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L train shutdown alternative needs MTA board approval, Cuomo says

Governor calls for an emergency public hearing on the plan to focus repair work on nights and weekends.

The L train subway line does not need

The L train subway line does not need to be fully shut down to repair tunnels that were damaged from superstorm Sandy, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Thursday. Photo Credit: Todd Maisel

The L train shutdown isn’t officially canceled.

A day after Gov. Andrew Cuomo and acting MTA Chairman Fernando Ferrer touted a new, less disruptive plan to rehabilitate the L train’s damaged Canarsie tunnel without completely shuttering service, the governor on Friday said the MTA’s board will have full power to veto the idea.

Cuomo is calling on the MTA board to hold an emergency public meeting to hear the proposal and decide whether to pursue the plan, which would reduce a 15-month full service shutdown of L trains to and through Manhattan to a 15- to 20-month project requiring significantly reduced service on weeknights and weekends.

“What’s next is the MTA board has to vote on whether they want to pursue the plan,” Cuomo said during a conference call with reporters. “If they pursue the plan, the secondary question is that they’d have to renegotiate the contracts with the contractors because the scope of work is different.”

Cuomo was less definitive than he was on Thursday, when he declared that “there will be no [L train] shutdown.” When a reporter asked if the board would in fact need to approve the plan, Cuomo said “I don’t believe so” before being corrected by Ferrer, who said that changes to the shutdown agreement would have to go back to the board.

It’s not immediately clear when or if the MTA board will hold an emergency meeting, though it does have its next regular meeting scheduled for the last week in January. It’s also not clear how scrupulous the board will be in reviewing the new proposal. The body is often viewed as a rubber stamp — especially for initiatives and projects unveiled by Cuomo — though it has become more analytical in recent months.

The MTA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

After more than two years of planning for the L train shutdown, Cuomo brought a team of engineers from Cornell and Columbia universities down into the tunnel in mid-December, about four months before the shutdown was slated to take effect in April.

In a matter of three weeks, those experts upended years of planning at the MTA and the city. They crafted a solution to suspend power and communication cables while fortifying concrete in the tunnel in a way that would not necessitate a shutdown, according to the engineers.

Cuomo defended his late-inning involvement, saying that he trusted the previous plan, which was crafted by outside consultants. He dismissed the idea that the newly announced Amazon offices in Long Island City had anything to do with the intervention, saying the shutdown “never came up” when discussing a new city headquarters with the e-commerce giant.

In fact, it wasn’t until an angry Brooklynite, fearful of the shutdown, grabbed at the governor’s jacket that Cuomo felt he needed to re-evaluate the plan, the governor said.

"I was in Brooklyn towards the end of the campaign, and a gentleman came up to me... and pulled the lapel of my jacket — I was wearing a suit — and went on at length about his dismay on the L train and it was going to hurt his business and this was a real catastrophe,” Cuomo said. “I had heard complaints before, but I mean he was very vociferous.”

The mystery man has not been identified. Cuomo said no one witnessed the exchange — except for the governor’s security detail.

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