Gov. Cuomo on Thursday abruptly announced the L train will not close for 15 months in April, upending the planned reconstruction project that state and city transit leaders for years warned Brooklynites would wreak havoc on their commutes.
The new plan no longer requires the two Brooklyn–Manhattan tunnels inside the line’s superstorm Sandy–ravaged Canarsie Tube to close for the duration of the job. Instead, workers will spend nights and weekends repairing one tunnel at a time, leaving the other free for L trains to travel their entire route, Cuomo said.
“With this design it would not be necessary to close the L train tunnel at all, which would be a phenomenal benefit to the people of New York City,” he said during a press conference at his 38th-floor office inside a Manhattan skyscraper. “There would need to be some night and weekend closures of only one tube, so service would still work because there are two tunnels.”
The scheme will still kick off in April, according to the governor, who did not say if it will begin on the previously set date of April 27 in announcing the change.
And it may only take five more months than the 15 that transit leaders expected the so-called L-pocolypse to last, according to the acting chairman of the state-run Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s board Fernando Ferrer, although Cuomo refused to promise the new approach would wrap in 20 months.
State transit officials back in 2016 began prepping locals for the closure, floating two options for the fix: completely shuttering the Canarsie Tube for 18 months to repair it, or drastically cutting service on the line in order to slowly restore the infrastructure over three years.
The newly adopted Tube-repair plan is based on similar work done in Europe and Saudi Arabia, but the scheme is new to the United States, and has yet to be implemented on a rail-line tunnel, Cuomo and transit officials said.
And it will shave more than a year off the prior timeline for repairing the Tube while running reduced service on the line, because workers will install brand new electrical cables along the sides of the two tunnels instead of removing and rebuilding the so-called bench walls that now enclose the storm-damaged cables, according to the governor and the engineering experts he recently toured the Tube with.
Officials couldn’t immediately say whether all of the previously announced alternative-commuting options during the closure — which included more service on other subways, a dedicated Williamsburg–Manhattan ferry, new bike paths and bus routes, and a high-occupancy vehicle lane across the Williamsburg Bridge — will still roll out as planned.
But Metropolitan Transportation Authority bigwig Andy Byford, who oversees the state-run agency’s local arm, the New York City Transit Authority, said officials will likely still boost service on some subways including the M and G trains, but scrap the planned ferry service and the high-occupancy vehicle lane.
And the fate of the new bus routes will be announced after Byford discusses their necessity with city Department of Transportation bigwigs, he said.
The news came weeks after the governor took his late-night trek through the Tube with the pro-bono experts to ensure there was no way to speed up the job that his own administration spent years preparing for, and stunned straphangers across the borough and beyond — especially after Cuomo told locals not to get their hopes too high following his time underground.
But the last-minute changes still need to be approved by Authority board members, according to the governor, who pushed the panel to hold an emergency meeting to review the new scheme.
“I urge the MTA board to review the alternative plan, allow the public to comment on the plan, and, in its discretion, to commence a revised plan if that is its conclusion,” Cuomo said in a statement following his announcement.
And the new proposal may also require the sign off of the governor’s frequent political rival President Trump, because the Feds are footing the bill for part of the massive project.