MTA explores options at meeting on L train repairs and shutdown

A public meeting on the planned L line repairs and accompanying shutdowns was held last Thursday at the Salvation Army Theatre.

A public meeting on the planned L line repairs and accompanying shutdowns was held last Thursday at the Salvation Army Theatre. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

L train riders got the chance to voice their opinions on the impending closure of the line during a meeting hosted by the MTA last Thursday, with straphangers divided on what would be less disruptive, a full closure or a partial one that takes twice as long while the agency conducts repairs.

Donna Evans, chief of staff for the MTA, said at the beginning of the meeting at the Salvation Army Theatre that there were two important facts to consider about the repairs: the tracks must be closed whether one at a time or together, and regardless of which plan is chosen, the closure won’t take place until 2019.

A two-track closure would be the shorter option at 18 months, but there would be no service between Bedford Avenue and Eighth Avenue with this plan. The MTA said that train service would be fairly regular in Brooklyn with trains running between Bedford Avenue and Rockaway Parkway every eight minutes.

During a three-year closure, the MTA said that service through the tunnel wouldn’t be frequent or reliable but in Brooklyn, service would be near normal with trains running every eight minutes. The MTA would be running extra trains on the G, J and M to supplement service in Brooklyn and the B39 over the bridge would provide an alternative for service into Manhattan. The L train would operate a shuttle between Eighth Avenue and Bedford Avenue at a 12 to 15-minute frequency and would not stop at Third Avenue. There would also be no service between Bedford Avenue and Lorimer Street, but service would operate between Lorimer Street and Rockaway Parkway.

MTA Chair Thomas Prendergast said that the work done on the Montague tube, which is used by the R train and was closed for 14 months, will help plan for an L train closure.

“(The Montague tube closure) was the first time we did this much work and it informed how a tube could be closed, so we’ll be able to do it smarter and better the next time,” he said.

He added that 65,000 daily commuters were affected during the Montague tube closure and while the work finished three weeks ahead of schedule, the number of commuters affected by an L train closure is much higher at 225,000. So, Prendergast said, there needs to be more viable alternative options and the MTA is hosting these meetings to get community input on each plan.

Many attendees who submitted questions at the meeting had concerns about the complete lack of train service in Manhattan with the two-track, 18-month closure.

“There would be normal service in Brooklyn but how we cross the river and cross town is the challenge,” New York City Transit President Veronique Hakim said. “The negatives of this plan is that there is no service in Manhattan, so we would really need to look at bus service and what I call ‘SBS on steroids.’”

State Senator Brad Hoylman asked the MTA if shutting down 14th Street to all traffic except city buses would be a possible alternative if there is no L service in Manhattan and the suggestion prompted applause and cheering from the audience.

“I would like to see the possibility that you would close 14th Street to traffic, get those SBS routes in order and consider keeping 14th Street closed to non-bus traffic even after the work is done,” he said.

A question from the audience, also concerning buses, asked if service on the M14 would be increased if there is no L train service in Manhattan. Prendergast said that while there are no specifics yet about changes in buses on 14th Street, bus service is always added when train service is shut down.

“From a Manhattan perspective, the bus is the first option when there’s no rail service so the bus is important,” he said.

Stuyvesant Town resident Larry Scheyer raised a question about improving other aspects of the bus service on 14th Street in the event that the L is closed completely, specifically the importance of bus shelters at the Avenue A stop. Prendergast noted that this is something the MTA would also be looking at later but he agreed that it is an important factor in bus service in the event of inclement weather and in terms of general improvements in the service.

A number of meeting attendees wanted to know why shuttle trains in Manhattan were not a possibility during a two-track closure, and Hakim said that with this option, trains would be isolated in Manhattan.

“We wouldn’t be able to inspect the trains in Manhattan,” she said. “We can’t isolate the subway sets because we wouldn’t be able to repair and inspect the trains. It would be a safety issue.”

One commuter in the audience raised the point that the 42nd Street shuttle operates service only in Manhattan, but Operations Planning Chief Peter Cafiero explained that the track this shuttle runs on connects to other lines that allows trains to be removed for inspection and repairs, while the 14th Street line has no such connection.

Another question asked about the possibility of a station at Avenue C but the MTA said that unfortunately, this will never be a possibility.

“The tunnel goes down on a slope (in that location),” Cafiero said. “It’s too steep at that point to have a station stop. To change the alignment of the tunnel would take longer than this closure, but that’s where the concept of the Avenue A entrance comes in. We’re happy we can use this project as an opportunity to achieve that.”

The MTA said at the meeting that the new entrance at Avenue A, as well as ADA entrances at both First Avenue and Bedford Avenue, are included in this overall plan.

One point raised multiple times by commuters was the frequency of weekend work on various train lines, leading many to ask why this work couldn’t also be done during one of these closures.

“The demolition that’s necessary would take too long for weekend work,” Hakim said. “The duct bank is seven miles that needs to be demolished and rebuilt. We need to rebuild almost three miles of new track and we need new substations.”

Officials said that on the plus side, the new substations and the repairs will allow increased capacity, with two more trains per hour, and the agency is hoping that the extended closure will prevent other major, unplanned service disruptions in the future.

“This is 100-year-old construction,” Prendergast said. “We don’t want to have to come back in 20 or 30 years and disrupt commuters again.”

At one point, Prendergast was visibly frustrated after one question on why the MTA wasn’t more seriously considering a partial shutdown, with the audience member calling a full shutdown “outrageous.”

“I would have preferred that the storm never happened,” he said emphatically. “Making sure that service is safe and reliable is the best we can do. It’s outrageous that we have to do this. We do understand the impacts but in terms of the two options, we’re not leaning one way or the other. We’re having a dialogue.”

Commuters can find out more about the plan on the MTA’s website.

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