Straphangers scramble for alternatives as Montague Tube closure looms

Straphangers in Southwest Brooklyn are bracing themselves for what will be a hellish commute that will last until next fall – if we’re lucky.

Beginning on August 3, the Montague Tube, which carries the R train underneath the East River, will be closed due to much-needed repairs to damage caused by Hurricane Sandy. During the storm, the tube was filled with millions of gallons of seawater, corroding switches, track and communication equipment.

The R train will run between 95th Street and Court Street in Brooklyn and between Forest Hills and Whitehall Street. During weekends, the R will run over the Manhattan Bridge skipping the MetroTech and Court Street stations in Brooklyn and the Whitehall Street, Rector Street, Cortlandt Street and City Hall stations in Manhattan.

The MTA is urging riders to transfer at Atlantic Avenue for the 2/3, 4/5, B, D, N or Q trains; at DeKalb Avenue for the B or Q; at MetroTech for the A, C, or F and at Court Street for the 2/3, 4/5 lines.

In addition, “gap trains” will be added for additional service if there are unexpected delays on the 4/5, D/N/R lines during the construction. There will be MTA staff at key locations to assist with transfers and both escalators at the MetroTech platform will operate in the “up” direction to the A, C and F platform during morning rush hours.

Also, beginning September 9, weekday X27 express bus service will be increased by 25 percent between Bay Ridge and Lower Manhattan during the R train construction.

To make sure riders are informed, Councilmember Vincent Gentile and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn were at the 95th Street R station the morning of Friday, July 26, giving out information and calling on the MTA to restore ferry service.

“I thank the MTA for doing the right thing with their $40 million surplus and restoring some of the cuts made back in 2010,” said Gentile. “But we cannot stop fighting for measures in order to mitigate the impact of the extraordinary 14-month Montague Street tunnel closure.

“To that end, I continue to make the case for the MTA to provide additional bus service and ferry service, while guaranteeing that the improvements are implemented expeditiously,” he went on. “It is hard enough as it is for residents of southern Brooklyn who travel to Manhattan each day via public transportation – closing a main artery for over a year is an extraordinary situation that requires extraordinary alternatives.”

Quinn concurred, “The MTA must provide real, alternative service options for the thousands of New Yorkers who rely on the R train for their morning commute,” she said. “Simply being left to crowd on to other already packed subway lines is insufficient and unfair. I thank Councilmember Gentile for his continued advocacy on this issue, and urge the MTA to minimize service disruptions and launch temporary ferry service in Southern Brooklyn.”

Councilmember Sara Gonzalez is also calling for more measures. “The closure of the Montague Street Tunnel will put a serious strain on tens of thousands of residents in my community who depend on R train service,” she said. “The pier at 58th Street in my district is an ideal location to offer alternative means of transportation for Southwest Brooklyn residents in the form of ferry service. I am working with members of a broad coalition that supports this effort and look forward to bringing the MTA on board to make this viable plan of creating a great ‘Blue Highway’ a reality.”

However, at the MTA board meeting held on July 24, Spokesperson Adam Lisberg told this paper that the MTA is not responsible for operating any of the area ferries, just a few small lines in the upper Hudson River. Ferry service within the city is operated under the auspices of the Department of Transportation.

DOT officials had not returned a request for comment by press time.

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