On Thursday, May 5, the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) held its first community meeting to discuss two proposed plans for the Canarsie Tunnel renovation, the final step in the MTA’s Sandy Recovery Work plan and a major concern for Brooklyn residents who use the L train daily.
The first plan, which all officials seemed to favor (emphasized by the noticeably longer “pro” list in the presentation), proposes an 18-month turnaround, with work beginning in January 2019 and ending in July 2020, and requires a complete shutdown of the L train from 8th Ave to Bedford Ave. The train would run as normal from Bedford Ave to Rockaway Parkway. This plan would give the agency more flexibility with contractors and would get the work done as quickly and efficiently as possible.
The second plan, which would take three years, would leave one tunnel open, allowing the train to run at 12-to-15 minute intervals from 8th Ave to Bedford Ave: only 20% of the current level of service the L train provides. There would be no train service at all between Bedford and Lorimer, with a shuttle bus as an alternative. Service would run as normal between Lorimer and Rockaway Parkway.
Before MTA officials and representatives (including Thomas Prendergast, chairman and chief executive officer of the MTA; and Veronique Hakim, president of New York City Transit) had a chance to speak to the community, attendees had the opportunity to get basic information on the required repair work and the proposed plans from MTA representatives in a room adjacent to the main auditorium where the presentation was held.
Posters lined the room, and in the center of the space, the MTA placed a table with rusted parts that were ruined by salt water from Sandy.
“The concern is the safety,” said Christopher D. Greif from the NYC Transit Riders Council. “You can’t have two L trains at the same time in the tunnel because of the pressure.”
Also, many of the tunnel parts have been badly damaged. Sandy flooded the Canarsie Tunnel with 7 million gallons of salt water, and the Agency left the tunnel for last as the final project of the Sandy Renovation—with the knowledge that it was a big one.
“The Canarsie Tunnel is our biggest challenge yet,” Prendergast said. “It’s critical that the structure we have is safe.”
What’s more, this plan has been in the works for years, but the Agency has been waiting for other major Sandy projects to be completed.
“As of 2014, the MTA was fully aware this would be the two options,” said Daniel Moraff, tenant organizer for Debbie Medina, the Democratic candidate for State Senate in New York’s 18th District. Moraff, who used to work for the Mayor’s Office of Recovery and Resiliency, had seen the plans in 2014.
Whatever the MTA’s reason was for withholding the plans from the public, there’s a lot of work to be done. Donna Evans, chief of staff of the MTA, explained that the M train will also be undergoing some major reconstruction in preparation for the L train renovation, which includes repairs of two 100-year-old structures and will occur during the summer of 2017.
At the meeting, the MTA presented a short video (that you can watch here), which gave an overview of the damage done to the tunnel, the Sandy-related work already completed, and the proposed plans. Prendergast and Hakim proceeded to give further detail directly afterwards.
“The Agency is taking this very seriously,” said Peter, a Brooklyn resident.
Though many others were satisfied with the thoroughness of the presentation, other attendees had concerns that weren’t necessarily addressed, including the state of the J train and whether it could support the crowds, the capacity of the E/M platform at Court Square, and the plan for the G train, which applies most obviously to Greenpointers.
Other residents were more concerned about the 18-month plan than the three-year plan, as it would remove the option of the L train to and from Manhattan entirely. “In a year and a half, you can kill the neighborhood,” said Franz “Theo” Froschl, a realtor with Capri Jet on Metropolitan Ave. “Williamsburg is bound to only grow—it’s the new Village.”
Williamsburg resident Binnie Robinson found the plans to be very different than what she expected. “They shouldn’t shut it down completely—it’s not a viable option.”
Despite community concerns about businesses in the Williamsburg and Greenpoint area, many see the importance of getting the work done.
“The MTA has been closed-mouthed until now,” said Nick Rizzo, the Democratic District Leader for Greenpoint and Williamsburg. “Let’s get the suffering over faster,” he said, emphasizing the need to complete the important work but also to avoid prolonging a project that needs to be completed as quickly as possible.
Hakim provided pros and cons to both plans, with pros including an extra ferry service that complements the East River Ferry, taking residents closer to 14th St.; a bus that goes over the Williamsburg bridge from the Bedford Ave area; increased service for the J/M/Z and G lines; and increased Select Service bus service—including the M14 in Manhattan. She also mentioned the possibility of negotiating with contractors to get the work done even more quickly than July 2020—and that the MTA would be willing to pay for such a cost.
Luckily, the federal government provided significant funds for the Sandy recovery work—$5.4 billion. “$700 million is committed to the L train,” said Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney. Hakim emphasized another reason the agency wants to get the work done quickly—they don’t want to lose those federal funds.
But the Greenpoint and Williamsburg communities still have major concerns—as many of the elected officials who spoke on behalf of residents emphasized to MTA officials directly after the presentation. “We are here to make sure the community has the voice it deserves,” said Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez. “I hope [the MTA] thinks out of the box and makes [the] improvements needed so we don’t have to revisit this 20 years in the future.”
And the office of the New York City Comptroller will also be making sure the MTA follows through on its promises. “I went to the fourth groundbreaking of the Second Avenue subway,” said Scott Stringer, “so forgive me for being cynical. We will be monitoring this construction project.”
With elected officials and the L Train Coalition, a group of local residents and business owners in Greenpoint and Williamsburg, the community is on the hunt to find more viable solutions for residents who use the L train daily and will need real, concrete solutions that won’t ruin their daily commutes.
“This is one of those generational opportunities to do it right and do it well,” Hakim said towards the beginning of the presentation.
How exactly it’ll be done remains a mystery, but the MTA seems to be taking the concerns of the community as a major factor in how the repair work plays out. And the community seems to be making sure they do just that as the final decision looms.