The L Train Won't Be Shutting Down After All
The "L-Pocalypse" is over before it even began.
In a surprise news conference Thursday afternoon, Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared that he was endorsing a new repair plan for the Canarsie Tunnel, which takes the subway's L Train between Manhattan and Brooklyn. The plan wouldn't require the tunnel to shut down for an extended period of time.
After Hurricane Sandy damaged the tunnel in 2012, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority had declared it would need to shut down the passageway for 18 months, starting April 2019, for critical repairs. That timeline was recently shortened to 15 months, but that was still expected to be a transportation crisis in some of New York's fastest-growing neighborhoods.
"A closure of 15 months was highly problematic," Cuomo said at the announcement. "I have confidence in saying to the people of New York that this is the shortest, best route for the rebuilding of the tunnel."
The damage that needs to be repaired is largely to the cables inside the walls of the tunnel, which are in danger of being corroded by water leeching into the benchwall structure. Other rail and pump repairs are needed, but the planned cable repairs, which involve removing and replacing miles of tunnel walls, were by far the most labor and time intensive portion of the planned repairs.
Columbia’s Mary Boyce and Cornell’s Lance Collins were at the press conference to present their recommendations. The MTA's repair teams will install new cables on the inside of the walls with a racking system, replace only the walls that are structurally unsound and build support for the walls that need replacing with a fiber polymer.
"If we do not need to remove the benchwall and reconstruct the benchwall, we’re not going to do it," Boyce said. "That’s an incredibly time intensive and labor intensive process that we don’t have to do."
The repairs would also include installing fiber optic sensor cables that would be able to detect any structural issues in real time, reducing the need for manual inspections. It would add pump capacity, and implement several measures recommended to increase resiliency against more flooding.
"We looked very carefully at the issue of resilience," Collins said. "As bad as Sandy was, it’s not the last storm that New York is going to experience."
Cuomo said the combination of methods used to restore the century-old tunnel would be a first for a U.S. project. While all of the strategies the repair crews will use have been implemented successfully in new tunnels in Saudi Arabia and Singapore, they have never been used before in a restoration project under ground and water.
"Necessity is the mother of invention," Cuomo said repeatedly. "What these people have designed is the first of its kind in the United States of America. It really is, from their point of view, exciting ... It’s faster, it’s cheaper, it’s better than the way we have been doing it now."
The sweeping change in construction method will lead to a renegotiation with the winning bidder on the repair contract, not a new round of bidding, MTA Acting Chairman Fernando Ferrer said. The MTA does not expect rush hour service on the L Train to see any impacts; all the work is planned for nights and weekends on one tube of the tunnel at a time.
"No L-Pocalypse," he said.
The expectation of the shutdown had already impacted real estate in Williamsburg, which relies on the train to shuttle residents to their jobs in Manhattan and shoppers from Manhattan to its bustling retail and restaurant district. Apartment rents reached a three-year low in Williamsburg last summer as renters reconsidered whether to renew in a neighborhood that wouldn't be served by the subway in the coming spring.
Rubenstein Partners is close to opening its 500K SF commercial development in Williamsburg, 25 Kent Ave., and Rubenstein Vice President and Director of Investments Jeff Fronek said today's announcement was a hallmark event for Williamsburg.
"It shows the competency of government and what happens when people work together," Fronek told Bisnow. "It's hard to overstate the impact that it will have on Williamsburg ... There were a lot of people who were wondering whether their businesses would survive the L Train apocalypse."
Apartment owners were planning on offering heavy incentives to mitigate the shutdown's impacts: Douglaston Development, which has developed several properties in the area, offered tenants who signed a lease $1K in credits for ridesharing app Lyft. Fronek said Rubenstein and its 25 Kent co-owner, Heritage Equity Partners, were planning on offering shuttles to the J, M and Z lines and Long Island Railroad stations.
"Even something like looking into a ferry line, I don’t know how pragmatic that was, but we would have done it if the situation had called for it," he said.
If the new plan is executed, property owners and businesses in Williamsburg will breathe a sigh of relief, and Cuomo, who has received criticism for the state and city's neglect of critical subway repairs, declared victory.
"This was a totally outside the box, creative solution that was provoked, and I provoked them," he said.