Volume 75, Number 34 | January 11 - 17, 200

13th St. subway construction drags into fourth year

Villager photo by Gary He
Major construction for a subway project continues to disrupt W. 13th St.

By Kara Bloomgarden-Smoke

Heading west on 13th St., there is a sign on Fifth Ave. alerting pedestrians and motorists to the ongoing construction. The sign says that the street will be closed until May 2005, but the 5 at the end of the year has been covered with a 6.

As the construction at the intersection of 13th St. and Sixth Ave. stretches into its fourth year, May 2006 is still an optimistic finish date for the project.

The Transit Authority began work to improve the ventilation system for the Sixth Ave. subway in early 2002, stating that the 39-month project would be completely finished by July 2005, but that the aboveground work would end six months earlier, according to Alan Jacobs, vice president of the W. 13th St. Block Association.

Block residents are annoyed by the inconvenience and the difficulty that they have had trying to pin down the reason for the delay and the finish date of the project.

“It gives us a sense of powerlessness to be at the mercy of the M.T.A.,” said 13th St. resident Daphne Uviller. “I’ve lost faith in any kind of accountability.”

However, the toll is especially heavy on the businesses that line the block.

“This has been bad enough for us residents, but it just breaks the businesses,” said Gary Tomei, president of the block association.

Café Loup, which has been located at 105 13th St., just off of Sixth Ave., for the past 26 years, has been extremely affected by the construction right outside their door.

“We wouldn’t have stayed in business without our loyal clientele. We haven’t had any walk-in or new customers since this whole thing started,” said Lloyd Feit, who together with his wife, Ardes, owns the restaurant. “Our business has been off about 10 percent, which is our profit margin. In the summer the landlord helped us out with the rent so that he did not have dead space. Ardes and I have had to mortgage our home to pay the bills on the restaurant.”

Imperial Parking System, which operates a garage next door to Café Loup, has also been affected by the construction.

“There has been a lot of complaining from customers,” said garage attendant Andres Rayo. “At times the machines blocked the entrance to the garage, and business is definitely off.”

“I’m not supposed to know this but a gas line has been found and the M.T.A. is waiting for Con Edison to approve the plans,” said Café Loup’s Feit. “The contractors’ hands are tied, so I have no gripe with them.”

Chris Olert, a Con Edison spokesmen, said the utility company has fully complied with all requests from the T.A. and the contractors, and is in no way responsible for the delay. The contractors have found a gas line, Olert confirmed, adding that Con Edison will assist in its relocation.

“What is most shocking to me is to realize that there is no master plan for city utilities,” said Uviller.

James Anyansi, a T.A. spokesperson, said that drawings provided by utilities “didn’t reveal the complications” that they encountered. Asked if the delay was Con Edison’s fault, he said, “No I’m not pointing the finger at Con Ed — they were just one of the contributors to the delay.”

According to Tomei and Jacobs, during a Community Board 2 meeting on Dec. 13 that was attended by T.A. representatives, a construction manager attributed the delay to an 18-inch gas main that was contaminated with P.C.B.’s and said they were waiting for an unspecified utility to respond. When asked when this discovery was made, the contractor replied that it had been made two years before the meeting.

Tomei said that on Monday he received a letter from Dan Held of Con Edison denying any responsibility for the delay and that they will tell this to the T.A.

A T.A. representative would only give mid to end of 2006 as a projected end date and declined to comment on the specifics.

The aboveground work is now scheduled to be finished by mid-March, a date which block residents are eagerly anticipating.

“It will be great when the construction is done,” said Jacobs. “It will really make us appreciate our quiet block.”

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