escalating costs

Going Up: Long Fight Over Subway Elevators Doubles Price Tag

The 68th St. Hunter College Station, on April, 17, 2019.
The 68th St. Hunter College Station, on April, 17, 2019. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

For more than a decade, the MTA has been waiting on elevators at the 68th Street Hunter College station.

“It’s an atrocity that the elevator hasn’t gone in yet,” said Linda Fernandez, 66, who walks with a cane and avoids her closest subway station because she doesn’t want to go up and down the stairs. “There are too many barriers for those of us who don’t walk too well.”

But the long saga to make the stop along the No. 6 line fully accessible under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) has dragged on because of Upper East Side opposition — and costs for the project have nearly doubled to more than $116 million, THE CITY has learned.

“It’s really shameful,” said TransitCenter’s Colin Wright, who manages the advocacy group’s “Access Denied” campaign. “Folks could have benefited years ago from having that be an accessible station.”

Used daily by close to 25,000 people, the 68th Street Hunter College station — the 52nd-busiest in the system in 2017 — was slated for $67.2 million in ADA upgrades as part of the MTA’s 2010-2014 Capital Program. But plans to make the station ADA-compliant stretch back a dozen years, according to a Federal Transit Administration environmental assessment from 2016.

The 68th Street Hunter College station remains the only one of eight “key stations” marked for ADA upgrades under that 2010 five-year plan that remains without an elevator.

Key stations must meet all ADA accessibility requirements for riders with disabilities — and the MTA is on the hook to have 100 of them by 2020, or face penalties from the federal government. Less than one quarter of the city’s 472 subway stations are accessible to riders with disabilities.

John, 56, makes his way down the stairs at the 68th Street station.
John, 56, makes his way down the stairs at the 68th Street station. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

“This isn’t a recently required obligation,” said Susan Dooha, executive director of the Center for Independence of the Disabled New York, which is part of an ongoing class-action lawsuit from 2017 that accuses the MTA of denying access to those with disabilities.”This is an obligation of long standing.”

The MTA plans to finally move forward with the project later this year once it resolves “real estate issues” with Hunter College, which owns a Lexington Avenue building that would provide access to the subway station.

An Imperial Battle

“We are working with the MTA and the local community to come up with a feasible plan and are looking forward to seeing the work commence as soon as possible,” a Hunter spokeswoman said.

The MTA already endured a long battle with the Imperial House. Residents of the 69th Street apartment building objected to a new station entrance being built near their homes, with one telling The New York Times in 2012 it would affect “the residential and pristine quality of 69th Street.”

“I was surprised at the level of opposition — I didn’t see how a subway entrance was such a big thing,” said Charles Warren, co-chair of Community Board 8’s transportation committee. “If I lived on the block, I would have wanted it.”

But working around those issues has resulted in project with a much bigger price tag, outlined in MTA Capital Program Oversight Committee documents.

“Project cost increased because of added architectural, structural, electrical and utility relocation work,” according to the latest MTA quarterly report of prior years’ delays. “The complexity of the utility relocation under the street work with limited space constraints requires multiple construction phasing to keep the street open to both vehicular and pedestrian traffic throughout construction.”

The project would add one street-level elevator and two on the station mezzanine level that take riders to and from platforms. It would also add or widen stairs inside the station and expand its mezzanine.

“It would be very helpful to a lot of people — especially when you have Lenox Hill and the Hospital for Special Surgery nearby,” said Elaine Marshack, 87, of the Upper East Side.

In a statement to THE CITY, the MTA simply said, “We remain committed to working closely with the various parties involved to bring an accessible station to 68th Street.”

Want to republish this story? See our republication guidelines.