unlivable environment for residents,” reads a Nov. 9 letter to the MTA, NYPD and DOT signed by eight local elected officials including Councilman Dan Garodnick and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer.
The MTA's twin projects to repair Hurricane Sandy-damaged tunnels and renovate Manhattan exit and entrance plazas have resulted in periodic weekend closures of tubes.
But since Oct. 14, the closures are happening every weekend, causing complaints to "skyrocket" as traffic backs up and general chaos occurs on a regular basis, according to the letter to the commissioners of the MTA and DOT, and president of the NYPD's president of bridges and tunnels.
Work crews have been closing one tube starting Friday nights, from 11 p.m. through Monday mornings at 5:30 a.m. in order to accelerate Sandy recovery work.
The MTA has not given an end date for these weekend closures., but in a Sept. 12 presentation, representatives of the agency told Community Board 6 members that the projects are expected to wrap up by summer of 2018.
The letter calls on the NYPD to position more traffic agents outside the tunnel and to increase signage in the area to alert drivers of potential jams up ahead.
“Weekend access to the QMT should not be a Sherlock Holmes mystery,” said Scott Rifkin, who lives 19 floors above the commotion at 221 East 36th Street and has helped lead the charge to try to solve noise problems. “This has created a dangerous situation for motorists, emergency vehicles and pedestrians.”
While the call to action was made more urgent by the Oct. 30 hit-and-run, available collision data does not appear to suggest that there have been more injuries near the tunnel compared to other busy intersections this year.
There were nine traffic-related injuries this year up to Sept. 30 on Second Avenue and East 34th Street, a block away from the Tunnel Entrance Street, according to data provided by the city. And there were six injuries in the same period at the intersection of Third Avenue and East 40th Street, near Tunnel Exit Street.
“[Tunnel repair] is critical work, and we are fully supportive of its completion, but we hope you can find ways to do so while ensuring the safety and well-being of the community,” the letter writes.