MIDTOWN EAST — Construction on the Queens Midtown Tunnel will be pushed back this Memorial Day weekend to keep traffic flowing for those escaping the city, city officials said.
For the past seven months, the MTA has been shutting down the tunnel for Hurricane Sandy-related rehabilitation work at night and on the weekends, creating traffic jams and noise.
In preparation for Memorial Day weekend, when tons of New Yorkers leave the city for Long Island, the MTA has agreed to push back the tunnel closure on Thursday night from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m., and keep both tubes open on Monday as people return home, according to MTA officials and City Councilman Dan Garodnick, who pushed for the changes.
"We’re very happy the MTA is leaving both tubes open on Monday," Garodnick said. "It will be a big relief for travelers, and they’re starting their work later than usual on Thursday night for the biggest outbound travel time for this long holiday weekend."
Additional police officers will be stationed around the tunnel to help facilitate traffic and make sure drivers don't "block the box," he said.
Despite the measures, Garodnick said drivers should still seek other routes to cut down on traffic.
"Drivers should beware of the Midtown Tunnel this weekend and the rest of the summer because the traffic situation is a terrible mess and drivers should consider alternate routes and budget extra time," he said. "We are working with the police department and the MTA to try to mitigate impacts, but the volumes are just so high and the traffic is just so intense that drivers should consider other ways to get in and out of Manhattan."
Since the rehabilitation work began in the fall, there have been ongoing complaints about traffic jams, noise and safety issues near the tunnel.
The issues came to a head at the end of October, when the driver of a van hit and dragged a 60-year-old woman before fleeing the scene.
"We want to be proactive here and deal with these issues before summer gets into full swing," Garodnick added. "Clearly [the construction] is going to be a problem for travelers this summer and we look forward to continued collaboration with the MTA and NYPD in mitigating the impacts however we can."
More than 40 percent of the tunnel was submerged during Hurricane Sandy. The tunnel reopened about 10 days after the storm, but the salt water wreaked havoc on the span, causing extensive damage to electrical systems in the tubes, including traffic signals, the lighting system and other infrastructure.
The work won't likely wrap up until summer 2018, the MTA has said.