2016-05-04 / Features

Van Bramer, Community Protest Train Noise

BY THOMAS COGAN


As a train passes in the background, Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer speaks with the media at a press conference in Sunnyside stating that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority reneged on its promised relief from the noise generated by the East Side Access project. To his r. is Community Board 2’s District Manager Debbie Markel Kleinert and to his l. is Steve Cooper of Community Board 2. To Cooper’s l. is Dorothy Cavallo a Sunnyside/Woodside resident. As a train passes in the background, Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer speaks with the media at a press conference in Sunnyside stating that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority reneged on its promised relief from the noise generated by the East Side Access project. To his r. is Community Board 2’s District Manager Debbie Markel Kleinert and to his l. is Steve Cooper of Community Board 2. To Cooper’s l. is Dorothy Cavallo a Sunnyside/Woodside resident. About 500 Long Island Rail Road and Amtrak trains pass back and forth daily between Sunnyside and Woodside, along track beds that have existed many years longer than those neighborhoods. Living there has always entailed acceptance of the railroad, but the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s East Side Access project has lately forced acceptance beyond its limits. Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer and a few citizens of Sunnyside and Woodside held a media conference on Barnett Avenue, at a spot between the streets of Sunnyside and the railroad tracks, to protest what the Councilman called a long history of broken promises by the MTA regarding both its construction schedule and noise abatement in the communities. The worst part of all that, he said, was the MTA’s announcement in February that any measures to alleviate noise through “sound attenuation walls,” as it called these noise baffles, were no longer considered feasible and no previous plans to build them would be fulfilled.

“Outrageous,” was Van Bramer’s reaction to the agency’s cancellation, particularly since the MTA had proposed the sound attenuation walls in 2007, when as part of the ESA plan it moved the tracks 30 feet closer to the community and attempted to allay any objections to that move by promising a means of reducing the noise. For the next few years, Van Bramer said, the MTA was continuously reluctant to deliver on its promise and ultimately nullified it. Steve Cooper, a Community Board 2 member and formerly its Vice Chairman and Land Use Committee Chairman, said the MTA knew all along that it would do nothing about making its sound attenuation walls a real thing.

The East Side Access is a vast project meant to bring the Long Island Rail Road to Grand Central Terminal and link GCT to Pennsylvania Station, the railroad’s long-time travel source and destination. Whether shifting tracks or boring huge tunnels, ESA has gone on since late last century and seen one completion date after another go by until delay has become an apparently perpetual plight for Queens and Manhattan. Van Bramer said it is currently 14 years behind its original construction schedule, meaning that it initially forecast the completion date as 2009 and now forecasts it as 2023.

Van Bramer is himself a Sunnyside resident, living just a little more than a block away from where the conference was held. He brought up an early morning incident in 2014 when he was roused from sleep by a tremendous hammering sound that soon brought him and other residents to the work site, where they made loud complaints and also called MTA headquarters. The work was put off until later that morning, but similar incidents have occurred since. Another resident, Dorothy Cavallo, who has lived for 51 years in the Phipps Houses, which runs between 39th Avenue and Barnett Avenue and between 50th and 52nd Streets, said the ESA is for the benefit of commuters, coming from as far away as Suffolk County. Patricia McSharry works out of her home in Sunnyside Towers, which, like Phipps Houses, backs on Barnett Avenue and fronts on 39th Avenue. It stands a block from where the councilman’s conference was held. McSharry said that in the summer months, with the windows open, it’s hardly possible to talk on the phone when trains are going by during rush hour.

Van Bramer said it is further insulting to realize that the MTA sponsored an environmental impact study, which found the noise level of the project would be highly disruptive to the neighborhoods— though it proceeded to pay no heed to the EIS’s message. He said that sound attenuation walls could be built all the way from 43rd Street to 61st Street, beginning in a space between the railroad and the old Sunnyside Gardens garages on the north side of Barnett Avenue above 43rd Street.

“A community is just that and not a construction site,” the Councilman said. It shouldn’t be made to bear the noise of such a site without being offered some protection from its disruptive effect. To be told that such relief simply can’t be provided is an insufferable offense,” he concluded.

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