L train will close for 18 months in Manhattan in 2019, MTA says

Straphangers waiting for the L at First Ave. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Straphangers waiting for the L at First Ave.

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

The MTA announced this morning that the L train will be completely shut down between Brooklyn and Manhattan for 18 months beginning in January, 2019.

According to social media, email surveys and testimony from public meetings, 77 percent of respondents were in favor of the 18-month full shutdown, the MTA said.

The 11 community boards in the affected areas along the L, which hosted meetings about the two options prior to the decision, were also more in favor of a full closure than of a partial shutdown. In the joint meeting hosted by Community Boards 3 and 6 at the end of last month, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney expressed her strong support of the full closure, basing her decision on a number of meetings with the community that she had attended previously.

“During this process, it quickly became clear to many in affected communities that a shorter, full closure will be less painful than a longer period with minimal service, as long as there are broad and varied alternative ways to get to work while the line is closed,” Maloney said following the announcement. “I’ve argued that most people will accept full closure, as long as it takes them no more than 20 extra minutes to reach their destinations, and I look forward to working with the MTA to make sure this happens.”

The New York Times first reported the news on Monday morning, noting that officials hope to finish the repairs, made necessary because of damage from Hurricane Sandy, as quickly as possible to limit the impact on riders.

New York City Transit President Veronique Hakim told the paper that the decision was primarily based on picking the option that minimized inconvenience for commuters and getting the work done as quickly as possible.

“This is the, ‘Get in, get done, get out,’ option,” she said in an interview with the Times on Friday.

The agency was originally considering two different plans, the other of which would have partially closed the tunnel for three years, allowing some trains to travel between Brooklyn and Manhattan on one side of the track. Hakim noted that the three-year plan is more unpredictable because it could result in unplanned closures and even more unreliable service for a longer period.

The two-track closure of the tunnel requires service in Manhattan to be completely suspended because the trains would be isolated and can’t be inspected for maintenance or repaired at any of the stations between Bedford and Eighth Avenues. Service should remain near normal, although less frequent than current service, from Bedford Avenue to the end of the line at Canarsie during the shutdown in Manhattan.

Public transit nonprofit Riders Alliance supported the MTA’s decision, but continued to emphasize that viable transit alternatives need to be in place to mitigate the closure.

“Even the best option will be painful for riders and for the communities that depend on L train service,” Riders Alliance community organizer Masha Burina said. “The MTA and the city should work with riders and with communities along the entire L train to come up with an aggressive plan to provide service when the tunnel is closed for construction.  Every idea should be on the table. This is a desperate time and we should take desperate measures.”

Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association President Susan Steinberg said that she was leaning towards a shorter shutdown so she was satisfied with the decision, but she also felt that the community still needs more information about transit alternatives while service is suspended in Manhattan.

“It’s a concern that we don’t have details on how they’re going to mitigate the impact of the closure yet,” she said. “The MTA promised to meet with the community in Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper in fall, so I’m hoping they’ll have a plan by then or will be open to suggestions on how to deal with this.”

At the joint community board meeting last month, Agency Operations Planning Chief Peter Cafiero said that in the event of a full closure in Manhattan, the bus fleet would need to be built up to mitigate the service disruptions.

“We could be implementing what I’m calling the M14 SBS,” he said at the time, adding that the bus may also be rerouted up to East 20th Street to serve Stuyvesant Town more directly. The MTA did not respond to a request for comment about further plans for expanded bus service during the shutdown.

The Canarsie Tunnel is one of the nine tubes in the subway system that flooded during Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and while some of the repairs have been made during night and weekend closures, the extensive damage to the tracks, signals, power cables, switches and other components requires demolition that will take longer than night and weekend work allows.

The MTA assured the public at recent meetings and in the statement released on Monday that the tunnel is currently safe and reliable for travel, despite the need for the permanent repairs. The agency said that it has increased inspections of the tunnel walls and installed redundant power cables to make sure that the pumping system operates without interruption, but noted that these are only temporary fixes.

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