Photo: Trent Reeves/MTA Construction & Development, via Flickr cc. L Project Tunnel Rehabilitation Work, taken on March 16, 2019.
“Ahead of schedule” and “under budget” are not phrases commonly associated with the MTA, but the agency pulled it out when it came to the L train tunnel project. Originally planned as a major shutdown by the city, the project was downgraded to a partial “slowdown” in January 2019 after Governor Cuomo convened his own panel of engineers. And after work began last April, causing only reduced service on nights and weekends, the governor announced yesterday that L train service will resume on both tracks during overnights and weekends starting today. He also said that the project finished three months ahead of schedule and $100 million under budget.
The century-old Canarsie Tunnel that runs under the East River between Manhattan and Brooklyn was heavily damaged during Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Talks of an L train shutdown began in January of 2016, with the MTA ultimately deciding on a 15-month shutdown plan. But with so many commuters set to be affected, Governor Cuomo stepped in a few years later, just three months before the work was set to begin. He brought with him a team of engineers from Cornell and Columbia Universities who recommended an alternate plan that focused on the tunnel’s cables that are located within the concrete bench walls. “Instead of demolishing the bench walls to remove the old cables, the new plan [left] the cables there,” as 6sqft previously explained, and implemented “a new racking system that suspends cables on one side of the tunnel, leaving the other side available for access.”
These construction methods have been used in transit systems elsewhere around the world but never in the U.S. “Everyone said we had to shut down the tunnel for 15 to 18 months, which was going to be a massive disruption for thousands of New Yorkers who rely on the L train,” said Governor Cuomo. “We challenged those who said there was no alternative solution and as a result today the MTA is delivering a more resilient tunnel with improved service that is ahead of schedule and under budget – all while averting a shutdown.”
In addition to tens of thousands of feet of new cables, the project added a new wall structure between the tube and the tracks, nearly 13,000 feet of new, smoother tracks, and an energy- and cost-efficient lighting system. Certain stations along the L train’s route are also being updated. The two existing entrances at the First Avenue Station in Manhattan are being rehabilitated, and two additional entrances are being constructed–these are expected to begin opening next month. Similar work is happening at the Bedford Avenue station in Brooklyn. Any additional work is slated to be completed by Fall 2020.
The MTA “implemented a number of aggressive health and safety protections,” according to the governor’s office, so that the work could remain on schedule even during the current COVID-19 crisis. “The L train project completion is timely proof that when we are confronted with a challenge we can build back better and stronger – especially when we work together and think outside the box,” said Governor Cuomo.
For those New Yorkers who aren’t riding the subway like normal these days, the governor’s office has put out “virtual first ride” on the new L train:
- Canarsie Tunnel rehab to wrap up early, full L train service expected in April
- MTA maps L train service changes and alternative transit options ahead of partial shutdown
- L train shutdown is really cancelled this time, MTA says