The tension was palpable at the two-hour meeting hosted by Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley at St. Mary’s of Winfield in Woodside.
Residents fed up with delays, a rerouted Q47 bus line and potholes on the thoroughfare, asked questions and voiced concerns to representatives from various city agencies.
Crowley said the “biggest frustration” was with the Department of Design and Construction (DDC), which is managing the project.
“The project should’ve been finished already. There was a huge, unforgivable error that put us to this point,” she said. “That had to do with construction documents not being accurate, and a project in the midst of construction that had to be brought back to the drawing board.”
The $25 million project began three years ago. According to city officials, after a heavy storm inundated the sewer system in the area in August 2007, community leaders requested a project to alleviate flooding and improve the drainage.
Karen Ellis, borough coordinator for the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), said the project will help improve water quality by adding new sewers, catch basins, water mains and storm drains.
Crowley added that the sewer lines on Calamus Avenue feed other sewers throughout the borough and are connected to Newtown Creek.
But problems arose with the work on the ground, according to DDC assistant commissioner Ali Mallick, who took over stewardship of the project last year. DDC had to redesign the project, which caused a long delay.
When Mallick took charge, he found out that the project was “dead” and that nothing was happening.
“I understand the frustration that you have,” he said. “I’m trying to get things done.”
He told residents DDC started work again on Wednesday.
All told, he said he expected the project to be completed by May 2018. He added that he’s working with the contractor to see if they can work longer hours and on weekends.
“I’ll do everything I can to ensure that work is done by the end of the year,” he said.
However, Mallick said that one segment of the project, a two-block span from 69th Street to 70th Street, encountered significant challenges that forced DDC to “eliminate this work” from their current contract.
The assistant commissioner said there are three buildings that must be monitored to ensure they don’t experience vibrations, including a building that manufactures airplane parts.
“So we decided we have to find some other method of doing this work,” he said. “Hopefully we can come back with a better design that can work and not hold up the entire project.”
Later in the meeting, Mallick clarified the redesign of the work on those two blocks will require additional funding.
Crowley and local residents did not take kindly to that news.
“I’m frustrated because the story is changing as we go along,” Crowley said. “You told us the project would be complete by May 2018, but that wasn’t the whole story. There’s that two-block part of it, which is a major part where everyone is going to get to 69th Street.
“We’re not happy with that answer,” the councilwoman added.
Crowley asked residents to write their concerns and frustrations on note cards, which she read aloud. One of the main questions was about the Q47, which was rerouted due to construction.
Elected officials at the town hall pointed out that despite receiving an invitation, the MTA did not send a representative.
“They will know from me personally how not happy I am they’re not here,” said State Senator Joseph Addabbo. “We need them to be partners with us if we’re going to address the issues.”
“I think they’re scared of you and they should be,” added Assemblyman Brian Barnwell. “This project should’ve been done before I was in office.”
Mallick told the crowd that when construction paused, he asked the MTA if they would reroute the buses back to normal service on Calamus Avenue.
“They said, ‘No, once you finish all the work, we’ll come back and we’ll put the buses back in service,’” Mallick said. “Otherwise, the detours will stay.”
Another contentious issue residents raised was the many potholes along the corridor. Jason Banrey, deputy borough commissioner for the Department of Transportation (DOT), asked for locations so he could possibly expedite improvements.
One outspoken resident, who declined to be identified, vented at Banrey’s response. She said workers were filling the potholes with “garbage gravel” and leaving nails all over.
“Please don’t lie to us, we are not stupid people,” she said. “At a quarter to seven this morning, I heard a boom and I got a crack in my wall on my house. Everything is rumbling, this is insanity.
“You go anywhere, they complete construction within months. We can’t do one damn avenue?” she added. “This is ridiculous.”
Banrey responded that DOT wouldn’t repave Calamus Avenue until the project is done.
“It would be a waste of your taxpayer dollars,” he said.
“I’m inconvenienced anyway,” the resident shot back. “Pave the damn thing.”
For the rest of the town hall, Crowley and the agency representatives answered questions about traffic, pipe leaks and smells, night parking regulations and other concerns. By the end, Crowley assured that she would continue to follow up with the city agencies on their work.
“This has been a frustrating evening,” she concluded. “I’m here to do as much as I can as your City Council representative to hold the various city agencies accountable.”