The MTA is moving ahead with plans to add elevators at eight train stations, despite a COVID-driven funding crunch that’s left planned accessibility upgrades at more than 50 other stops in limbo.
The agency will tap federal grant money that must be used this year to inch forward on a centerpiece of its not-yet-funded $51 billion capital plan — by installing a total of 17 elevators at four subway stations in Brooklyn and one each in Queens, Manhattan and The Bronx, as well as at a Staten Island Railway stop.
“We’re pressing ahead within the constraints of this incredible financial crisis on all of our huge priorities,” Janno Lieber, the MTA’s chief development officer, told THE CITY. “This is proof that the MTA continues, even throughout the financial crisis, to prioritize accessibility.”
The transit agency’s board is set to vote Wednesday on a $161 million elevator installation and 15-year maintenance contract that MTA officials said will shave more than $400 million off the cost of installing the lifts and speed the pace of the work.
The initial projection for eight-station undertaking was originally $581 million under the MTA’s proposed 2020 to 2024 Capital Program.
The MTA managed to find savings, according to documents, by planning to install elevators without machine rooms that require costly excavation and underground utility relocation. Construction on the first two elevators is set to begin as soon as May.
“This one episode, I think, gives us some hope,” Lieber said.
But MTA board documents also flag a projected cost increase and delays to awarding contracts for work at several subway stations along 14th Street — including accessibility upgrades at the sprawling complex linking the Sixth Avenue and Seventh Avenue lines with the L train.
Lieber said the projected $374 million price tag, up from $231.5 millon, results from bundling several separate projects together with the ADA work. The other work includes planned platform repairs and station maintenance.
The budget adjustments come as the MTA has repeatedly warned of massive cuts to subway, bus and commuter rail service and long-planned capital projects without billions of dollars in federal aid that has yet to materialize.
‘MTA Needs to Do More’
Advocates who have pressed the MTA to increase subway accessibility said the agency needs to commit to a timeline for a fully accessible system and come up with a way to fund the improvements.
“We appreciate that during the MTA’s worst-ever fiscal crisis, agency leaders still found a way to create a few more accessible stations,” said Colin Wright of TransitCenter. “But the MTA needs to do more than just scrape by.”
In a system where only a quarter of the 472 stations are fully accessible to riders with disabilities, the MTA’s lofty pre-pandemic plans to make 70 more come into compliance with the federal Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 were slowed by the crisis.
The agency, which has been repeatedly sued for ADA violations, will instead redirect grant money that had been pegged to eventually routing Metro-North trains into Penn Station toward accessibility at these stations:
- Queens: Beach 67th St. (A line)
- The Bronx: East 149th St. (No. 6 line)
- Manhattan: Dyckman St. (northbound platform on No. 1 line)
- Brooklyn: 7th Ave. (F/G lines); Grand Street (L line); Metropolitan Ave./Lorimer St. (G/L lines)
- Staten Island: New Dorp (Staten Island Railway)
“As someone who carries a cart filled with food up and down in this station, an elevator would make a big difference for me,” said food vendor Felix Carrillo, 48, who was waiting on a No. 6 train at East 149th St. “Sometimes people help me carry the cart, and sometimes they don’t, but with an elevator, I won’t have to worry about that.”
The MTA has added elevators at nine subway stations this year, but officials said prospects for future projects are dimmed without a federal COVID-19 relief package.
“Sometimes, prioritizing accessibility will mean repurposing money from other areas of the budget to make stations accessible,” Wright said.
‘Better Than Nothing’
One of the stations that will get an elevator is Dyckman Street along the No. 1 line. An elevator was added at the Upper Manhattan station’s southbound platform in 2014 as part of a $31 million renovation, but not at the northbound platform.
“You should not have one-sided access,” said Edith Prentiss, 68, a wheelchair user and disability rights advocate who lives in Upper Manhattan. “I end up sitting on a train figuring out how the hell I’m going [get out] at that station, and that means taking it all the way north to 242nd Street to bounce back.”
Prentiss called the planned accessibility upgrades at eight stations “a drop in the bucket” but still a plus for riders with limited mobility.
“On a cold, wintry December night, it’s better than nothing,” she said.