Cuomo calls on MTA to hold public vote on new L train plan

Sept20 L train work site closeup

Part of the L train construction site on East 14th Street (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

On Friday morning, Governor Andrew Cuomo, who a day earlier had made a bombshell announcement that the dreaded L-pocalypse could be avoided, further argued for his alternative plan, which would limit L service during repairs but not halt it.

Cuomo, during a phone conference with reporters, called on the MTA to hold a public board meeting on the proposal, made by a team of engineers from the universities of Columbia and Cornell, and make a quick decision for it or against it. However, the call may have been more about defending the governor’s change of heart mere months before the 15-month shutdown between Brooklyn and Manhattan was slated to begin, since the MTA had already stated that it accepted the engineers’ findings.

Asked about the governor’s request, a spokesperson for the MTA referred to its statement from Thursday, which said:

“The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) today accepted the recommendations of a panel of engineering experts that determined a complete closure of the L Train Tunnel is unnecessary… Work could be completed on nights and weekends only, with a single tube providing continued service in both directions during work periods.

“The plan has been presented to and reviewed by the MTA, and it has been confirmed that the report’s goals are achievable within a 15 to 20-month time frame. The MTA still plans to implement additional subway service where needed, including on the G, M and 7 Trains.”

However, don’t expect East 14th Street to look less chaotic any time soon. The agency said work intended for longterm improvements to the L line would continue.

This includes the installation of new power substations, one of which is on Avenue B, storm and flooding resiliency measures and making stations accessible to the disabled at the First Avenue and Sixth Avenue stops in Manhattan and Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn.

One Stuyvesant Town resident, however, wasn’t cheering the news.

“What you’re going to get is a band-aid on a festering sore,” said the resident, who asked that his name not be published. “The cost of guessing wrong on this could be the loss of life. Is this risk worth it compared to a more conservative treatment?” He acknowledged the complaints of L train neighbors on their deteriorated quality of life as the work has gone on along East 14th Street were legitimate, but in his view, the previously accepted tunnel repair and restoration plan would be worth it.

He also wondered what would now become of the Lower East Side ferry route, which had committed to bigger boats ahead of the L shutdown. East 20th Street has also already been transformed in an unpopular traffic safety enhancement design that was planned with the idea that there would be increased ferry traffic at the Stuyvesant Cove stop.

jan10 l shutdown canceled cuomo

Governor Andrew Cuomo at the announcement on Thursday (Photo via Governor Cuomo Flickr)

When needled by reporters as to why the alternative plan was announced so late in the game, Cuomo insisted that when he brought in the Cornell/Columbia team, he did so with the expectation the engineers would parrot the same explanations why the shutdown was necessary that he’d heard from the MTA’s consultants as well as numerous other experts.

The original plan was designed by the firm Parsons Brinckerhoff, which is also used by Amtrak and other large train companies.

“For me to say that to the people of the state (that the shutdown was necessary) I wanted to make sure it was true,” said Cuomo, adding that in particular his December tour of the tunnels with engineers was spurred by an irate business owner who had grabbed the governor by the lapels of his jacket during a campaign stop last fall and demanded that Cuomo look into the necessity of the plan. The business owner had claimed that the L shutdown would cause him serious financial harm and Cuomo promised to look into the plan further.

Cuomo also said, once he heard from the engineers about new technology that was being used in European rail systems, that he also thought New York could do with some innovation.

“The question is why don’t we have this in the United States?” he asked. At one point, he added, “I think one of the problems in these industries, they’re captive of their contractors and their vendors.”

Cuomo noted that if the MTA agrees to the plan, the contracts on the project would, of course, need to be renegotiated, but he said he was unaware of what has been spent already on the project. The governor also didn’t give a ballpark figure on what the revised plan would cost. However, he suggested the costs would be tied to labor rather than materials.

“The MTA board needs to vote on whether they will pursue this plan,” Cuomo said more than once. “They should have a meeting and make it public because New Yorkers, God bless them, can be a little skeptical and I can see why they would be skeptical in this situation. It is now a very different plan, so make a decision. Pick a path and let’s go.”

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