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The estimated cost of replacing 19 subway elevators keeps going up: The MTA now projects it will spend nearly double the $69 million originally budgeted for the new lifts in its current five-year capital plan.
MTA documents forecast the transit agency will need about $134 million to replace 11 hydraulic and eight traction elevators at stations that include 34th Street-Herald Square in Manhattan, Jamaica Center-Parsons/Archer in Queens and Borough Hall/Court Street in Brooklyn.
“Agency executives have heralded changes in purchasing strategy meant to bring down the costs of projects,” said Colin Wright, of the advocacy group TransitCenter. “Here we see the opposite.”
The MTA blamed the cost increase on a change in scope that, in some cases, will require reconfiguring or adding elevator machine rooms. Initial plans had assumed existing machine rooms could be used, officials said.
“Since the original estimates, we’ve switched to a different procurement method that brings the potential to reduce the duration of construction and service outages,” Shams Tarek, an MTA spokesperson, told THE CITY.
The MTA’s Elevator and Escalator Performance Dashboard data shows that, through October, 14 of the 19 elevators being replaced have not met New York City Transit’s goal of being in service 96.5% of the time.
Among those set to be eventually replaced are three troublesome traction elevators at the Clark Street stop on the 2/3 line in Brooklyn Heights. That includes one where riders have been trapped 14 times this year alone — the third-highest total in the subway system.
“I got stuck in one about a month ago and it was scary,” Dan Constantine, 89, told THE CITY after exiting one of the elevators. “I just started banging on the walls.”
The Brooklyn Heights station is reachable through its trio of nearly 20-year-old elevators, which shuttle riders to and from a mezzanine level leading to stairs that connect to the platform. According to MTA data, none of the three Clark Street subway elevators have this year met New York City Transit’s goal of being in service 96.5% of the time over the course of 24 hours.
‘Not Where You Want to Be’
One, known as “Elevator 312,” has been the worst-performing of the bunch slated for replacement. Its availability rate of 81.2% is the fifth-worst of the 261 elevators managed by New York City Transit — and it’s suffered series of entrapment incidents, including eight in August and September, records show.
“Stuck in an elevator is not where you want to be,” said Constantine.
But the awarding of the Clark Street elevator fix contract has been postponed as the MTA weighs how to “minimize community and rider impact while its elevators are replaced,” Tarek said.
At a September Brooklyn Heights town hall, New York City Transit President Andy Byford said he favors closing the station for eight months to “get it done and get out” in the least impactful manner for riders.
The agency is also considering options that would keep the station open while work is done one elevator at a time, a process that could take up to two years.
Station Shutdowns Needed
Meanwhile, the MTA opted for a full-time shutdown to replace elevators at the No. 1 line’s 168th Street stop in Manhattan, which is supposed to reopen next month. The 181st Street station on the No. 1 line is due to close for elevator repairs in 2021.
Of the 19 elevators set to be replaced, all but five have been in use for at least 20 years. Systemwide, the average age for the 262 elevators that are maintained by New York City Transit is 12.
Riders say they welcome the replacement, if not the unscheduled outages, of subway elevators. One of the units set to be replaced, leading from Broadway into the Inwood-207th Street stop, was out of service multiple days last week and at least twice this week. It’s among two 20-year-old lifts set to be replaced at the A train’s Manhattan terminal.
“Look, she wanted to go down there to get a MetroCard and now she can’t,” Angel Silva said of his 41-year-old stepdaughter, Maria Castillo, who uses a walker. “I’m almost 75, and I don’t want to be going up and down stairs. But at least they’ll get fixed.”
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