Our glasses-wearing New York State Senator Daniel Squadron, repping parts of North Brooklyn and the LES not just in style but also in substance, posed some gnawing questions to the MTA today regarding the much feared L train shutdown. At a budget hearing in Albany, the senator echoed some concerns expressed last night at a meeting of North Brooklyn residents, business owners, commuters, and workers who are bracing for the “major disruption” that will be caused by the repair of two East River tunnels damaged by Hurricane Sandy. Thankfully, MTA chair Thomas F. Prendergast had some relatively comforting answers.
If you’re an MTA rider, you’ve probably noticed there’s a lot of work being done right now resulting in frequent closures and disrupted service. That’s because the system is still trying to catch up with the damage left by Sandy. Tubes along the A/C and F lines are currently being worked on and there’s a lot left to be done. One of the major concerns about the L train shutdown is that displaced riders and the alternative forms of transportation they’ll have to take will have a big impact on the rest of the system, resulting in crowded trains, increased traffic, and long wait times. So rehabbing the L tunnel, aka the Canarsie tube, before others are completely healthy seems like it would be a bad move.
Senator Squadron asked Prendergast how the MTA planned to handle the “series of tunnels” across the system that are in need of work. “Those would all be sequential,” Prendergast confirmed, allaying fears that the L train work will begin while work on the others continues. “We don’t want other elements of the system constricted and under capacity when we take Canarsie out.”
The L Train Coalition was at least partially correct last night in assuming the MTA was trying to get the Canarsie repairs underway as soon as possible so as not to lose the federal and state funding that was promised to the transportation agency. “We need to make sure we use those dollars so we don’t lose them,” Prendergast said. But the MTA chair also revealed that the project and closures are “years out.” To secure the funding, he said, all they need to do is work out the necessary contracts this year, not actually embark on construction.
Clearly this project, along with other efforts to repair damage caused by Sandy, is going to be an expensive one. As such, Senator Squadron asked if the MTA’s customers would be hustled into paying for part of it. According to Robert Foran, the MTA’s CFO, there would be “no increase in fares” to fund the improvement projects.
Squadron also pressed the MTA chair on the nature of the L train repair plan and how long closures would go on. “The plan is currently to have one tunnel closure at a time for the next how many years?” Squadron asked.
Prendergast admitted the MTA still hasn’t “landed” on a plan, explaining that several things needed to happen before they could decide how best to proceed. The “first step” is to “convince our customers of the need,” and secondly “to compress as much as possible the construction time to do the work that is necessary,” Prendergast said.
And then there’s the question of whether or not the MTA would close one tunnel at a time, or rip off the band-aid, so to speak, and make life in North Brooklyn a living hell by closing both tubes at once– something Prendergast admitted would be “very impactful.” He acknowledged that, while closing on nights and weekends for repairs would’ve made the most sense 20 years ago, “given ridership demographics today, sometimes that can be more impactful.” He pressed that the MTA was planning to look at this “in a holistic way” by assessing the side effects of both plans, and gauging “what the public would prefer.”
On that note, Squadron thanked Prendergast for being “straightforward about this,” but pushed for even more transparency and communication. “We would really request strongly, working with coalition members and the community, that the MTA participate in a town hall on this issue […] in the next couple of months.”
Prendergast was surprisingly cool about this. “You have that commitment,” he said. “I apologize that we weren’t able to have some of that outreach before,” he said. He even acknowledged that “going forward, we need to have a new dynamic.”