Knight in shining armor or kink in the chain? In an unexpected, last-minute announcement on Thursday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that he is halting the 15-month L train shutdownin April, calling for a new tunnel design instead that would coincide with night and weekend work for 15 to 20 months. The news comes just a few weeks after the governor toured the Hurricane Sandy-damaged Canarsie Tunnel with engineering experts from Cornell and Columbia Universities. Though he said at the time he was “confident it cannot be done any other way and it cannot be done faster than the MTA is doing it,” Cuomo today threw a curveball saying he and the MTA have agreed on a new design that has never before been used in the U.S. and will mean that it “will not be necessary to close the L Train tunnel at all.”
Plans for the L train shutdown first surfaced in January 2016 with two options: a partial three-year shutdown or a full 18-month shutdown. The latter was chosen (and later shortened to 15 months with the addition of some preliminary weekend closures) because a partial shutdown would have functioned with only night and weekend work, which wouldn’t have made sense with the amount of work needed. Plus, building a third tube would have been a time- and cost-prohibitive option.
In these three years, the city has conducted numerous meetings and studies regarding alternative transit options, and real estate prices along the subway line have suffered–all of which is making some question Cuomo’s motives.
The new plan involves implementing a new racking system that suspends cables on one side of the tunnel, leaving the other side available for access. Currently, the cables are within the concrete bench walls, a system created 100 years ago when the tunnels were first constructed.
Instead of demolishing the bench walls to remove the old cables, the new plan leaves the cables there, which would reduce the amount of construction work needed, according to Mary Boyce, the Dean of Engineering at Columbia University. Any unstable bench walls will be removed and weakened ones will be reinforced with a polymer wrap. Boyce told reporters that the new design achieves all functional outcomes as the previous plan, but reduces the amount of work needed.
During a press conference today, Cuomo said the aforementioned engineers have proposed a new tunnel design that “has not been used in the United States before to the best of our knowledge.” The governor said the MTA believes the plan is feasible, which means “it will not be necessary to close the L Train tunnel at all,” though “there would need to be some night and weekend closures of one tube.”
Acting MTA Chairman Fernando Ferrer said on Thursday the agency plans to conduct all repairs on nights and weekends and will close one tube at a time. The L-train will then run with 15 and 20 minutes delays, which Ferrer said is “no different from current overnight service.” The transit agency said it expects the work to take somewhere between 15 and 20 months.
Plus, the MTA still plans to add extra service on the G, M, and 7 lines during the repair work. Ferrer called the new project “less invasive, more efficient, and a huge win for our transit system and our customers so we can all celebrate and be thankful.”