“The total shutdown of both tunnels and all service scheduled for April 27 will not be necessary,” reads a statement from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority released Thursday. The announcement comes just a few days after the MTA held an “emergency” meeting to present the agency’s board with information about the new L train plan ahead of a vote on the project. But it appears the MTA will argue that the new plan, which would not require a total shutdown of subway service, does not need board approval to move forward after all.
MTA officials think the agency does not need approval from the board because the plan introduced by Gov. Andrew Cuomo earlier this month won’t cost more than the original shutdown. And technically the governor’s declared state of emergency of the transit system is still in effect, officials told Politico.
“We do not believe the cost of reconstruction will increase, and given the tremendous benefits to the riding public, reduction in the volume of traffic and savings from the traffic mitigation efforts, it is a clear positive alternative and in the public interest,” the press release from the MTA reads.
On Jan. 3, Cuomo called off the 15-month L train shutdown, which was set to begin at the end of April and had been planned for nearly three years. Surrounded by a panel of experts, Cuomo presented a new last-minute plan to fix the saltwater-damaged Carnarsie Tunnel without closing the tunnel completely.
The new plan would require a new cable racking system on the exterior of the bench walls instead of within them, which is how the system is currently set up. This would require less construction and time, making a total shutdown not necessary, according to the experts and Cuomo. Repair work would require just one tube to close at a time, with trains running every 15 to 20 minutes for up to 20 months.
Cuomo announced the non-shutdown plan as a done deal during his presentation, only to backtrack a day later to clarify that the plan would actually need board approval to move forward. But after a heated meeting on Tuesday, where board members questioned the plan’s feasibility as well as the lack of transparency from the agency, the MTA seems to be changing course.
According to the MTA, they expect the “formulation of the final construction schedule and contract completions to take several weeks.” The release did not mention whether a board vote will be held. But it did promise to provide more definitive information to the public once they have it.
Questions remain about the safety of the new plan, particularly for more than 250,000 commuters who ride the L train daily. As the New York Times reported this week, a plan that was similar to Cuomo’s new L train plan was rejected by transit officials in 2014.
The plan was rejected because officials said the construction work could kick up silica dust, a hazardous carcinogen. Because this plan would not require a full shutdown, with repairs taking place on nights and weekends, workers would be pressed to make sure there is no dust before rush hour service on Monday morning.
And not all bench walls have been evaluated for structural integrity yet, so a silica mitigation plan has not been created yet, consulting firm WSP and the MTA said during the meeting Tuesday. But they did say a safety plan would most likely involve workers cleaning up as they go, setting aside time after their shift for additional cleaning, and wearing masks to protect themselves from the dangerous dust.
- Five years ago, transit officials rejected L train plan similar to Cuomo’s over safety concerns
- Emergency MTA meeting on Cuomo’s L train plan set for Tuesday
- Cuomo says MTA board must sign off on L train plan, one day after it was presented as a done deal
- Cuomo calls for last-minute halt of L train shutdown in favor of a new tunnel design