At 18 months, it’s gonna be one L of a train shutdown

BY ALEX ELLEFSON | The apocalyptic L train shutdown is coming!

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority announced Monday it has chosen to close the train tunnel between Brooklyn and Manhattan for 18 months in order to repair damage caused by Superstorm Sandy. The shutdown, which will prevent trains from traveling across 14th St. in Manhattan, will occur no earlier than 2019.

The announcement ended a prolonged period that saw the agency float two possible scenarios. One involved closing the tunnel completely for a year and a half. The other would close one of the tunnel’s tubes at a time — allowing trains to run, but at a significantly reduced capacity — and was expected to take twice as long to complete.

Straphangers at the end of the line, Eighth Ave. and W. 14th St. During the L tube repairs, there will be no Manhattan service on the line. Photo by Yannic Rack
Straphangers at the end of the line, Eighth Ave. and W. 14th St. During the L tube repairs, there will be no Manhattan service on the line. Photo by Yannic Rack

Veronique Hakim, president of the M.T.A.’s New York City Transit, said the 18-month closure “offered the least amount of pain to customers.”

“We think it is better to have a shorter duration of pain than a longer, more unstable process — and risk unplanned closures — by leaving one track open during construction,” she said in a statement.

The M.T.A. is now tasked with developing transportation alternatives aimed at minimizing the impact on the estimated 400,000 people who use the L train daily. More than half of those riders travel under the East River into Manhattan and 50,000 use the line for crosstown service in Manhattan.

State Senator Brad Hoylman has called for closing portions of 14th St. to expedite bus service and sent a letter last month signed by 10 other legislators, requesting the M.T.A. and the city Department of Transportation study ways to improve public transportation along the crosstown thoroughfare during the L train disruption. Following the M.T.A.’s announcement that the line will be closed for a year and a half, the senator urged the agencies to move swiftly in crafting a plan.

“With today’s announcement of a full 18-month shutdown, it’s imperative that both agencies act expeditiously to determine whether any changes to 14th St. aboveground could help otherwise stranded straphangers,” Hoylman said in a statement.

Community Board 4’s Transportation Committee drafted a letter supporting the M.T.A.’s decision to close the tunnel during repairs. However, the committee expressed concern that aboveground changes could divert cars onto narrower residential streets. The letter urges the M.T.A. and D.O.T. to consider traffic-calming measures to mitigate the impact of more congestion on surrounding streets.

“In Manhattan, we have a lot of transportation options, so where we see a cause for concern is how the overflow of traffic from the 14th St. corridor will affect some of the smaller streets,” said Delores Rubin, Community Board 4 chairperson. “It is important for the M.T.A. to work with D.O.T. to figure out the impact of those proposals.”

A D.O.T. spokesperson said the agency is prepared to work with the M.T.A. on mitigation efforts.

The committee’s letter also proposes connecting another subway route to the L line in order to provide cross-town service. The letter acknowledges that project would be expensive, but would mitigate some of the traffic disruptions expected to arise by mothballing the L line in Manhattan.

The M.T.A. said it is in the process of engaging stakeholders to develop alternative service plans. The agency already intends to add additional trains on the M, J, and G lines to accommodate the expected surge in ridership.

The agency has hosted four meetings since May in communities along the L line, including one for the area along 14th St. The town halls allowed for public engagement on some of the solutions proposed by the M.T.A. The agency plans to continue the approach.

When announcing the tunnel’s closure, Thomas Prendergast, the M.T.A. chairperson and C.E.O., said the agency is “committed to working with the community just as closely as we develop ways to add service to help minimize the impacts of the closure.”

Prendergast added, “There is no question that repairs to the Canarsie Tunnel are critical and cannot be avoided or delayed.”

The L train’s path under the East River — called the Canarsie Tunnel — was one of nine underwater tunnels that required repairs after being flooded during Superstorm Sandy, the M.T.A. said. The Montague Tunnel, used by the R line, was closed for 13 months, and the G line tunnel under Newtown Creek was closed two months for repairs.

The M.T.A. said damage to the Canarsie Tunnel is extensive and requires fixing signals, switches, tracks, various cables — for power signals and communication — cable ducts and lighting. Additional work must be done to protect the route’s structural integrity.

While the tunnel is repaired, the M.T.A. said it will also rehab some of the stations along the L line — such as adding new stairs and elevators at the First Ave. station. Additional work will also provide additional electric power to allow more trains to operate on the line during rush hour, the agency said. The M.T.A. has committed to building an Avenue A entrance / exit for the cramped First Ave. stop.