Governor Andrew Cuomo surprised New York City straphangers during a press conference on Thurs., Jan. 3 by announcing that the long-planned 15-month shutdown of the L train subway service slated to begin on Sat., Apr. 27 due to the damage its two tunnels sustained in 2012 during Superstorm Sandy, will not happen as originally planned.
Instead, new tunnel construction technology — which was proposed by Columbia and Cornell Universities’ engineering departments — will be used, eliminating the need for a full closure — something Cuomo called “a major breakthrough.”
The method has never been used in the United States, but has, Cuomo said, “been implemented in Europe,” though it “has never been used in a tunnel restoration project.”
“It uses many new innovations that are new to the rail industry in this country,” Cuomo explained. “But the MTA has gone through their recommendations and new design and believes it is feasible. It’s highly innovative but feasible.”
The closure was originally announced in 2016, much to the dismay of residents and businesses that rely on the train.
Keeping the L train in operation is key, stressed Cuomo.
“The simple fact is you have roughly 250,000 people who would need another way to get to work, have a tremendous impact on traffic,” Cuomo said during the conference. “Fifteen months sounds like a really short period of time, but it’s not if you’re doing it one day at a time trying to get to work.
“I can’t tell you how many people have approached me about the L train and the difficulty the L train closure would trigger,” he said.
The recommendations proposed by Cornell and Columbia include implementing a new power and control system design, implementing “racking” system design for cables, installing smart sensor systems to monitor benchwall integrity and more.
“Long story short, with this design, it would not be necessary to close the L train tunnel at all, which would be a phenomenal benefit to the people of New York City,” Cuomo said. “There would need to be some night and weekend closures of only one tube, so service would still work because there are two tunnels.”
Cuomo claimed the new method would be the quickest and best way to rebuild the tunnels.
The plan would still require work to be done on the lines during nights and weekends.
Although many are happy with the news, not all are thrilled about the plan’s timing.
President of the North Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce Paul Samulski, who is on the executive committee of the L Train Coalition, said the change of methodology was “a good thing.
“Is everybody jumping for joy?” he went on. “I heard someone on NY1 say, ‘I hear a collective cheer from the West Side Highway of Manhattan all the way to Williamsburg.’ I haven’t personally heard that cheer. I’ve heard people breathe a sigh of relief, but we are moving very cautiously. Again, we think it’s very good news just like everyone else.”
But, he added, “We can’t help but sit back and say why did it take so long?”
Samulski stressed that the months of preparing for a total shutdown had been a burden to businesses and residents that rely on the train, and who were expecting the shutdown to commence just a few months from now.
“We know that people have been very thoughtfully thinking through life decisions, whether it has to do with renegotiating a lease, or selling their business, or moving it,” he explained. “People have made significant life decisions based on information that has been out there and now, what do we say to them? Do we say we’re sorry?”
Samulski also said that the weekend shutdowns are still a major issue.
“Even if it plays out the way they say, it’s still not going to be great,” he added. “We’ve seen a lot of temporary shutdowns and weekend closures. They do just as much damage, whether it’s short or long term. The recent L train shutdowns that happen on the weekends have been devastating to a lot of businesses.”
Commuters also shared their concern.
“On a good morning, I can get from Bedford Avenue to Eighth Avenue in 15 minutes,” said Kristen Schmitz, 25, who lives in Williamsburg and works in an art gallery in Chelsea, and who said that she’d much rather see a version of the shutdown that impacts her after-work schedule rather than her daily commute.
“Now is not the time for innovation,” added 23-year-old Dane Heckmann who lives in Bushwick, works as a building mechanic in Manhattan and studies at Hunter College. “People have already made their preparations. I’d rather have a definite time of completion and deal with it than be in perpetual limbo. Cuomo’s plan to announce a 2020 presidential bid is a great excuse to avoid an infrastructure meltdown.”
Assemblymember Joseph Lentol sounded a note of cautious optimism. “If what the governor has proposed is achievable as the experts say it is, then it is good news for my community,” he said, stressing that, “There must be a full vetting of the new proposals so that my community can understand them and feel comfortable. Remember that for over three years, straphangers and business owners have worked tirelessly to prevent what everyone thought would be a catastrophe to neighborhoods in Brooklyn. I call upon the MTA and the expert panel to come into my district and answer questions from riders and businesses here. That is the next most important step they must take.”
Additional reporting contributed by Sara Bosworth.