Archive for Superstorm Sandy
The L train riders have a problem. Due to the millions of gallons of saltwater that flooded the Canarsie Tubes during Hurricane Sandy, a prolonged shutdown of the L train’s connection to Manhattan is all but inevitable. This work isn’t expected to start until mid-2017, and the agency is struggling to determine if a three-year shutdown that may allow single-tracking is preferable to a 14-18 month total shutdown of service. From local businesses to housing to daily commuters, the L train shutdown is a Problem with a capital P.
Even as plans are up in the air, Northern Brooklyn residents aren’t happen. Therein lies the MTA’s problem. Based on a general distrust of an agency that has failed to deliver projects on time and on budget and has a reputation, deserved or otherwise, for a lack of transparency (we always knew that lingering trope about two sets of books would come back to bite), New Yorkers simply do not trust the MTA. So when the MTA says it has to shutdown the L train for a prolonged period of time but doesn’t sufficiently explain the depths of the work or the extent of the damage, the public who would have to suffer through longer trips on crowded trains will be skeptical and angry.
Yesterday, that anger unfolded in an entirely unproductive and childish way that benefits no one involved in this process. What was supposed to be a private meeting during which community leaders were to voice their concerns turned into a public forum for politicians to grandstand and business owners to vent. To more or less ended when community leaders kicked out the MTA representative they had invited to attend the meeting to hear their concerns. It’s my understanding that, when the MTA accepted the invite, they did so telling the community that plans were not ready for public discussion. The community members acknowledged this limitation but then were critical when the MTA failed to disclose plans the agency didn’t have. It was, in essence, a public ambush that ended with an eviction. It’s made for a nice bit of theater but has led to more distrust on both sides of a process that needs to be collaborative and cooperative.
Let’s see how this unfolded via Twitter coverage:
Member of public on potential #Ltrain tunnel closure: "until we know there are no other options we shouldn’t even entertain that option."
— Kate Hinds (@katehinds) January 28, 2016
Real estate broker: "There's already been a lot of damage based on the speculative nature of not knowing how it’s going to be done." #Ltrain
— Kate Hinds (@katehinds) January 28, 2016
Retail broker says deals are already falling thru bc ppl can't make decisions. "Concrete information will help" #Ltrain
— Serena Dai (@ssdai) January 28, 2016
— Kate Hinds (@katehinds) January 28, 2016
Felice Kirby kicked MTA rep out of meeting on L train shutdown- "We aren't getting information, aren't getting any solid answers."
— Danielle Furfaro (@DanielleFurfaro) January 28, 2016
Sen. Dilan says he will hold up MTA capital budget until the agency comes up with a decent plan for the L train.
— Danielle Furfaro (@DanielleFurfaro) January 28, 2016
That same state pol now claiming that L train tunnel damage is a conspiracy, was hidden from the public. Your elected officials, everyone!
— Jose Martinez (@JMartinezNYC) January 28, 2016
Consensus being formed at #Ltrain meeting around idea that community wants independent engineer to assess problems in Canarsie Tube.
— Kate Hinds (@katehinds) January 28, 2016
State officials say if MTA won't say publicly what they are considering re: Canarsie Tube, the MTA needs to explain how damaged tunnel is
— Becky Harsh (@rebeccaugust) January 28, 2016
Councilman Steve Levin says MTA has "casual attitude" on L train tunnel closure that is unacceptable.
— NYDN Transit (@NYDNTransit) January 28, 2016
@2AvSagas one resident/store owner told me she left the meeting worried about the safety of riding through the tube today
— Dan Rivoli (@danrivoli) January 29, 2016
Following the meeting, an MTA spokesman express the agency’s commitment to cooperation, saying: “The safety of riders must be the number one priority. The Canarsie tube suffered serious damage during superstorm Sandy, and it must be repaired. The MTA is looking for the best ways to mitigate the service disruptions and customer inconvenience that will result from this critical repair work. As we have made clear both prior to and at the meeting, we are committed to maintaining a dialog with the affected communities as we analyze the options. As the process moves forward we will continue to listen to ideas from our riders, local businesses and elected officials.”
