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Cuomo, citing new design, calls off full L train shutdown

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The MTA may opt for a “new and innovative” design instead


With less than four months to go until the much-anticipated (and dreaded) L train shutdown is due to begin, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has dropped a bombshell: In a press conference today, he announced that the planned repairs for the Canarsie Tunnel may not be necessary at all, thanks to a “highly innovative but feasible” design for the tunnel.

“I can’t tell you how many people have approached me about the L train and the difficulty the L train closure would trigger,” Cuomo said during a presser this afternoon. He called a possible new tunnel design a “phenomenal benefit” for New Yorkers who would have otherwise been affected by the 15-month closure.

“No closure of the service is necessary with this new design,” Mary Boyce, the dean of Columbia University’s engineering department, said during the press conference.

In December, Cuomo inserted himself into the L train shutdown planning by bringing a team of experts—engineers from Columbia and Cornell’s engineering departments—into the Canarsie Tunnel for a tour. At the time, he said that he wanted to ensure that “as Governor of the State of New York that I can look New Yorkers in the eye and say we have gone through the project, we have gone through the project with the best minds on the globe and this is the best way to do it and the fastest way to do it.”

Those experts, a team of mechanical and civil engineers from different universities around the state, have now determined that a new design—one that has apparently never been used in the United States before—could be used to repair the tunnel without closing it entirely, although some closures on nights and weekends will be necessary. Their recommendation is to use a different way of repairing cables, which would keep the tunnel’s capabilities intact.

The L train shutdown has been in the works for more than four years, with a finalized plan for the necessary repairs—which will fix damage incurred during Hurricane Sandy—unveiled at the end of 2017. At that time, the MTA and the NYC Department of Transportation made it clear that they preferred a shorter timeline for the shutdown, which would require halting service entirely between Manhattan and Brooklyn. The other option—completing repairs in three years by doing work on nights and weekends—was ruled out in favor of the shortened timeline.

According to Fernando Ferrer, the acting chairman of the MTA, the new Canarsie Tunnel rehab plan will take between 15-20 months, with those night and weekend closures. There will still be additional service on the J/M/Z and 7 lines, but what this means for other mitigation efforts planned alongside the L train shutdown—expanded bus service, new bike lanes, and more Citi Bikes—is, at this point, unclear.

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