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LIRR project, new subway could come simultaneously

Transit experts told citizens at an East Side Manhattan town hall meeting Tuesday night that it was not beyond reality to think the Second Avenue Subway and the East Side Access project could be built simultaneously.

Many of those attending the meeting called by U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Astoria) expressed frustration in seeking even a timetable for when the Second Avenue line might be finished. The experts said there were too many variables and unexpected occurrences even to hazard a guess. Some previous estimates have suggested 15 years.

Some of the nearly 100 citizens at the “New Momentum for the Second Avenue Subway” meeting at the Lenox Hill Neighborhood House suggested the Second Avenue subway might not be needed, while others were opposed altogether. One speaker said eastern Queens was much more in need of rapid transit than the East Side of Manhattan.

With Maloney presiding, Peter Cafiero, director of rail service design for the New York City Transit Authority, used slides to illustrate what stage the massive project has reached and where it is expected to go in the coming years. He said it was hoped actual construction could start by the fall of 2004.

The environmental analysis is to reach its final stage by next fall. The subway would be the first entirely new line to be built in 70 years and would run from 125th Street to Lower Manhattan but exactly where at that point is yet to be determined.

Others who explained the project and what it is supposed to do toward easing crowded trains and platforms on the Lexington line included Jeffrey Zupan of the Regional Plan Association and Bill Wheeler, planning director of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Most transit advocates have insisted that in order for the East Side Access project to bring Long Island Rail Road trains into Grand Central Terminal, a Second Avenue subway must also be built. Otherwise tens of thousands more subway riders would pour into the long overtaxed Lexington Line.

Transit experts said it was not unreasonable to think both could be built at the same time.

“Both of these projects are at similar stages now,” said Wheeler.

Maloney conceded that getting Congress to provide the billions needed for such a monumental project would be a challenge. It is to be built with both state and federal money and the MTA has already set aside $1 billion in its capital budget for the line.

In response to a member of the audience who expressed doubt it would ever come to pass, Maloney admitted that the two previous failures to build the Second Avenue line caused “a problem of credibility.”

“But we now have the will and the support of all our elected leaders for this new line,” said Maloney, who represents parts of Queens along with Manhattan and the Bronx.

During a question-and-answer period, one woman complained that Manhattan’s East Side was already “wall-to-wall people.”

“Won’t building another subway line only worsen an already intolerable condition, bringing in more and more people?”she asked.

Zupan said it would be worse to bring more and more automobiles into Manhattan.

George Spitz, a Democratic candidate in the recent mayoral election, said the billions of dollars required to build the Second Avenue subwaymight better be spent in other places.

“Look at Eastern Queens,” he said, referring to the communities beyond Flushing, which is the last stop on the No. 7 line. The Long Island Rail Road serves the communities between Flushing and the Nassau border.

“They are without any sort of rapid transit,” Spitz said. “The people of Eastern Queens deserve at least a light rail system.”

Reach contributing writer Philip Newman by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 136.

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