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MTA Reveals Details on L Train Shutdown at First Public Meeting

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The agency will choose between two plans for the closure set to begin in 2019

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) shared more information on the imminent closure of the L Train at a meeting organized Thursday night at the Marcy Avenue Armory in Williamsburg — a curious venue considering it's not very close to an L Train stop.

Apart from the details that emerged prior to the meeting yesterday, work on either of the plans won't begin until January 2019, but the MTA stressed that the repair work was non-negotiable, and that delaying it beyond 2019 might compromise the safety of the tunnel connecting Manhattan and Brooklyn on the L line.

The MTA kicked off proceedings with a stylized video presenting the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy in 2012, including the fact that the tunnel was flooded with 7 million gallons of salt water that caused damage to the tube structure. The video also chronicles some of the ongoing repair work, and outlines the next steps that are necessary to move forward.

For one, the agency ruled out the possibility of doing work over nights and weekends. That process would take far too long, agency representatives said, but more than that it would critically impact weekday service. Part of the repair work releases silica dust, which takes time to clean out — hence repair work on the weekend would mean service wouldn't be able to resume safely until the middle of the week.

The agency also ruled out the possibility of building another tunnel below the East River — an option favored by some present at the community meeting on Thursday, many of whom had to wait hours to be heard. The MTA adopted a somewhat odd tactic in that people were asked to write down questions on note cards prior to the meeting, and those cards were then read out after a bevy of agency representatives and elected officials had spoken their pieces.

The MTA said the second tunnel option was far too costly and could potentially take an even longer time than the repair work.

The push to commit to a repair plan, the agency explained, also has a lot to do with the federal funds procured for this project.

"This is an important part of the sandy recovery program," Veronique Hakim, the president of New York City Transit said. "Federal funding is a large part of that and we don’t want to risk losing that. We worked hard to get those funds, and we need to commit to them before the end of the year."

It was a fact stressed by several elected officials present at the meeting on Thursday as well. In the aftermath of Sandy, several of those officials campaigned to get federal funds to deal with the devastation caused by the storm. That amounted to $5.4 billion just for the subway system alone, according to Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, and of that, $700 million was set aside for L Train repairs.

Those repairs mean that the Canarsie tunnel connecting Manhattan and Brooklyn on the L line will be closed completely for one and a half years or closed partially for three years. So let's review the two plans presented by the MTA, though it seems that the agency prefers the one with the shorter duration.

A full tunnel closure going from January 2019 to July 2020:

  • Under this proposal, there will be no L Train service in Manhattan whatsoever, and trains on the Brooklyn side between Canarsie and Bedford Avenue would run on a slightly slower schedule.
  • The MTA will amp up service on the M, and G Trains potentially adding more trains or increasing the frequency of service during rush hour.
  • The agency may also introduce a shuttle bus service that takes commuters from the Bedford Avenue stop, across the Williamsburg Bridge, to the Lower East Side to connect to trains there.
  • In Manhattan, the MTA will look into creating dedicated corridors for crosstown buses or increase the frequency in service of the existing bus service

A partial tunnel closure running from January 2019 to sometime in 2022

  • Under this proposal, the MTA will shut one tube at a time in the Canarsie tunnel prolonging the repair work and slowing down the commute.
  • L Trains will run in two sections, between Eighth Avenue and Bedford Avenue, and between Lorimer Street and Canarsie.
  • On the Manhattan side connecting to Bedford Avenue, trains will run at a frequency of 12-15 minutes, which in turn means that only one fifth of the current passengers using the service will get to ride the train.
  • On the Brooklyn side, trains will run on a slightly slower schedule than the existing one.
  • This option also maintains the alternative services suggested by the MTA

Another option put forth by the agency was increased ferry service, particularly in light of the citywide ferry service set to launch next summer. The MTA may create new docks on North 7th Street in Williamsburg, and one north of 34th Street in Manhattan on the east side.

But when asked by an audience member whether the agency would keep the same fares on the ferry as a single fare ride on the subway, the agency was reluctant to commit.

They were also hesitant to say with complete certainty that the repair work on the L line would be finished in time. The most obvious suspect, brought forth by several people at the meeting, was work on the Second Avenue Subway, what if people get stuck for years waiting for the L Train to resume, several people at the meeting asked.

The agency only said that it was better prepared this time, and that it was placing a strong emphasis on getting the best contractors in the business to finish the job. In fact, the agency is even considering monetarily incentivizing the completion of repair work — a firm is likely to get a bonus if they're able to wrap up the work quickly and efficiently.

Another obvious, but concerning question raised by a member of the public was about the current state of the tunnel. If the tunnel is in such a state of disrepair, isn't it in danger of harming commuters right now? Thomas Prendergast, the chairman of the MTA assured everyone that that was not the case, but that quick fix repairs would only be able to last a certain number of years, and the situation would get worse beyond 2019. He even assured those present that MTA workers were inspecting the tunnel twice a week to ensure everything was in order.

Prior to the repair work commencing in January 2019, the MTA will also need to carry out some prep work along the line, so expect more nights and weekends closures prior to the actual shutdown as well.

Though once repair work is complete, the Bedford and First Avenue stops in particular will be spruced up with the addition of new staircases, and elevators to make the stations ADA-accessible. The repair work will also allow the MTA to modernize the existing signal system, which in turn means more trains along the L Line when the service is back up and running.

The meeting on Thursday was just the first of several the agency plans to conduct leading up to the repair work. The next meeting is set for May 12 at the Salvation Army Theater in Manhattan.