The L train saga continues, with the MTA opting for a controversial $1.2M consultant contract

The MTA will pay for a consultant that is “completely unnecessary,” one board member said.

The MTA won’t be providing a third-party review of the L train shutdown proposals after all. 

After Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s last-minute surprise announcement that the dreaded L train shutdown would be canceled, the MTA’s board clamored for an independent contractor to assess the feasibility of the new project before it began in late April. 

But on Wednesday, against opposition from several board members, the MTA issued a $1.2 million contract to its selected independent consultant, JMT of NY Inc., for work that falls short of a full comparison and assessment. JMT will instead oversee the safety, construction and operations of the project as it occurs. 

“This consultant is going to do nothing to advise [the board] whether this is in fact the right way to go, and change the scope of the project on the L train and the Canarsie tunnel,” said MTA board member Andrew Saul, who described the consultant’s role as “completely unnecessary” and “a sham.”

“This is why we’re in the mess we’re in — just spending money redundantly with really no impact on the project,” he added. 

The MTA had for years originally planned a 15-month closure of L service from Bedford Avenue through Manhattan for a complete rehabilitation of the Sandy-damaged Canarsie Tunnel. But at the end of 2018, Cuomo brought in a team of outside academics who found a way to patch up the damaged tunnel and move critical cabling during night and weekend work — bringing with it 20-minute waits along the line each night and each weekend in the same time period.

That work is slated to start at the end of April, leaving another board member, Andrew Albert, feeling that the board had been shortchanged.

“Many of us were under the impression that [the consultant selection] would have happened sooner and it would have allowed the board to make an intelligent decision between the original total shutdown of 15 months … to the now plan that is in place, which is a partial shutdown,” said Albert. 

MTA acting chairman Fernando Ferrer said trying to search for an independent contractor, one that hadn’t worked with the MTA before, was like “finding hen’s teeth.” He charged that the board members were mistaken about what exactly the consultant would do.

“This consultant never was to come back to the board with a comparison between plan A and plan B. I’ve said that before,” Ferrer said, describing exactly what the board had asked for. 

Upsetting some board members further, NYC Transit president Andy Byford, who appears to have a more limited role in the project than first expected, had found an independent consultant who could have done the work for around $300,000. 

“But then the issue moved on,” Byford said, with little clarity. “I think it’s good that now the board has a … consultant on board that will give the independent safety and operational advice which I was originally seeking.”

Vincent Barone