Cuomo Cancels Full L Train Shutdown; Last Minute Decision Met With Relief and Skepticism

The governor toured the L Train tunnel in December with engineering experts. Photo courtesy of the Governor's Office.

The governor toured the L Train tunnel in December with engineering experts. Photo courtesy of the Governor’s Office.

Maybe you were dreading the prospect of 80 buses an hour barreling over the Williamsburg Bridge. Perhaps you were looking forward to the ban on single occupancy cars, which would surely have alleviated the traffic nightmare on the blocks surrounding the bridge. Either way, you were probably stunned yesterday morning when Governor Cuomo announced he was canceling the full L Train shutdown, which was set to take effect April 27.

After months of planning by the MTA and New York City officials, countless community meetings and a lot of teeth gnashing, Cuomo reversed course. Rather than a full shutdown of the Canarsie Tunnel for 15 months, he envisions a slightly longer repair schedule, but one that would confine work to one tube at a time on nights and weekends.

After a team of engineers toured the tunnel with the governor last month and studied the situation, they concluded that new technology successfully used in Europe, Saudi Arabia and Hong Kong would work in New York. Hurricane Sandy caused serious damage to the tunnel’s bench walls. But rather than replacing them altogether, the experts concluded that new power cables could be mounted on the tunnel walls without removing the old infrastructure, saving time and money.

Here’s how the MTA announced the sudden change in plans:

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) today accepted the recommendations of a panel of engineering experts that determined a complete closure of the L Train Tunnel is unnecessary. The report – which followed weeks of extensive review and analysis by the deans and faculty of the Columbia University and Cornell University engineering schools – presents a series of innovative engineering methods to streamline the required repair work and limit the impact on L Train service, which provides 400,000 daily rides. Work could be completed on nights and weekends only, with a single tube providing continued service in both directions during work periods. The plan has been presented to and reviewed by the MTA, and it has been confirmed that the report’s goals are achievable within a 15 to 20-month timeframe. The MTA still plans to implement additional subway service where needed, including on the G, M and 7 Trains.

Previously, the city planned to restrict the Williamsburg Bridge to HOV-3 vehicles. That scheme has now been abandoned. The Department of Transportation installed new two-way bike lanes on Delancey Street to accommodate increased bicycle traffic to and from Brooklyn.

There’s definitely local skepticism. City Council member Carlina Rivera released the following statement:

While I believe that the State and MTA are committed to providing the best L train plan for New Yorkers, I am disappointed that today’s news was announced without warning and with nowhere near enough detail, after years of careful planning by our communities. Residents in my District are now in the dark about how they will be impacted by this new plan, and I am worried that many New Yorkers unnecessarily moved from affected areas and local small businesses suffered preparing for the expected shutdown. In my discussions with MTA officials this afternoon, I did hear some encouraging information, including potentially less noise and construction along 14th Street between 1st Avenue and Avenue B. But I am still left with more questions than answers. As we learn more and weigh the dramatic impact this plan will have on our city, I am calling on the City Council to hold hearings this month on this plan so we and the public can have our questions fully answered from State and agency officials well ahead of the plan’s commencement. In addition, the city Department of Transportation must stay the course with that the current L Train Alternative Service Plan, including new bike lanes, bus routes, and protected bus corridors, until the public and advocates are able to process and comment on this new plan. But regardless of how the L Train Tunnel repair goes, our State and City agencies must deeply evaluate how the mishandling of these announcements continues to erode public trust in our most important institutions, and work to redouble their efforts with our communities.

The DOT said yesterday it’s reviewing the L Train mitigation plan.