By Sabina Mollot
Two days after the board members of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority held an emergency meeting on the alternative L train repair plan, albeit without holding a vote on a subject, the MTA announced that the shutdown was definitely not happening.
After reiterating that the agency had been presented with a plan for the damaged Canarsie tubes that would allow for less disruption for riders, it said in a press release last Thursday that “the total shutdown of both tunnels and all service scheduled for April 27 will not be necessary.”
The MTA added that the construction schedule and new contracts were expected to take several weeks to complete.
While no dollar figure was mentioned, the MTA also said the cost would not likely be higher than the original plan and that the repair time estimate remained at 15-20 months, as the governor had predicted.
There was no mention of the three-hour meeting at MTA’s downtown headquarters where board members were mixed on the plan. One member blasted the change in plans as a disaster and a few individuals expressing concern about silica dust exposure, as well as the durability of the proposed racking and cable system and how long repairs, under the revised plan, would be expected to last.
Meanwhile, since the plan is still short on details, State Senator Brad Hoylman told Town & Village he has a number of concerns about the potential impact on riders, many of whom live in his district.
“On the one hand I’m glad that the governor stepped in and found a better way to fix the L that doesn’t involve a shutdown,” Hoylman said. But, he added, “The MTA hasn’t been very forthcoming” on issues like long-term viability and customer safety. In fact, he added, on their responses to consumer concerns, “To me, they’re like the Keystone Kops. Suddenly the plan changed overnight and I hope for the better, but we can’t take the MTA’s word for it because we’ve been taking their word for it for four years and suddenly it’s apparent they weren’t looking at all the alternatives.”
Hoylman also pointed out the fact that the emergency meeting that Cuomo had demanded was scheduled for the same day and approximate time as the governor’s state of the state address, when Hoylman and other state elected officials were unable to attend.
“As to whether this was their intention I’m not going to hazard a guess,” Hoylman said, “but I think it sends a signal they’re not trying to share details of the new plan with elected officials and that’s very problematic. If there’s silica dust we need to have the answers. We have to hear the problems either in Albany or here in the City Council.”
Danny Pearlstein, a spokesperson for the Riders Alliance, said he also had a number of concerns about sudden announcement that the MTA was moving forward without the board.
“What we can see is that the governor does run the MTA,” observed Pearlstein, adding that the new plan does pose additional risks.
“One of them is that the new fix won’t last as long; that has been acknowledged by the board.”
At last week’s meeting, a leader of the design team guessed the repairs could last decades, possibly five, depending on external factors like possible neglect or future storms.
Pearlstein also brought up the silica dust and possible exposure to commuters as well as members of the surrounding communities.
Still, he said, shutdown or no, the biggest threat faced by commuters and impacted communities is if commuters switch to driving or Uber rides instead of relying on mass transit, which he worries could happen without a reliable plan B.
“You have a lot of nightlife in (L train using) neighborhoods. From Chelsea to Bushwick, those are 24/7 neighborhoods,” said Pearlstein. “With the new plan, they’ll be opening and closing the tunnels a lot, especially after the weekends, but there’s no guarantee that they’ll be open on time (for the Monday morning rush hour). For those who live in the neighborhoods surrounding the L, there’s a real risk that that they’ll be inundated by people looking for ways to get to work.”
The shutdown, meanwhile, meant there would be bus shuttles and dedicated traffic lanes. “We need an excellent mitigation plan,” Pearlstein said, “no matter what.”
On January 3, Cuomo made the bombshell announcement that he’d been in talks with a team of engineers who believe the L train shutdown could be averted in favor of a plan that called for less demolition and new technology that would allow reconstruction of the tunnels damaged by Sandy to be done on nights and weekends. Only one tube would be shut down at once, stopping service between Brooklyn and Manhattan, instead of both tubes during the work.
The new system that’s been touted as badly needed innovation by Cuomo and now the MTA includes laser light technology to determine structural defects, smart fiber optic sensor technology and carbon fiber wrapping to reinforce components.
This project will be supervised by MTA Capital Construction and overseen by MTA Managing Director Veronique Hakim, as well as the construction and design team involved in the original plan. The MTA also said it will also hire an independent consultant to oversee safety operations that will report to the board.
This article was updated to include a comment from the Riders Alliance.