Tram Will Operate at Reduced Capacity for Months

July 30, 2017

At the June Board meeting of the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation (RIOC), President Susan Rosenthal joked that Island commuters might want to go on vacation for the month of July to avoid the coming public-transit nightmare. It now looks like they should probably extend those trips a bit longer. 


Last week, RIOC announced that renovations on the Tram platforms would extend through the beginning of 2018, leaving long stretches of time with only one car in service.


According to Mike Russo, RIOC engineering consultant, who led a robust review on the platform construction at Monday’s Operations Committee meeting, each of the Tram platforms must be removed and replaced to prevent water from leaking into essential equipment below. “Last time there was waterproofing, it didn’t work well; we want more longevity,” he said. “We decided, what would be better for the long term is the wearing slab (structural concrete element) underneath and, then on top, have the waterproof membrane, a spray-on application,” said Russo. “It’s better for the long term, but the downside is scheduling.”

Lines stretched past the turnstiles Wednesday night. Photo by Susheel Kurien 


According to Russo, once the concrete for the new slabs is poured, it requires 30 days to cure before the waterproof membrane can be applied – though people will be able to walk on it after a week. The waterproof membrane can then be applied.


Russo acknowledged that the reduced Tram service would be inconvenient for commuters, but emphasized that there would be breaks in between closures, for example while work isn’t being done, the concrete is curing, or they are waiting for equipment.


“What I can assure you is it’s not one Tram for six months. There will be times both Trams are operating. We just can’t publish them until we get closer to demo,” he said.


Wednesday night, commuters got a taste of what the coming months have in store. There were longs lines to board the Tram with only one cabin running.


“It’s been a disaster,” says Island resident Susheel Kurien, one of many passengers stuck in long lines during Wednesday night’s commute. “I saw a wheelchair passenger struggling in this mess. There was no crowd control.” Kurien says he witnessed tempers flare as people were asked to get off of the Tram for weight limits. “Bikes should be banned while this is going on. Strollers should have to be folded. It’s just crazy.”


Valerie Gallagher remembers what it was like the last time the Tram was shut down for renovations. “It really took its toll on residents’ patience and quality of life. We lost several neighbors as a result of it.” She says she’s been strategizing options for getting to work. “I think the next several months are going to be very frustrating. We have Cornell Tech opening, bringing even more people to and from the Island, and the approval of another residential building, which I assume will bring more construction workers. While we’re being promised a ferry at the end of August, that’s a month away and it’s a new and unproven commuting option that may not work well for many Roosevelt Island commuters, many of whom head to the hospitals on the Upper East Side or to Midtown.”


“Islanders need to mobilize about this,” says Kurien. “RIRA should be jumping on this. [RIOC] planned this with total disregard for the outcome.”


The Elevator


RIOC is also in the process of evaluating bids to replace the troubled elevators on the Manhattan Tram station. The new design would replace the existing elevator and wheelchair lift with two new ADA-compliant glass elevators. The new RFP went out earlier this year and RIOC is currently evaluating bids. Once that project starts, construction is expected to take a year to complete.


Russo says the current platform repairs were designed to complement the future elevator construction. “Both projects were being drawn at the same time to ensure they work together.”


As to when that project would start, Russo said typically there is a 30-45 day window between evaluating bids and granting an award but that it could take longer.


Additional Buses


To help with overcrowding during Tram construction, RIOC will be running a Red Bus to Manhattan from 10:00 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., stopping at the northwest corner of 58th Street and Second Avenue, by the fruit stand. Riders can pick up the bus by the Tram on the Island side to go to Manhattan.


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