From where I sit, the path forward is simple but will take some trust-building on both sides. The MTA has to be transparent with the state of the Canarsie Tube. If riders and residents fear for their safety, the MTA hasn’t done a good job explaining what work needs to be done and why or what the status of the tube currently is. While those aware of the extent of Sandy’s damage could point to the R train’s Montague St. Tube as a good example, the MTA can’t work from the assumption that casual L train riders know or care about work that happened on the R line. While you and I may pay attention to these things, for the vast majority of New Yorkers, the subway is the line they take on a daily basis, and L train riders through the Canarise Tube aren’t R train riders through the Montague St. Tube. Sandy was now over three years ago, and memory fades fast.
On the other hand, the community should be understand about expressing their concerns in a collaborative and cooperative process. If they’re not getting answers, the solution isn’t to expel the person listening to their concerns from the meeting. Rather, work together to find out a way forward. Furthermore, politicians like Sen. Martin Dilan shouldn’t threaten access to billions of dollars of badly-needed funding to fulfill a personal vendetta. That is a counterproductive step in a process fraught with complications.
So now a detente settles in until the next meeting in February. This work is still far off, but the path forward is opening up. We’ll see how the sides respond next time, but hopefully, transparency and maturity will rule that meeting. Otherwise, it’s going to be a long few years for L train riders.
Try as we might, we just cannot ignore the looming effect the MTA’s post-Sandy Fix & Fortify work is going to have on the L train. Nearly one year to the day since we learned that repairs to the Canarsie Tube will cause years of pain for L train riders, Gothamist’s Christopher Robbins dropped a bombshell. According to his sources, repairs on the Canarise Tube could take up to three years, and the MTA is considering a full shutdown of the L train between Brooklyn and Manhattan for at least part of that timeframe.
There’s no real way to sugarcoat this news. Even though Sandy hit over three years ago and even though this work won’t begin until the latter part of 2017, the MTA has to rebuild an East River crossing that sees upwards of 230,000 pass through it each day (with passenger numbers spiking near to 300,000 during its busiest days). The tunnel, you say, also saw 7 million gallons of water enter during the storm and was flooded for 11 days. The damage, MTA officials have told me, is “extensive” and full repair work “incredibly vital.’
But the bad news may be tempered slightly. According to MTA sources I spoke with after the Gothamist report was published, a full shutdown of service wouldn’t last three years. That’s the long-term timeline for all work if the MTA repairs only one tube at a time or otherwise splits up service shutdowns. The MTA feels a full shutdown would last longer than one year — and perhaps up just under two — but the agency is now trying to figure out how best to get in, get out and gone it done. It is, after all, the new mantra driving rehabilitation work.
As Gothamist also reported, the MTA is considering a single-track option through the tunnel. The service could be stacked to allow for at least some capacity, but MTA sources aren’t sure how this would play out. “If one tunnel is down, how bad will the L train be in the mornings just going one way?” Robbins’ source said. “It’ll be packed beyond belief. It’ll be a fight. Is that the smartest way to do it if it’s going to be the difference of a year? I don’t know.”
So far, the worst of the Sandy work that New Yorkers have suffered through has involved subway lines with nearby redundancies. The R train’s Montague St. Tunnel served only 65,000 riders per day; the A and C can run through the F train’s Rutgers St. tunnel on weekends while their own Cranberry Tunnel is repaired. The L train though serves the second-most riders of the East River crossing into Brooklyn and for a large bulk of those passengers — the ones who live in Williamsburg and Bushwick — options are very limited.
“Unfortunately we all knew this day would eventually come on the Canarsie line, because this is, once again, the legacy of Sandy,” the Regional Plan Association’s Richard Barone said to Gothamist. The pain, he noted, “depends on how quickly it takes the MTA to get the job done versus the severity of the shutdown. So if they can get it done in a year, but they have to shut both tunnels down, it’s one thing. If it takes them three or four years to do it, and they have to alternate shutting down the tunnels, you have to question, which is better? Is it better to get it done faster but with massive disruption? Is it even possible to do that? Is there an another alternative that these folks can take to get to Manhattan for work?”
No matter whether the MTA opts for a full 24/7 shutdown or some other option, the agency will have to boost some service on nearby lines. The MTA has acknowledged the need to increase M service, lengthen G trains and institute shuttle buses. This should be a part of a bigger package that will, inevitably, tax nearby lines, but here’s my solution:
- Riders who can access other lines should and will. Anyone south of Broadway Junction can take the A or C or J or Z. Anyone near Marcy Ave. can take the M train. Those who lose out most are the ones boarding at stations that have seen more growth in ridership than any other set of stations in the city, and that’s a large portion of those 230,000+ daily crossings.
