TA shafts Downtown planners

The Brooklyn Paper
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Just a month after the city passed a massive rezoning plan for Downtown Brooklyn that is expected to bring soaring skyscrapers and thousands of new workers to the area, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority has pulled back funding for much-need subway renovations in the area, a downtown business leader charged this week.

Assemblywoman Joan Millman said the promised improvements were “the lynchpin” that clinched support for the Downtown plan.
Local elected officials and community leaders have long complained that the Jay Street-Borough Hall A, C and F station and the Lawrence Street M and R station are in dire need of renovations in order to accommodate the 43,000 new workers expected over the next decade. A project was said to be in the works that would upgrade the two stations and connect them underground, allowing a free transfer between the lines.

But in a letter addressed to both New York City Transit President Lawrence Reuter and MTA Executive Director Katherine Lapp, a copy of which was obtained by The Brooklyn Papers, Michael Burke, executive director of the Downtown Brooklyn Council, decried the state-run agency’s decision to pull funding for that project.

“I am writing regarding the … decision to de-fund the Jay Street/Lawrence Street subway station reconstruction project,” Burke wrote in the letter, dated July 9. He went on to urge that the subway station fix-up money be restored.

Citing the Downtown Brooklyn Plan, Burke wrote, “The epicenter of this new development will be Willoughby Street, Jay Street and Flatbush Avenue, making the Jay Street and Lawrence Street subway stations the commuter crossroads of Downtown Brooklyn.

“The planned improvements … are an integral component of future downtown development. By connecting these two stations and significantly upgrading their capacities, this new transit hub will serve as both a strong incentive for additional private investment and a welcoming gateway to downtown’s new employees and visitors.”

Burke, who was on vacation, could not be reached for further comment. The Downtown Brooklyn Council was a driving force in creating the massive Downtown Brooklyn rezoning and urban renewal plan.

“That’s an outrageous cut,” said Evan Thies, a spokesman for Councilman David Yassky, whose district includes Downtown Brooklyn.

“With the Downtown Plan just passed and thousands of new jobs being created we’re going to see an influx of new commuters and residents that are going to need mass transporta­tion,” Thies said.

The 60-block Downtown Brooklyn Plan could bring 4.5 million square feet of office development, 1 million square feet of retail and 1,000 units of housing.

Over the next decade the workforce is expected to grow from 71,000 to 114,000, Burke cites in his letter.

From the beginning, both supporters and opponents of the plan have called on the city to improve traffic and transportation throughout the area.

“Without connecting the stations, they can’t possibly sustain the development they are looking for,” said Jo Anne Simon, a leader of the Downtown Brooklyn Coalition.

Community leaders have long charged that the stairwells and platforms at the Lawrence Street-Metrotech station, at Willoughby Street, are too narrow to accommodate riders.

The MTA had pledged to widen the staircases and connect the two subway stations. Riders currently must pay two fares if they want to transfer between stations.

But facing a mounting deficit, the MTA announced earlier this month that they would have to scale back service and possibly raise fares.
Spokespersons for both the MTA and NYC Transit would not confirm whether the program had in fact been taken out of the capital budget, which the MTA is scheduled to vote on next week.

Mark Groce, a spokesman for NYC Transit, would only say, “I can’t talk about anything in the budget because we haven’t seen the final budget yet.”

But that didn’t stop Yassky, Assemblywoman Joan Millman and state Sen. Velmanette Montgomery from firing off letters to the agencies this week calling for the renovations to be reinstated in the budget.

“I feel like it’s the old bait-and-switch technique,” said Millman.

“What we all said [to those drafting the Downtonw Plan] is that you have to do something about increasing capacity on downtown trains, and right now our subway system is overcrowded as it is.

“They said, ‘It’s in our plan,’” said Millman. “For many of us, that was the lynchpin.”

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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