Tunnel Vision

L train shutdown will last 18 months or three years, says MTA

East News Transportation Urbanism
(MTA Capital Construction Mega Projects / Flickr)
(MTA Capital Construction Mega Projects / Flickr)

At a public meeting in the Marcy Avenue Armory yesterday, MTA chairman Thomas Prendergast was joined by agency heads and elected officials to explain L train repair scenarios and field questions from the community.

After assuring the public that there would be no option for nights and weekends work, nor the money for a totally new tunnel, the agency laid out the pros and the cons of two scenarios: An 18 month total shutdown with no L train service between Manhattan and Brooklyn, or a three-year partial shutdown with very limited service between the two boroughs.

Mechanical equipment corroded by saltwater. (Audrey Wachs / AN)

Mechanical equipment corroded by saltwater. (Audrey Wachs / AN)

400,000 passengers ride the L train every weekday, a 236 percent increase since 1990. 225,000 of those straphangers travel through the tunnel between Manhattan and Brooklyn. If considered in isolation, the L would be the tenth busiest subway in North America.

While other tubes could be repaired with nights and weekends works, the damage to the 92-year-old cast iron and concrete Canarsie Tubes (L train tunnel) is too extensive to be completed in that limited timeframe. The duct banks, where 37,000 feet of electrical cables with varying voltages are housed, were so corroded by saltwater during Sandy that contextual repairs are impossible; the entire network must be replaced. To repair the tunnel, moreover, crews drilling into the tunnel generate hazardous silica dust which could not be cleared from from the tubes in a safe and timely way over nights and weekends.



Under scenario one, the 18 month closure, L trains would run from Rockaway Park in Canarsie to Bedford Avenue, with no L train service in Manhattan. Ferries, Select Bus Service (SBS), beefed-up regular bus service, bike- and ride-shares, plus enhanced service capacity on the G, J/Z, and M lines would accommodate L train refugees. The benefits to a total tunnel closure, the MTA notes, is that contractors will have total control over the work zone and 80 percent of riders will be less impacted by the same level of disruption. Work would begin in January 2019 and wrap by mid-2020.

Scenario two, the three-year shutdown, would be more logistically complex. Trains would run from Rockaway Parkway to Lorimer Street, and from Bedford to Eight Avenue, with shuttle bus service in between Bedford and Lorimer.

The benefit to this plan, Prendergast explained, is that it would preserve limited inter-borough L train service, but with significant drawbacks. Prendergast noted that during rush hour, the L line runs 40 trains per hour. Under a partial shutdown, only one of two tracks would be open, and trains would run every 12 to 15 minutes. 80 percent of the passengers who would want to ride the train wouldn’t be able to board. The MTA is worried about overcrowding at stations and in the cars, as well as about unplanned closures—if one train stalls, or a passenger falls ill en route, the spillover effect could cause nightmare delays. With that in mind, Prendergast emphasized, “[minimizing] inconvenience is a top priority.”

First Avenue station improvements: New entrances and elevators at Avenue A. (Audrey Wachs / AN)

First Avenue station improvements: New entrances and elevators at Avenue A. (Audrey Wachs / AN)

Regardless of the plan that is chosen, riders will enjoy a new access point at Avenue A (!), new elevators at Bedford Avenue and First Avenue, a rehabbed pump station, and two new breaker houses, among other improvements.

Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez, whose V-shaped district encompasses many L-dependent neighborhoods, was the first pol to bring up the impact of the shutdown on local businesses. She asked the assembled agency leaders whether there would be “a mitigating plan for small businesses,” especially for residents and businesses on Bedford and Grand avenues.

A second community meeting will be held later this month. More details can be found here.

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