M.T.A. emergency L-train meeting had ‘tunnel vision’

Acting M.T.A. Chairperson Fernando Ferrer, far right, led the emergency board meeting. Photos by Tequila Minsky

BY LESLEY SUSSMAN | Details of a new alternative plan to repair the L train’s East River tubes were presented at a hastily called emergency board meeting of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority on Tuesday afternoon.

However, speaking afterward, Downtown Manhattan residents said they had hoped to hear about more than just the minutiae of the tunnel-repair work. What they really wanted to know was more about the “aboveground” aspects of the former plan — such as bike lanes and the 14th St. “busway,” for example — specifically, whether these would now be kept or scrapped. Similarly, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer also said she had hoped for a wider-ranging discussion.

The 11th-hour emergency board meeting, announced only last Sunday by Acting M.T.A. Chairperson Fernando Ferrer, came as somewhat of a surprise to many board members.

Judy Pesin, a leading member of the 14th St. Coalition of Village and Chelsea residents, said they are very concerned about the aboveground parts of the full L-shutdown plan — such as the planned 14th St. “busway” and already installed bike lanes on 12th and 13th Sts. Coalition members want to know whether these infrastructure and transportation changes will stay or be scrapped.

The discussion centered on Governor Andrew Cuomo’s last-minute proposal —announced less than two weeks before — that would derail the proposed 15-month complete shutdown of L-train services between Manhattan and Brooklyn that had been in the works for nearly three years.

Instead of the so-called “L-pocalypse,” the modified plan would only require an unspecified amount of weekend and nighttime shutdowns of one of the two Canarsie tunnels at a time, allowing the L train to run while repairs are being made.

Andy Byford, president of the NYC Transit Authority, far right, and Janno Lieber, chief development officer of the M.T.A., listened intently to the speakers at the emergency meeting.

The emergency meeting was held at the agency’s 2 Broadway headquarters. Acting M.T.A. Chairperson Ferrer kicked off the session’s nonpublic portion by telling the packed room of concerned residents that he asked for this meeting “because I want the board to have extra time to consider the plan.”

He added he feels that the new alternative plan is a sound one, but wants to ensure the final scheme is the best one possible.

“If we’re going to undertake a major project and spend millions of dollars in the process, let’s build something better,” he said.

There was a lot of discussion about dealing with silica dust from demolition work inside the L train’s East River tubes.

Ferrer also told board members that a third-party consultant would review any safety and environmental considerations and then make a report back to the M.T.A. board.

Ferrer was followed by Jerry Jannetti, the senior vice president of WSP, the main engineering consulting firm that helped devise the original shutdown plan, and is now also involved in Cuomo’s alternative proposal.

Jannetti presented a lengthy technical description of what type of reconstruction work the new plan would entail. Instead of a complete replacement of all the East River tunnels’ concrete “bench walls” — which encase power and communications cables — Jannetti said the wiring would be “racked” high on the tunnel walls.

District Leader Arthur Schwartz, the attorney on the 14th St. Coalition’s lawsuit against the full L-train shutdown plan, watched the meeting with interest. Even though the L plan is now less draconian, the lawsuit remains active.

He also explained that badly damaged sections of the tunnel wall would be removed and the M.T.A. would use a fiberglass polymer to coat and fortify the remaining sections — a technique currently used on bridges and buildings but never before in subway tunnels.

Comments about the meeting from local residents ranged from support to disappointment. Judy Pesin, a member of the 14th St. Coalition — the Village/Chelsea group that fought the original full L-shutdown plan — said she was somewhat satisfied by what she heard.

“But we expect that promises from the M.T.A. to keep the community informed will be kept,” she said. “We also want a full review of plans regarding increased bus and bike services along 14th St. and nearby streets.”

Acting M.T.A. Chairperson Fernando Ferrer, right, has previously endorsed the governor’s retooled L-train tunnels repair plan.

Betty Grossman, an E. 12th St. resident, called it “a nuts-and-bolts meeting” that did not address local concerns about the impact of increased bicycle and bus services.

“We don’t want 14th St. open only to expanded Select Bus Services and more bike lanes that are a danger to pedestrians,” she stressed.

Arthur Schwartz, a Democratic district leader in Greenwich Village and counsel to the 14th St. Coalition, agreed.

“If there’s no need for alternative services under the revised plan, then we’re not going to need the expanded Select Bus Service,” he declared.

Most critical of all was Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer.

“I’d like to see a real discussion,” she told this newspaper. “I don’t think the community’s hard questions have been answered. I haven’t heard answers to questions that I have. I don’t have confidence in the WSP consultant. We need an independent evaluation of this plan.”