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F Train Repairs to Clash With Ridership Boom, Officials and Residents Fear

By Allegra Hobbs | February 23, 2017 8:37am
 The MTA plans to close the Rutger Tube on weekends in 2022 to allow for repairs to damage from Hurricane Sandy.
The MTA plans to close the Rutger Tube on weekends in 2022 to allow for repairs to damage from Hurricane Sandy.
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DNAinfo/Michael Ip

LOWER EAST SIDE — The Metropolitan Transportation Authority plans to close the F line on weekends between Manhattan and Brooklyn to repair damage from Hurricane Sandy in 2022, according to documents released by the agency, though it is not known exactly when the repairs will begin or how long they will last.

The Rutgers Tube, which carries the F train between the boroughs, must undergo repairs after 1.5 million gallons of saltwater rushed through the tunnel during the 2012 superstorm, according to the MTA.

But elected officials and community members of the Two Bridges neighborhood are concerned the closures — slated to take place roughly a year after an influx of thousands of new residential units across a handful of massive developments — could cause chaos in the already transit-starved neighborhood.

The East Broadway station serving the neighborhood is already cramped, noted community members, and a recent rash of weekend service disruptions were rough on the existing ridership. By the time the Sandy repairs kick off, that ridership may see a significant spike.

A trio of skyscrapers are expected to rise on the waterfront by 2021, bringing a total of 2,682 new apartments to the area in addition to the 815 luxury condos already rising at the Extell Development Group’s 80-story One Manhattan Square.

Councilwoman Margaret Chin said she is concerned about the tunnel shutdown’s collision with the development boom, and is calling on the MTA to start addressing community fears and mitigation strategies sooner rather than later.

“Anyone stranded by the F train tunnel shutdown last weekend already knows that the idea of a long-term closure of this heavily traveled subway line is a scary one to contemplate,” Chin told DNAinfo New York in a statement.

“Adding to the uncertainty are the thousands of new residents expected to descend on the East Broadway station once One Manhattan Square opens — not to mention the residents of thousands of other units proposed for the Two Bridges area. 

“That is why I plan to demand that the MTA hold public hearings as soon as possible to create effective contingency plans to lessen the impact on the growing number of riders who rely on F train service every single day.”

An MTA spokesman said the agency would work with all parties, stakeholders and officials to mitigate the impact, but did not say whether the agency would be willing to hold the requested public hearings in the near future.

Three developers are currently planning a trio of towers within a three-block radius. JDS Development Group plans to build a 77-story tower at 247 Cherry St., while Two Bridges Associates is planning to build two towers on a shared base at 260 South St. and the Starrett Group is planning a 62-story residence at 259 Clinton St.

Locals living in the shadow of the incoming developments share Chin’s concerns — if the recent weekend disruptions were anything to go by, said one community member, a similar shutdown in a more densely packed area could be chaotic.

“We had a taste of no service this weekend and last couple weekends with shuttle buses they were using because there was no East Broadway service, and that was a bit of a mess,” said Trever Holland of the Two Bridges Tenant Association, adding he would like to see the MTA start the conversation about mitigating the impact now.

“I don’t think it’s too early to look at possible solutions — I just don’t think they see it as a problem right now,” said Holland. “I would like to see them put out more information.”

Another resident said she was concerned about the impact of a shutdown after a residency spike, noting the East Broadway station is already jam-packed.

“As it is, it’s already overcrowded, and with the influx of so many people coming in…it affects everyone in the community,” said Grace Mak, a Rutgers Street resident.

According to MTA data, roughly 130,000 passengers go through the Rutgers Tube per day, while 17,418 commuters on average use the East Broadway station over the weekend.

Mak and Holland, both members of the task force assembled to help inform the three developments' environmental review process, also noted the sole subway station is one of the few transportation options in the neighborhood. Community members and elected officials have called on the MTA to add more M15 Select Bus Service stops in the area, though the agency has shot down the requests.

While the MTA has stated the closure would be limited to weekends, the agency did not comment on the duration of the closures. 

State Sen. Daniel Squadron said he would also like to see robust community engagement prior to the Rutgers Tube closure.

"It's critical the MTA clearly and proactively engage the community on this work, as it has done effectively on the L work," said Squadron in a statement.

A representative for JDS, Two Bridge Associates, and Starrett said subway traffic was part of the city-mandated environmental review process the projects are undergoing, and said the developers would take the closure into account "if necessary" during that review process.

"The subway portion of the EIS will study the flow of commuters to the East Broadway F Train station generated by the new projects principally within peak weekday commuting periods," the groups said in a joint statement.

"We will continue to monitor progress of MTA planning with regard to the Rutgers tube and take it into account if necessary  for the purposes of the EIS."