• Jen Nelles

What we know about the L train repair plan (so far)

Updated: Mar 7, 2019

L train at First Av station
L train at First Av station

A lot has happened since the beginning of the year in MTA news. From the surprise announcement that the planned L train shutdown would be scrapped in favor of of a modified service schedule during repairs in early January to the recent revelation in a joint announcement by NY Governor Andrew Cuomo and NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio of a 10-point plan to “transform and fund the MTA” it’s been a challenge to digest the implications of all of these new developments for the L train repair project. This post summarizes the things that we know (so far) about the modified L train project and highlights the things we don’t (yet).

What we know

There is no shutdown planned The MTA has announced that it will continue 100% of daytime and weekday service between 5am and 8pm, including peak rush hour times. This will be accomplished by shutting down one tunnel at a time during evenings and weekends. Consequently, during weeknights and weekends service along the L line will be reduced from 8pm to 5am when trains will run with 20 minute headways between Brooklyn and Manhattan and every 10 minutes within Brooklyn.

The technical details of the project The new service plan is possible because the Canarsie tunnel repairs will be conducted using new and less invasive techniques. Most significantly, these involve attaching the cables that need to be replaced to the tunnel wall using racks rather than demolishing the benchwalls that currently house them. The portions of the benchwalls that are damaged will be repairs, replaced, and stabilized. Tunnel upgrades will include new fiber optic systems to monitor tunnel stability, upgraded pumps, new drainage, a repaired fire standpipe, and new lighting.

Some MTA service disruption mitigation plans are still planned Under the original plan the MTA intended to increase service on alternative lines (M, G, and 7) and it appears that some of those changes will still go into effect. Normal weekday service into Manhattan will be extended on the M line. Additional G trains will run on weeknights and trains will run more frequently on weekend days. However, the G trains will not be longer, as originally planned. Additional trains will run on the 7 line on weeknights. The agency also intends to beef up bus service in key areas including an enhanced M14A regular bus service that will be extended to connect to the Delancey/Essex St F/J/M/Z station. A new “Williamsburg Link” bus route will connect the Bedford Av L, the Metropolitan Av-Lorimer St G/L, and the Marcy Av J/M stops. The interborough shuttle buses and HOV3 lanes on the Williamsburg bridge that were part of the original shutdown mitigation plan have been officially canceled.

Some originally planned station improvement work will proceed Station improvements on the L line and alternate lines to handle additional capacity and address accessibility issues has been underway since July 2018. These involve installing elevators, adding turnstile capacity, adding or reopening entrances, and widening stairways.

The line is already experiencing service changes The L train is actually already partially shutdown. The original shutdown plan required track and switch work that has been going on since January 28th and will continue to March 18th. This involves total evening and weekend closures from 10:45pm to 5am on weeknights and until 5am on Monday morning on weekends.

What we don’t know (yet)

Start date Although some have reported that the project start date will at the end of April, as originally planned, this has not been confirmed officially on the MTA’s L Project website.

How long the project will take The MTA outlined the service-related details of the slowdown plan in a call with transit reporters in mid-February but noted that it was still sorting out the project duration. As of today, project duration is still unknown.

The details of the contract, including how much it will cost Similarly, the MTA has not released any information about how much the project will cost. Although the revised scope of work suggests that it will require fewer man hours because these will be on evenings and weekends, and potentially additional costs of remediating silica dust every day to safe levels to resume full service, it is possible that overtime costs will mitigate any savings that result from using less invasive construction techniques. The MTA is still in negotiations with the original engineers and contractors, WSP and Judlau-TC Electric, on a new contract. Also currently unknown is the status of FTA funding for the project and whether a new environmental review will be required as a result of changes to project engineering.

What oversight the MTA board will have Given the recent announcement of MTA reforms a lot is up in the air with respect to the future of the MTA board in general and its specific role with respect to the L train project. For instance, although the board was consulted in an emergency information session it was not given an opportunity to vote on whether to proceed with the revised project. MTA management argued that board approval was not necessary because there hadn’t been substantial changes in the scope of work. Opinions differ on whether that is the case. In the latest MTA board meeting the Chairman affirmed that a consultant selected by the board will be appointed to assist with project oversight but no specifics were offered about where they are in the appointment process.

Whether planned dedicated busways will proceed A dedicated busway on 14th street and bike lanes were among street-level improvements planned for the original shutdown. The NYCDOT in charge of modifications to city streets has yet to make an official decision about the future of these mitigation plans. Bus and bike advocates recently raced an M14 bus across Manhattan to demonstrate how badly dedicated lanes are needed to provide efficient service. The bus beat the walking pedestrians by a matter of seconds.

Modifications to some station configurations Due to concerns of platform overcrowding the MTA has discussed making two stations in East Manhattan - First and Third Avs - exit only.

Although much remains unknown the MTA has plans to update the public over the next few weeks. Four open houses are scheduled to give residents an opportunity to ask questions about the project (all meetings are 6-8pm):

Thursday, March 7 - Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, 328 W 14 St (btw8th and 9th Aves) Wednesday, March 13 - Williamsburg Northside School, 299 N 7 St (at Meeker Ave) Tuesday, March 19 - Grand Street Campus High School, 850 Grand St (btw Bushwick Ave & Waterbury St) Monday, April 8 - 14th ST Y, 344 E 14 St (between 1st & 2nd Aves)

We will continue to update our blog with information as it emerges. However, it is clear that there is still a great deal of uncertainty around this project. While service changes are starting to come into clearer focus the implications of these changes for subway riders, traffic and congestion, neighborhoods, and businesses is still unknown. Also in question is the ability of the MTA and its contractors to consistently deliver the promised service performance. As the project unfolds the Consortium of L Train Researchers and the L’d Up Project will continue to try to better understand the implication of disruption and uncertainty across a wide variety of themes.

(REP) Added to the L line uncertainty is the future of the MTA uncertainty. The Governor has indicated that he wants big time reorg. The NYC Council Speaker has indicated he wants City Ownership (or control) of NYCT - a difficult and not necessarily a move towards improvement.

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