Peabody award–winning journalist Andrea Bernstein is Senior Editor for Politics & Policy for WNYC News. She has previously served as Metro Editor, Political Director, Director of Transportation Nation, and Senior Reporter.
NY MTA's $1.35 Million Mistake
Wednesday, August 01, 2012 - 07:39 PM
Now we know.
The New York MTA spent $1.35 million on giant granite bollards that it later removed outside the Atlantic Terminal station.
To put that in perspective, a year of service* on the B51 bus line, which the MTA discontinued in 2010, cost $800,000 a year.
The bollards, much-reviled by architects and planners and panned by the Brooklyn Paper as "sarcophagi," were installed in 2010 for unspecified security reasons.
To be sure, the Atlantic Terminal has been a terror target in the past.
But the huge granite slabs were more imposing than simpler steel bollards outside the more heavily trafficked Penn Station or Grand Central Terminal.
The Atlantic Terminal bollards also blocked pedestrian flow to and from the Terminal, which houses the LIRR and nine subway lines.
This, it was pointed out, presented a potential problem when huge crowds of people start to flow through the plaza for events at the next-door Barclays Center, set to open next month.
The MTA also came to the conclusion that the bollards were a bad idea. It decided to replace them with a smaller, sleeker model, like the ones at Grand Central.
About a week ago, the authority began to take the bollards down, bringing the total cost of the installation and removal to $1.35 million.
I might never have unearthed this information had I not passed by the Atlantic Terminal Monday morning, trying to grab a quick photo so you all could see how the plaza is coming along. (I also regretted not having the headline "Never Mind The Bollards," in our initial post, and was hoping for a second chance.)
The construction workers had other ideas. A piece of cardboard came down in front of my iPhone. I would not be photographing the site because it was "a Homeland Security project."
Like, um, the World Trade Center site, which must be one of the most photographed construction sites on earth?
I was told (though maybe in not-so-polite language), that this decision had been made by MTA police. I was offered the opportunity to have them tell me in person.
That's an opportunity I declined.
But I did later email the MTA's chief spokesperson, Adam Lisberg, for an explanation. And, while he was at it, could he please tell me how much the MTA had spent on the bollards in the first place?
Lisberg, a former New York Daily News journalist, told me quite clearly that anyone could photograph the site and that if I should be obstructed again I should stand my ground so I could do my job. In so many words.
So the next day, I went back.
I was greeted no more happily than I was the day before. This time half a dozen construction workers, and three MTA police, came to make the point. But, per Adam "L-i-s-b-e-r-g, the MTA communications chief," I would not leave.
Did I have documentation? Well, I had the constitution of the United States of America. Had they seen the Bill of Rights? Also, my press pass -- though that's not required to photograph a public plaza.
Besides, the construction fence was mostly down so, unlike the day before, I couldn't physically be blocked.
So I took my photos. (And, unbeknownst to me, was photographed doing so by my colleague, Emily Botein.)
Initially, the MTA re-issued a statement (which TN ran last week) citing the total cost of the Atlantic Terminal renovation -- $108 million -- and the cost of the new security project, which came in at $3.486 million.
Today, the authority furnished further details.
The total cost of building the 15 granite bollards: $1.2 million.
The total cost of demolishing them and removing the granite: $150,000.
A $1.35 million mistake.
*To be sure, service is paid for from the operating budget, while the capital budget pays for everything from bollards to the Second Avenue subway. So you'll hear that comparing one to the other is like comparing your lunch money to the loan you took out to redo your kitchen. But at the end of the day, it all ultimately falls to straphangers or taxpayers to foot the bill.