Residents, rider advocates and civic leaders on Thursday were evaluating the announcement by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority that a planned 18-month shutdown of L Train subway service will not be necessary to modernize the old Carnarsie Tunnel and repair damage caused by Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
The shutdown was supposed to commence in April. The new plan, announced by Gov. Cuomo and Acting MTA Chairman Fernando Ferrer, will use new technology and construction methods to allow one tube of the tunnel to be shut down on given nights and weekends while the other tube runs trains in both directions.
The new time line for the work is 18 to 20 months. The New York Post quoted Cuomo as saying the cost will be within the $400 million already budgeted, but that the contract will not be rebid despite the massive number of changes that will be required.
It was drawn up by a panel of engineering professors from Columbia and Cornell universities who were tasked by Cuomo in December with reviewing the MTA’s tunnel rehabilitation plan and recommending changes.
The L train does not reach Queens physically, but hundreds and possibly thousands of Ridgewood residents are among the more than 440,000 weekly riders. The Myrtle-Wyckoff and Halsey Street stations are on the Ridgewood-Bushwick border. The Wilson Street stop is two blocks beyond the border with Brooklyn.
“We have a shared goal in this effort: to make sure New Yorkers are subjected to the least possible disruptions as a result of this necessary repair work,” Ferrer said in a statement released by the MTA. “With the project, and all our major projects, we’re consistently looking for new and innovative methods, and the guidance and recommendations we have received today will ease the strain on customers and help us ensure we are providing a consistently reliable service.”
Engineering experts on the panel included Dean Mary Boyce and professors Andrew Smyth and Peter Kinget of Columbia and Dean Lance Collins and Professor Thomas Denis O’Rourke of Cornell.
Among their resources was work done on tunnels in systems in London and Hong Kong.
The initial reaction of riders advocacy organizations on Thursday was one of decidedly tempered enthusiasm.
“At the end of the day, what riders care about is whether the L train is repaired for the long term, and how much disruption it will take to get there,” said John Raskin, executive director of the Riders Alliance in an emailed statement. “The governor’s plan may or may not work, but you’ll pardon transit riders for being skeptical that a last-minute Hail Mary idea cooked up over Christmas is better than what the MTA came up with over three years of extensive public input.”
Jaqi Cohen of the New York Public Interest Research Group Straphangers Campaign was similarly cautious.
“Governor Cuomo’s plan is laudable, but the devil is in the details,” she said. “Straphangers deserve a plan that will fix the Canarsie Tunnel with as little impact to their daily lives as possible, but they also deserve public accountability and details to how long this new plan will take, how much it will cost, and how exactly it will impact service. Riders deserve a real plan with real specifics, and right now they don’t have one.”
“Actual transit professionals, who owe nothing to the governor or the MTA, should evaluate whether this is sound engineering or a political stunt that will ultimately leave riders in the lurch,” Raskin added. “The governor raised many new questions, but he again settled an old one: it’s certainly #CuomosMTA, and the fate of millions of angry transit riders is in his hands, not just on the L train but on every failing subway line citywide.”
The panelists in a joint statement were excited about the project.
“The train tunnel project gives us the opportunity to integrate technologies and methods that have never been used before in a tunnel rehabilitation project, putting New York in a leadership position when it comes to building 21st century infrastructure,” they said. “We have proposed a forward-thinking, innovative approach that relies on state-of-the-art technologies to rehabilitate this century-old tunnel. We were grateful to have this extraordinary opportunity to work with the MTA to lead the way in infrastructure design and development, and we hope this solution can set an example for other projects in New York and around the world.”
The original plans were drawn up following countless meetings, hearings and workshops aimed at helping people on both sides of the East River cope with the consequences of closing the 1.5 mile tunnel. Bus schedules, bike lanes, street markings, traffic signals and other arrangements were being planned on a grand scale.
Commuters, civic and elected officials and others in Long Island City also have been gearing up for an anticipated onslaught of L train riders taking the G line to Court Square before transferring to the E, M or No. 7 lines to complete trips to Manhattan.
Among the panel’s recommendations are abandoning power cables that currently are encased in concrete “benchwalls” and replacing them with cables placed above the tracks on racks for easier maintenance access; and increase flood resilience through gates or other methods that could seal off the tunnel in the event flooding conditions are anticipated.