Full Shutdown Cancelled
For the past several months, many New Yorkers have been bracing for a full shutdown of the (L) line in Manhattan, as the East River tubes are in desperate need of repairs following SuperStorm Sandy in 2012. While the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) was able to make critical short-term repairs to keep trains running, longer-term repairs are needed to keep service safe & efficient for years to come.
Following three years of countless tug-o-war games between agency officials, politicians, & residents over how riders & non-riders alike would cope with the impending shutdown, it seemed like everything was just about ready to go for the April, 2019 project start date. However, just as the new year rang in, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has been calling a lot of shots across the MTA (since much of the New York City transit system is operated & funded through the state), made a surprise announcement that would change the entire course of the upcoming project.
What did the original project encompass?
As noted in the above graphic, a temporary ferry service across the East River was to be established, along with five free shuttle bus lines across the Williamsburg Bridge – four of them operating in a Select Bus Service (SBS) format with limited stops. Additionally, an SBS route would have been established along 14th St (M14-SBS), and the existing M23-SBS was to see some sort of modification (likely a frequency increase). Frequency increases &/or other service improvements were also slated for the (7), (A), (C), (E), (F), (G), (J), (M), & (Z) lines.
Other mechanisms such as closing 14th St to normal vehicular traffic & controlling traffic flow on the Williamsburg Bridge were also being heavily considered. These measures were met with some controversy but were in the process of being finalized for the upcoming shutdown.
What was the “surprise” announcement about?
On January 3, 2019, Governor Andrew Cuomo held a news conference where he announced that – after touring the (L) tunnels a few months ago, & also consulting with engineering experts from Columbia & Cornell Universities – the (L) would no longer be completely shutdown as originally planned. Instead, “innovative” techniques used in Europe & Asia would be used to allow critical repairs to be done without having to completely close both East River tubes. Instead, single tracking would be done during overnights & weekends across a 15 to 20 month span. Such work would involve mounting new electrical cables along the tunnel wall instead of completely replacing the concrete benchwalls.
Read up on the full extent of the changes on the New York Times website.
So what becomes of the various planned service alternatives?
While plans remain in place to have increased frequencies along the (7), (G), & (M) lines, other elements of the original service alternatives plan are now up in the air. Many are questioning whether the free shuttle buses, the temporary ferry service, & the M14-SBS route would still be implemented. Furthermore, many wonder if the other changes slated for 14th St would still be enacted. In the coming weeks, the MTA will address these matters with the community & elected officials.
So as you can imagine, some transit advocates like myself aren’t very pleased with what we see as a purely political stunt to change the course of the (L) repair project. Even though the original plan presented a lot of headaches for the riding & non-riding public, it would have been much better in my opinion to completely close the Manhattan tubes & perform the extensive work that was needed so as to not have to return later & do everything all over again. The changes in the project simply leave too much to be answered. Besides what I’ve already addressed, many are asking…
- The proposed methods haven’t been tested in the US, will they actually work?
- How will the Manhattan (L) stations be redesigned if they’re still operating?
- Will the starting timeframe of the project be pushed back to account for the changes?
- Construction contracts were already awarded prior to the governor’s announcement, how will those be impacted?
While you’re welcome to formulate your own opinion regarding the matter, I do encourage you to also read through what others are blogging about. The Second Avenue Sagas blog has several pieces up on their site by which I’ve read through during the past couple of days. You’ll quickly tell that the site’s admin isn’t too thrilled either.