As federal funds put New York City’s second avenue subway extension on expressway, move looms for residents

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The now very real prospect of securing billions of dollars in federal funding for the next phase of the Second Avenue subway line has made state and transit officials dream again of putting the project on the road. Expressway.

“Ladies and gentlemen: next stop, 125th street!” Governor Kathy Hochul said last week after visiting a tunnel built almost half a century ago under Second Avenue in East Harlem.

But as the MTA seeks to accelerate the next phase of a $ 6.3 billion project that has been on the drawing board for decades, it faces resistance from some landowners on the path to expansion. planned from the 1.5 mile Q line from 96th Street and Second to 125th Street and Lexington Avenue. The second avenue section of the line currently begins at 72nd Street.

“One of the lessons of the first phase is that if you don’t get the property, it delays the project,” Janno Lieber, MTA president and interim CEO, told THE CITY. “The cost implications and the delay in delivery were very negative for the first phase. “

An environmental assessment of the standby section of the line was carried out in 2018, which examined the effect of the project on air quality, open spaces, and safety and security, among many other factors.

The assessment estimates that up to 170 people living in 65 homes would be displaced by the works, and up to 505 workers could be affected in commercial spaces disrupted by the project.

But the MTA said it would likely need less goods than originally planned to complete the next phase of the Second Avenue subway line. This is due to the so-called cost containment strategies and design-build work in which a single contractor manages the design and construction of an entire aspect of a single project.

The Federal Transit Administration concluded that the subway extension would not have significant negative permanent effects on East Harlem – although it recognized that the construction would temporarily affect “traffic, noise and community character,” says evaluation.

Fight at the end of the tunnel

Until the adoption of the federal infrastructure bill, funding for the next phase of the work had been questioned.

“Dreams have always been there, but money has never matched dreams,” Hochul said last week, proclaiming, “Those days are now over.

Other hurdles remain, however, including the acquisition of dozens of properties the agency said it needed to complete the next phase of the line.

The owners of several sites near the north end of the proposed extension sued the MTA in federal court in Manhattan this month, accusing the transit agency of thwarting development of properties near 125th Street and Park Avenue.

(Before LR) Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, MTA CEO Janno Lieber, Rep. Adriano Espaillat, Gov. Kathy Hochul and Rep. Carolyn Maloney spoke to reporters in a Second Avenue subway tunnel. 23 November 2021.
Ben Fractenberg / THE CITY

The lawsuit argues that the sites “were acquired for residential, commercial and commercial development” but “were essentially vacant land” because the MTA prevented them from being developed.

The complaint states that the MTA offered $ 40.7 million in August for 1815 and 1801 Park Ave., intending to use the properties as an entrance with six elevators and as space to anchor the tunnel. The offer was rejected by the developers, according to the lawsuit, which was first reported by Law360.com.

Plaintiffs want “reasonable” monetary judgment and attorney fees, as well as “further remedy” determined by the court, according to court documents.

Lawyers for the owners did not respond to LA VILLE’s request for an interview and the MTA is not commenting on pending litigation.

“Consensual” takeovers

Lieber said the MTA wanted to make acquisitions in order to keep the project on schedule.

“We are taking all steps to ensure that we can acquire property on a consensual basis through negotiation,” said Lieber. “But we have also put in place the usual procedures of the eminent domain. “

The 2018 environmental assessment established a preliminary list of up to 41 private properties to be acquired in whole or in part for the project.

The city planned to take over several buildings in East Harlem as part of the Second Avenue subway project on November 23, 2021.

The city planned to take over several buildings in East Harlem as part of the Second Avenue subway project on November 23, 2021.
Ben Fractenberg / THE CITY

They include vacant lots and unused buildings for the 106th Street station, a pair of four-story residential buildings with shops on the ground floor for the 116th Street stop, and a two-story commercial building near the station. 125th Street which houses a pawnshop, restaurant and grocery store.

THE CITY reported in September 2020 that the MTA had begun a process mandated by state law to eventually secure properties along the proposed route and that the prominent estate was a last resort.

“We don’t have a say,” said Danny Young, whose family laundromat, Lucky Machine Wash, is in a Second Avenue building near East 119th Street that is marked for acquisition. “We’re a bit resigned to it, you know? “

The project would include a tunnel built from 110th to 120th Street in the 1970s, but which has been put on hold due to the city’s proximity to the bankruptcy. The first phase of the line opened in 2017.

Moving house

Carlos Hernandez Jr., who THE CITY first spoke to for a 2019 article on the project, said uncertainty over what happened had led him to leave his lifelong home in East Harlem.

The 62-year-old said he moved to Florida last year after selling 2128 Second Ave. – which he inherited from his father – for “cheap” to a real estate group.

The combination of the effect of the pandemic on its tenants in the four-story brick building near East 110th Street, as well as the lack of commitment to funding under the Trump administration, said Hernandez, the convinced to leave town.

“It looked like it was going to take forever, so I had to get rid of the building,” he said. “I had to bail out.”

Hernandez sold the 5,000-square-foot building for $ 1.5 million, or about $ 300 per square foot, property records confirm. Still, the average price per square foot in East Harlem in 2019 was $ 1,000, according to StreetEasy records.

Hernandez said the building was priced much higher before a prominent estate was threatened. With the train project looming, he thinks the prize he got was the best he could get.

“Two things killed me – one is MTA and then COVID,” he said.

A few blocks north, Lu Nicaj said he was glad the building near East 116th Street that houses his tile store was apparently no longer needed for the metro extension. At one point, he said, he was assigned to a ventilation plant.

An East Harlem business owner spoke about the Second Avenue subway extension on November 23, 2021.

Lu Nicaj. 23 November 2021.
José Martinez / THE CITY

“The last report we got was that the plan had been changed,” he said, referring to an update he received over the past year. “They’re moving it across the street to the northeast corner.”

Nicaj, 58, owner of Eagle Tile, believes the subway extension will be a boon for East Harlem, citing changes he has seen near his Yorkville home since the opening of the line’s first phase Second Avenue.

“I am sure that in the long term this is progress for the city,” said Nicaj. “But as far as the neighborhood and the people who live here are concerned, it’s a displacement.”


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