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MTA questions L train rehabilitation plan in heated emergency meeting

By Michaela Kilgallen

I hate to be the bearer of potentially bad news—I really do—but it looks like there's a chance we might not evade the L train shutdown after all.

North Brooklynites let out a collective sigh of relief earlier this month when Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a new rehabilitation plan for the Canarsie Tunnel that would dodge the 15-month full shutdown of the L train. At the January 3 press conference, Chairman of the MTA Fernando Ferrer announced that “...the MTA is adopting….” the new plan, but it has yet to be approved by the board.

Despite the ringing endorsement from the head of the MTA, board members scrutinized the plan in an emergency meeting with WSP engineering experts Tuesday. During an intense three hours, members showed concern for the plan’s safety and quality standards, drawing similarities between the new rehabilitation methods and a rejected plan from 2014.

Cuomo’s new plan recommends that power cables currently stored inside bench walls be moved into racks hung along the tunnel. While this method would eliminate the need to completely rebuild the damaged bench walls, screwing racks to the tunnel walls could unearth lung-damaging silica dust. The initial decision to completely shut down the tunnel was partly to ensure that the dust would be contained. 

In response, WSP Senior Vice President Jerry Jannetti claimed dust disbursement would be limited by working on bench walls during weekends, allowing crews to eliminate dust before busy weekdays. Experts also claim the project would adhere to all environmental standards associated with silica mitigation.

Additionally, board members weren’t thrilled about the potential lifespan of the new rehabilitation plan. While the previously approved plan would remedy the tunnel for some 100 years, the new plan is only predicted to hold off damage for 40 to 50 years.

The meeting was not without mild confrontation as DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg questioned Ferrer’s statements regarding the shutdown and the MTA’s decision to prematurely hang signage announcing the aversion. Ferrer admitted there has been no official change in contract and board members have autonomy to vote however they choose. When pressed for clarification, Ferrer shut off his microphone and responded privately.

The fate of the L train will be decided next Tuesday, when the board officially votes on the plan. Fingers crossed.


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