- To deal with them, the MTA should commit to 24/7 M service to Manhattan and…
- …the MTA should promise to lengthen G trains to absorb some of the crowds and…
- …the MTA is going to have address what promises to be crush crowding at Court Sq. as Northern Brooklyn residents head to Queens’ subways to reach Manhattan.
- Citi Bike should be up and running in Bushwick, and DOT should ensure the Pulaski Bridge bike lane is open.
- The city should consider making the Williamsburg Bridge bus only or at least reserving a lane in each direction for a constant stream of shuttle buses.
- And the city should do what it can to ensure that residents in Williamsburg who would otherwise take the L can access ferry service. Although I’m generally a ferry skeptic, this is a clear time and place where ferry service can help.
Already, Williamsburg residents are worrying about the plans. NY1’s Pat Kiernan put together his proposal for a one-track shuttle — though turning Canarsie-bound trains becomes a potential problem in his scheme. Others are fretting about the end of Williamsburg and a collapse in the Northern Brooklyn scene. Others know this hurts less affluent areas as well. There is simply put no good option.
I have no answers right now. This story will unfold over the next 18 months. But one thing the MTA should do is get out in front of it. The agency plans to work with the communities affected by this shutdown “soon,” per the press office, to discuss proposals and present the pluses and negatives of each plan. This planning process should be very public. After all, the MTA is dealing with a situation where they have to get a few hundred thousand people into Manhattan via alternate routes that aren’t exactly teeming with capacity. But they’re thinking about it. I don’t envy the person who has to tell everyone what they ultimately decide.
It’s a small consolation prize too, but hopefully, when the L reopens, it’ll include more entrances at Bedford and a staircase at Ave. A. All of that work requires significant service shutdowns which, thanks to Sandy, are coming. Senator Schumer is trying to get federal funding, and he’ll have to work to ensure the dollars materializes in time. If there’s a window, no matter the circumstances, the MTA should capitalize on it.
As major events go, for many New Yorkers, Superstorm Sandy is beginning to feel like ancient history. The storm swept through the region in late October of 2012, and while we shouldn’t overlook those communities still rebuilding and recovering, large parts of the city were untouched by the storm’s destructiveness. Thus, there is no small bit of cognitive dissonance that arises when something major happens in the name of Sandy repairs.
One of the ways in which Sandy has affected many New Yorkers who never saw the flood waters take out their homes and neighborhoods is, of course, via the subways. We’ve seen the images of flooded tunnels, and Brooklynites in particular have lived through R and G train shutdowns for repairs. Lately, though, other than work piggy-backed onto the 7 line weekend shutdowns for CBTC installation, it seems as though Sandy repairs in the tunnels have come to a standstill. (Other Fix & Fortify work not visible to riders has continued apace.) In April of 2014, we learned that the A and C trains’ Cranberry Tube would be the next to undergo repair work, and as late as November, the MTA had planned to do the work on 40 weekends throughout 2015. Well, here we are in late June with nary a sign of work on the 8th Avenue line.
That’s about to change as the Daily News reports that Fix & Fortify work will begin on the Cranberry Tubes on July 11 and run for 40 non-consecutive weekends over the next 16 months. That means work on the A/C lines won’t end until the fourth anniversary of Sandy, and the MTA will still need to address damage to the F train’s Rutgers Tubes, the IRT’s Clark St. and Joralemon St. tunnels and, of course, the L train work, which might begin before the decade is out.
For the MTA, the slow pace of construction isn’t a new problem. As we’ve seen with other capital projects, the agency can move only so fast, and during my Problem Solvers in March, John O’Grady spoke about the challenges the MTA faces. From the logistics of organizing various crews from various contractors to the difficulties of getting heavy machinery into tunnels built before the era of heavy machinery to the fact that it just takes a long time to move equipment into mile-long tunnels to the reality that only so many contractors are qualified for this work, the MTA can’t spend money as fast as it wants or we want.
Recently, the city’s Independent Budget Office issued a report on the slow pace of MTA spending, and they concluded that the delay in Albany’s addressing the capital budget doesn’t matter because the MTA doesn’t really start spending that money right away anyway. They still have cash on hand — and projects to complete — from previous years’ capital programs. (We still need Albany to act, but that’s another matter entirely.)
