Lower East Side residents fume over yearslong delay of MTA project

A troubled MTA project has turned a once bustling street next to a Lower East Side park into a noisy construction site that’s become a haven for drug use for more than five years — and neighbors say there’s no end in sight.

The two-block stretch of Forsyth Street between Delancey and Stanton streets used to be a gateway to Sara D. Roosevelt Park, an eight-acre open space. But that changed in late 2018, when rehabilitation work began on a subway ventilation plant. The area is now surrounded by damaged, graffiti-covered fencing — and the project’s completion has already been delayed by nearly two years.

“These are frequently used, despite our lights, as toilets and places to shoot up,” said Tessa Huxley, the president of an affordable housing co-op next to the construction. “And we’ve lived with that for a long time.”

The MTA is regularly criticized for construction delays, like its East Side Access project that ran more than a decade behind schedule. But the bulk of the transit agency’s blown deadlines happen out of sight and underground. Forsyth Street residents say above-ground construction and repeated delays have exacerbated drug use and homelessness at the neighboring park.

Huxley said the work has made the area around the park — which has been the site of two murders since 2021 — feel even more unsafe.

“Several of us were attacked by people with obvious mental health problems who decided that was where they were living and how dare you go past them,” Huxley said, who has lived on the block for 40 years. “That was not OK.”

When the MTA began work in the area, officials billed it as an essential project that would both prevent fires and improve air circulation in the M line tunnels. The agency promised construction would wrap up by 2022. That timeline has been extended several times, as evidenced by the MTA’s signage at the construction site. The “2022” completion date was covered with “2023,” which was written in marker on a piece of duct tape. That deadline has also come and gone.

Duct tape shows the latest blown deadline for the MTA project on Forsyth Street.

Ramsey Khalifeh

Ben Wyskida, who has lived on Forsyth Street for 15 years, said the MTA has failed to offer a firm deadline to when the work will be finished.

Wyskida said there has been “unbelievably poor, sporadic communication from the MTA to a level that is honestly really disrespectful.”

Wyskida said the duct tape noting the 2023 completion date on the construction signage appeared after a community meeting last May where neighbors brought up the delays.

During that meeting, Wyskida said MTA managers and local officials promised the work would be finished by the end of November.

But Katerina Patouri, the MTA’s community liaison for the project, wrote an email to neighbors on Nov. 20 explaining that due to “outstanding utility coordination remaining with Con Ed, street level work at the Forsyth fan plant is now anticipated to be completed by end of December 2023.”

Meanwhile, MTA contract documents published two months before show the agency had already extended the construction contract from Nov. 29, 2023 to March 19, 2024. The extension cited an unexpected obstruction of steel beams that needed to be modified.

The MTA said they’ve sent six emails to stakeholders since January, including residents and local businesses, with updates on the project.

The MTA’s website now lists June 2024 as the project’s expected completion date, and attributes the delays to a “Con Edison redesign of steam pipe” and “track access.”

Work at the site along Sara D. Roosevelt Park began in late 2018.

Ramsey Khalifeh

MTA spokesperson Joana Flores blamed the most recent delays on work by Con Edison that created “an issue” with a parks department tree pit the MTA is supposed to restore.

“The project team has been coordinating with NYC Parks and will be issuing an update to the completion schedule of street level work once direction is confirmed, anticipated for this week,” Flores said.

Neighbors said they’ve lost faith in the MTA.

Rhonda Kave, the owner of Roni-Sue’s Chocolates on Forsyth Street, said the yearslong delay has severely affected her business. Construction barriers have essentially blocked customers from reaching her store.

“The fact that there was a 6-foot-high fence on the curb made it impossible to see my store from the street, if you could [even] get down the street.” Kave said. “New Yorkers are creatures of habit … If we have a way that we walk to and from work and then suddenly one of the streets is obstructed, well we find another way and we don’t come back.”

Kave said the MTA offered to put up a sign she’d purchased advertising her chocolate shop around the corner from the construction site to “increase visibility” to her store.

The sign has since been covered in graffiti.

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