By Sam Anderson
Special to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The universally dreaded L train shutdown will commence in January of 2019, transit officials explained to a crowd of community members at a public meeting at the Marcy Avenue Armory in Brooklyn on Thursday.
Over the course of the nearly three-hour meeting, NYC Transit President Veronique Hakim and Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) Chairman Thomas Prendergast utilized a series of videos and visual presentations to lay out the two options for repair of the Canarsie tunnel, one of the nine subway tunnels severely damaged by Superstorm Sandy. The purpose of the meeting, they said, was to “make sure people understand why we have to do this, and present the public with as much information as possible.”
The first repair option involves a complete service shutdown between Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn and Eighth Avenue in Manhattan for 1 1/2 years, or from January 2019 to July 2020. This option, known as the “get in, get done, get out” plan, is favored by transit officials for its speed and cost-effectiveness, but will force the nearly 300,000 daily L train riders to find a new path in and out of Manhattan.
Option two is a three-year partial shutdown, during which each of the two tunnels would be repaired separately, allowing the L train to run between Bedford and Eighth Avenue with “extremely limited service.” Under this plan, the L train will run in two sections: from Rockaway Parkway to Lorimer Street, and from Bedford Avenue to Eighth Avenue, with shuttle service between Lorimer and Bedford. At peak hours, trains will depart every 12-15 minutes (they currently depart every three to four), and officials estimate that only one in five customers will be served due to overcrowding at the already packed Bedford Avenue station. Under this plan there is a “high likelihood of unplanned closures,” which will further delay train service and aggravate the notoriously irritable riders of the L train.
Officials will choose an option in two-to-three months. Although the shutdown is scheduled for 2019, there will be full weekend closures leading up to it.
Weekend and late-night service shutdowns are not being considered as an option for tunnel repair.
Officials emphasized that such drastic closures are necessary to take on the massive repairs needed to ensure the safety of the L train. According to Prendergast, “We are repairing Canarsie last because it had by far the worst damage of the nine tubes.” He went on to explain that the cast iron tube that was dug by hand in 1924 was flooded floor to ceiling by 7 million gallons of salt water, which is extremely corrosive and has the added drawback of leaving behind deposits of salt, which can conduct electricity. Much of the repairs will focus on the seven miles of duct banks, structures that house the 51 miles of cables and conduits needed to power the subway line. Hakim emphasized that there is no way to do piecework repairs and that the duct bank must be replaced entirely.
The project will be financed by $700 million in federal funds available for repairs to damage caused by Superstorm Sandy.
Alternative transportation options being considered include increased service on the J, M and G lines, enhanced bus service on 14th Street and the possibility of additional ferry stops along the East River. The opening of shuttered exits along the J, M, Z and G lines is also being considered.
“At this point, everything is on the table in terms of additional service,” Hakim said. G train riders will be excited to learn that full-length trains will be installed, increasing ridership by 160 percent and eliminating the customary sprint to the middle of the track.
When asked if the L train is safe now, and will remain safe until repairs begin, Prendergast said that “the tube is safe and reliable today, but requires a high level of work and inspection.”
Hakim, taking a positive tone for the first time of the night, said that the new line would have both increased service and accessibility, referring to improvements planned at the Bedford and First Avenue stations. “This is a generational opportunity to do something right, and to do it well,” she said.
Responding to community members’ concerns about the impact of the closure on local businesses, City Comptroller Scott Stringer said, “There is no question that when the MTA collaborates with local leaders and business, we make progress.” He added that his office will be auditing the MTA and monitoring the project.
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An additional public meeting will take place in Manhattan prior to the decision on full or partial tunnel closure, and New Yorkers are encouraged to ask questions and voice their opinions by visiting www.mta.info/CanarsieTunnelReconstruction.