Thursday, September 17, 2015

Vexing delays: Atlantic Avenue near Barclays Center will be constricted through late 2017, nearly twice as long as promised

Blue fence constricts three lanes. Photo: AY webcam
The traffic-clogging, pedestrian-endangering constriction of Atlantic Avenue outside the Barclays Center will continue nearly twice as long as previously predicted, near the end of 2017 instead of February 2016, as Greenland Forest City Partners completes work on a West Portal rail connection between the Vanderbilt Yard and the Atlantic Terminal LIRR station.

That delayed schedule was disclosed almost casually by Forest City Ratner executive Ashley Cotton last night at the periodic Atlantic Yards Community Update meeting held at the Shirley Chisholm State Office Building at 55 Hanson Place.

And it was backed up by Empire State Development (ESD), the state agency that oversees/shepherds the project.

The original timeline

Timeline announced in June 2014 for green roof and West Portal work
Green roof progress, delays

Construction of the arena's green roof, Cotton said, "is really close to being done," with nearly all the sedum installed, and officials "expect the crane to be gone in the month of October."

That actually represents two separate delays. As shown in the timeline above, the green roof was originally supposed to be finished in July 2015, with the last crane gone by June. Instead, the project was delayed, as I reported in February, in part because of weather.

This past June, at a Community Update meeting, Cotton said the Atlantic Avenue crane would be "gone this summer, that's our expectation." That didn't happen either.

Clogging Atlantic Avenue

Last night, Cotton said the crane removal "unfortunately" doesn't remove the MPT (maintenance and protection of traffic measures) on Atlantic Avenue.

"As a reminder," she said, "that really is the MPT for the West Portal work, and we tucked the crane for the arena green roof" into it. A small piece of Atlantic Avenue may become free near the arena entrance, she said, the the street will still be constricted.

She said the West Portal would be complete in 2017, thus allowing a more direct connection between the railyard, where cars are stored and serviced, and the transit hub. As shown in the timeline above, it was supposed to take 21 months--with a 19-month traffic detour--and be finished by February 2016. If it lasts until the end of 2017, the traffic detour will have lasted 41 months.

Had the West Portal been built as originally planned along with arena construction, it would have constricted traffic only ten months.

Transparency issues

"This goes to the question of openness and disclosure," commented Peter Krashes of the Dean Street Block Association. He referenced an ESD board meeting last November, when then-CEO Kenneth Adams lamented the narrowing of Atlantic Avenue and asked when the traffic issue would be resolved--and was told 2015.

"It's a construction project, and timelines change," stated Sam Filler, Director, Atlantic Yards Project, for ESD, offering an all-purpose defense.

"It's a two-year change on a major thoroughfare," countered Krashes.

Gib Veconi of the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council asked for specifics about project completion.

"Towards the end" of 2017, responded Forest City executive Jane Marshall. "Almost when the yard is complete."

"About two years from now," Veconi said.

"That's very complex work," Marshall continued.

"I take your word for it," Veconi followed up. "My recollection, and it's a pretty clear recollection, is that originally the work was going to be done in spring of 2016... you may remember a pitch to get Democratic National Convention in there by the summer of 2016."

(So maybe it was good that the DNC didn't come, and some guy who warned that "the convention would be in a major construction zone" had a point.")
Cotton said she'd check on what changed, and suggested that in one past presentation on the railyard, "one of the dates was wrong that one of you guys caught." (It wasn't me.)

"There's nothing about the West Portal that's changed, I owe you guys a better explanation," Cotton said, pledging to discuss it at a future meeting.

"I've been listening to Forest City Ratner for 30 years," commented Regina Cahill, who heads the North Flatbush Business Improvement District. "I think you guys would get better at communicating."

Resident Pauline Blake, former president of the 78th Precinct Community Council, pointed out that the constricted avenue poses a hazard to "such fragile seniors" and "such young children. It's not a game, it's a reality." She expressed fear that the fatal traffic incidents near the Atlantic/Flatbush intersection would recur.

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