On Sunday, State Senator Brad Hoylman used a bridal analogy to describe his constituents’ confusion at the recent decision by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to repair the corroding L train tunnel on nights and weekends, rather than during the 15-month total shutdown they’ve been expecting for three years. “Not only does the groom run off,” he said. “But you look at the guy next to you and you’ve never seen him before.”
Not that the guy next to you — or, in this analogy, the new plan — isn’t attractive. It’s just that his sudden appearance raises questions.
Hoylman and eight other local officials gathered at the Lorimer stop on the L train to raise several of those questions. The group was led by Brooklyn Borough president Eric Adams, who said he wasn’t necessarily against the governor’s plan, only that an MTA briefing on the subject last Thursday had left him far from reassured.
“We didn’t have the engineers in the room and we didn’t have the Department of Transportation in the room,” he complained. “We didn’t have any of the people in the room that could answer the basic questions to deal with a problem of this magnitude.”
The original plan would’ve completely halted subway service in the East River tunnel, allowing work crews to replace communication and power cables along with the concrete bench wall that holds them in place, all of which were damaged by flooding from Sandy. But the governor’s plan calls for shutting the tunnel only on nights and weekends, when new cables would be hung on sidewall racks and crumbling concrete patched and sealed with polymer.
Such fixes have been used in other countries but would be a first for a U.S. transit system. For that reason, Manhattan borough president Gale Brewer called for independent experts to review the proposal. “We need an outside validator to be sure that what is being proposed is actually correct,” she said. “And we want the feds to mandate it.”
The federal government, as Rep. Carolyn Maloney reminded the gathering, is largely paying for the project, which had an initial price tag of $477 million. (What the revised approach will cost is unclear; Cuomo says it could be less.) Maloney added that the Federal Transportation Administration would need to sign off on the new plan, which raises the possibility of the project twisting in limbo for as long as the government shutdown in Washington drags on.
These and other contingencies could delay the project’s scheduled start in April, perhaps by months. Transit advocates point out that new engineer’s drawings will be needed, along with a revamped alternative transportation plan, additional public hearings and, quite possibly, a new environmental study. The MTA says it will hold an emergency public meeting to discuss these and other issues, but they have yet to set a date.
Maloney said she would seek to hold a Congressional hearing on the technology and timing of the plan. City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez said he would do the same in his role as chair of the committee on transportation.