They were on the front lines defending the MTA’s L train shutdown to the public. Now elected officials are left spurned and scratching their heads.
Skeptical politicians from Manhattan and Brooklyn are calling for more transparency, oversight and the continued pursuit of alternative transit options after Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s surprise announcement last week that — after nearly three years of planning — the 15-month shutdown of L service to and through Manhattan was not necessary to rehabilitate the Sandy-damaged Canarsie tunnel.
After a briefing on the developments last week from the MTA, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams said he was left with “more questions than answers” on the new strategy — a sentiment expressed by several elected officials at a news conference outside the Lorimer Street subway station on Sunday.
"This can’t be just simply a PowerPoint [with] a few graphs and numbers on the screen," said Adams, criticizing the rollout of Cuomo’s proposal. "We need real communications on the ground."
Last month, Cuomo took a team of engineers from Columbia and Cornell universities under the East River to re-examine the Canarsie tunnel. In just three weeks the team crafted an alternative rehabilitation plan that would require extensive service disruptions on nights and weekends but would avoid the full service shutdown that was scheduled to begin on April 27.
Instead of completely reconstructing the tunnel’s innards, the MTA is now seeking to more simply relocate the line’s power and communications, "racking" them on shelves in the tunnel, and deploy a Fiberglass polymer — untested in train tunnels — to try and fortify what’s known as the concrete "bench walls" within.
The governor has called on the MTA to hold an emergency board meeting to vote on whether or not to pursue the alternate option. It’s not yet clear when or if that meeting will happen before the board’s regular monthly meeting scheduled for the end of January. Andrew Albert, a nonvoting member of the board, said he hadn’t heard of any plans yet for an emergency meeting.
“I’ve spoken to a few of my colleagues and everyone has questions,” Albert said. “Tough questions are going to be asked for sure.”
But before that happens, elected officials want details regarding whether or not the new method is anything more than a patch job. They’ve also requested more public hearings in addition to the four hearings the MTA already has promised. The same officials demand more information on what will come of the new alternative subway service, bus routes, ferries, bike and pedestrian infrastructure that was to be put in place during the 15-month shutdown — ideas that still have support from transportation advocates.
Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer said Sunday the federal government must delegate an “outside validator” to decide whether Cuomo’s alternative is legitimate. She also backed the city’s plan to administer a bus-only “busway” across most of 14th Street under which the L runs.
“I like the idea, personally, because I want to see more alternative modes of transportation, but it has to be discussed,” Brewer said.
NYC Transit president Andy Byford said in a statement that he "look[s] forward to collaborating closely with our customers, the City of New York, our federal funding partners and other stakeholders in this process”
“Extensive outreach has been a hallmark of the L Project," Byford said. "We will continue to work with our board, contractors, government partners and the public in assessing the recommendations of the Columbia and Cornell Engineering School experts, which would continue 24/7 service and reduce disruption to hundreds of thousands of our customers and neighbors."
The DOT is still reviewing the new proposal and has not made any decisions, according to a department spokesman.
Manhattan Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, the chair of the City Council’s Transportation Committee, pledged that the Council will hold an oversight hearing on the proposal in February.
“I’m ready to work with Speaker [Corey] Johnson and my colleagues to call for a hearing in February so that riders and advocates and all of us will … get more details,” Rodriguez said.