Jan. 15, 2019 By Nathaly Pesantez
Portions of the yellow and green decorative tiles that line the Queens Boulevard viaduct fell off and pierced the windshield of a car in the parking lot below in an alarming incident captured by one local resident last week.
Images provided to the Sunnyside Post by Vitali Ogorodnikov, a 30-year-old neighborhood resident, show a tile lodged in the windshield of a car stationed under the viaduct near 45th Street and Queens Boulevard, with cracks visible on the window.
The images, taken at around 6:30 p.m. on Jan. 10 on the north side of the lot, also show some yellow and dark green rubble strewn on the ground next to the car, which was stationed next to a parking meter.
To Ogorodnikov, who snapped the images almost immediately after parking his own car at the municipal lot, the scene only pointed to one thing—that some of the decorative terra cotta tiles from above had come crashing down, and with enough force to possibly fatally injure anyone standing underneath.
“It’s terra cotta turning into deadly projectiles,” Ogorodnikov told the Sunnyside Post, noting that the 4-by-8-inch tile, still intact and upright, had sliced through the windshield “like knife through butter.”
An unidentified man who was quietly seated in the backseat of the damaged vehicle, meanwhile, told Ogorodnikov that he was uninjured, and that police were on their way.
Ogorodnikov, who stayed at the Thursday scene for about 10 minutes, contemplated moving his own car to another spot, assuming that the site would be cordoned off for emergency work and nearby cars towed, but ultimately decided against it.
He was still surprised, nevertheless, to see his own car and others still parked on site when he went to retrieve it at around 9 a.m. the next day, with seemingly nothing amiss.
The 45th Street location, which the Sunnyside Post visited with Ogorodnikov about 24 hours after the incident, still saw some remnants of the fallen tiles, with chunks of yellow and green material scattered among a small pile of debris.
About 40 feet above the parking lot, where weathered concrete lines some segments of the viaduct where decorative tiles once laid, a bright and clean section can be seen, seemingly indicating a recent fall.
“This is a public emergency,” Ogorodnikov, an architectural project manager, said on Friday. “The fact that nets were not there today, the fact that the area is not roped off today is already an indictment against the state and the city.”
While the young man in the damaged car told Ogorodnikov that police were on their way, an NYPD spokesperson said that there was no report filed for that day that describes the incident.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, in a statement, said its engineers are reviewing the area.
“Safety is New York City Transit’s top priority,” an MTA spokesperson said. “Personnel are actively checking the area to ensure that there are no loose tiles in the area, and will make any fixes necessary.”
The engineers, as with any other inspection, will consider whether any long-term structural improvements are warranted.
The falling tiles come almost one year after chunks of concrete from the viaduct fell to the roadway near 41st Street and Queens Boulevard.
The MTA said at the time of the February 2018 incident that water caused a section of concrete to dislodge from the viaduct, but noted that the structure was sound.
The agency also said it conducted a comprehensive inspection of the area early last year, and concluded that no capital structural work was needed at the time.
But Assemblymember Catherine Nolan, in response to last year’s incident, referred to the 1990s overhaul to the concrete viaduct, stretching from 32nd to 48th Streets, which replaced 40,000 tons of concrete through the structure.
“Our community had been repeatedly assured that the structure would last over 50 years,” Nolan wrote in a February 2018 letter to then-MTA chairman Joseph Lhota.
The massive $90 million overhaul nearly 30 years ago to the more than a century-old concrete viaduct also included the replacement of the yellow and green terra cotta tiles.
Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, stunned at images of the damaged car, said it’s “highly likely” that the tiles came from the viaduct.
“I think someone could have been seriously injured or killed here,” he said.
The council member added that the 7 train is “crumbling before our very eyes,” and called on Governor Cuomo, who “swooped in” and canceled L train shutdown plans after touring the Canarsie tunnel, to visit the area and see the state of the viaduct himself.
“I think the governor should walk the 7 line just like he did the L train line,” Van Bramer said, adding, “[Cuomo] went after years of planning and changed how this is being done all by himself. I think he should do the same with the 7.”
Ogorodnikov, who has occasionally parking his car under the viaduct for the past few years, said an immediate response is needed as a matter of public safety, be it a complete removal and replacement of the tiles, scaffolding in place, nets, and similar remedial options.
“Those things will keep falling off,” he said. “It would be absurd to assume that this is the last time this will happen. The question is not if, the question is when.”
Update 1/16, 8:40 a.m. : Article updated with MTA statement provided today.