The dreaded L train slowdown is ending early.
Work on the Hurricane Sandy-damaged Canarsie Tunnel is going so well that the MTA plans to wrap up its rehab work by April 2020, some three months ahead of schedule, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Sunday during a tour of the East River tube.
“The new ambitious goal is to have everything done and finished and the L train fully operational not in 15 to 18 months, but in 12 months,” Cuomo told reporters inside the tunnel’s northern shaft. “We are already ahead of schedule by the current plan.”
Work on the heavily-trafficked L train was originally scheduled to wrap up in late July at the earliest to the tune of $500 million. Crews recently completed work on the first of the tunnel’s tubes in only five months and on budget; workers will shift to rehabilitating the second shaft in October and have seven months to complete that work, according to Janno Lieber, the MTA’s chief development officer and the president of MTA Capital Construction.
Since late April, the L train has been running with drastically reduced service (at 20-minute intervals) on nights and weekends to give crews time to overhaul the tunnel. Initially, the MTA planned a complete shutdown of L train service between Manhattan and Brooklyn while it carried out repairs. But Cuomo dropped a January bombshell when he brought in a panel of academics who in a matter of weeks developed a new plan to reconstruct the tunnel without a complete closure.
That panel put forward the idea of encasing crumbling sections of the concrete bench wall, which contains crucial electrical and communication cables, with fiber-reinforced polymer instead of completely rebuilding the structure.
Now, the cables that were once within the bench wall are hanging on metal racks installed along the tunnel. Questions linger about the longevity of this method, and at a January MTA board meeting, officials expressed reservations about the racking over completely rebuilding the bench wall. On Sunday, Lieber maintained that the construction will fortify the tunnel for another century.
About a fourth of the tunnel's bench walls have been wrapped, and have also been lined with fiberoptic cables that will detect any hazards and alert MTA officials. New substations will be added to ramp up electrical power on the train line to allow for the MTA to run L trains more frequently once service is fully restored. Workers have also rebuilt a pump room that will more efficiently drain water from the tunnel in case of flooding.
“Preventing another Superstorm Sandy-level impact is a major reason we’re doing this project to begin with,” said Lieber.
The service change has been a challenge for the 250,000 daily riders who rely on the L to travel between Manhattan and Brooklyn, but the slowdown has largely curtailed the doomsday projections that the full shutdown had originally inspired. Throughout Sunday’s tour, Cuomo reiterated his critique of the MTA’s “bureaucracy” and lack of innovative-thinking that prompted the governor to step in. Cuomo took the opportunity to demand the MTA update its sluggish timetable to upgrade the subway system’s signaling technology with ultra-wide band, which federal regulators have yet to certify for safety.
Both Cuomo and Lieber said they hope the tunnel rehabilitation is a teaching moment for future MTA projects.
“This milestone for the L project’s tunnel rehabilitation is proof that we’re ready,” Lieber said. “We’ve already been using lessons learned to improve execution of this major project, and I’m looking forward to applying the same kind of collaborative and aggressive project management strategy to revolutionize the way all MTA capital projects get done.”