The report touched upon Sandy recovery work as well. By the end of 2014, the MTA had committed just 16 percent of Sandy recovery funds — $1.6 billion out of $9.7 billion — to actual work. The rest are in the design and planning stages, and a quick glance through the latest CPOC Board book shows work yet to be done. The MTA, of course, wants to spend money and build, but something — institutional, structural, bureaucratic — slows the pace.
Sandy repairs are going to pick up again and again, but it’ll years until the system is healed. So long as another storm doesn’t sweep in while the MTA is fixing and fortifying, New Yorkers will adjust to the headaches of service diversions as we have regularly on the weekends for years. But don’t be surprised to hear New Yorkers express their own surprise that repairs in late 2016 or 2017 or even 2018 are related to Sandy. Time clears the memory of just what those floodwaters did.
One of the many challenges currently facing the MTA involves the lingering damage from Superstorm Sandy. Although it’s been nearly 2.5 years since the storm and its surge swept through New York, the MTA has repaired only two of the damaged subway tunnels, and the rest are seemingly on borrowed time. The agency simply can’t spend the money fast enough and can’t take multiple tunnels out of service at the same time. So long as the infrastructure holds up enough, the MTA can make the repairs over the next few years, but it’s a battle against the corrosive effects of saltwater and time.
In addition to the tunnels, the new South Ferry station remains out of service. Although the MTA is officially hoping to reopen South Ferry in 2016, in all likelihood, as we’ve heard rumored, the station will remain closed into 2017. It needs a full rebuild and more as the MTA is working to solve some problems with the original construction and fortify and harden the station and surrounding tunnels. It’s a project nearly as expensive as the original new-build station was nearly a decade ago.
But the money is on the way. Not that funding was in doubt, but in a statement released earlier this week, Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand along with Congressman Jerry Nadler announced $343 million for South Ferry, a new federal grant in addition to the nearly $200 million in federal dollars they had delivered last winter. This isn’t new money; the MTA had been expecting it as part of the Sandy recovery package. Still, it’s always a plus to have the cash in hand.
“After Superstorm Sandy devastated New York and damaged critical infrastructure throughout the city, we need to make sure we aren’t just building back, but that we are building back stronger so we can be prepared when the next storm hits,” Senator Gillibrand said. “I’m pleased to announce this federal funding for the South Ferry station and will continue to fight for resources to strengthen and build back the critical transportation infrastructure New Yorkers rely on to get to work every day.”
What I find most interesting about the press release though aren’t the mundane statements or announcement of the money. Rather, it’s a three-sentence description of the rehab work. “This project,” the release notes, “will rehabilitate the South Ferry Terminal Station to a State of Good Repair and protect the restored infrastructure from future flooding. The rehabilitation work will include leak remediation and repairs to the station, rail tracks, line equipment, signals and power equipment. Flood protection measures will include hardening of station entrances, vents, manholes, hatches conduits and ducts.”
Take a close look at that second sentence. The rehab work includes leak mitigation. This is essentially a tacit admission that the MTA’s contractors royally screwed up the job the first time around. Due to Sandy, the MTA has a do-over, but it’s not one they ever wanted. At least now, though, they can correct one mistake of the past, and as the federal recovery dollars continue to flow, I can’t help but wonder where this money is for the MTA’s capital plans needed for the future and not just those to rebuild after a storm.
It’s hard to find the silver lining in the destruction to the subway system that Sandy wrought. Nearly every East River train tunnel was flooded, requiring millions of dollars of repairs and inconveniences that New Yorkers haven’t yet begun to imagine. A few weeks ago, though, we got wind of the MTA’s plan to use Sandy repairs to build a station entrance for the L train at Avenue A. The new entry point will make the 1st Avenue stop ADA compliant and provide access to the subway system for Alphabet City. That’s the good news.
The bad news is that for the MTA to construct this entrance, they have to piggyback work onto Sandy repairs. As a few MTA sources have told me, in fact, this work would not be possible without the looming L train shutdowns that the Sandy repair work will require. Since parts of the L train are as crowded on the weekends as they are during the week, there isn’t a good time for the repairs, and as Sandy has receded into the past, it’s easy for Williamsburg, Bushwick and Canarsie residents to lose sight of the fact that substantial and lengthy repairs are on tap for their subway line.
The MTA isn’t accepting bids on the BMT Canarsie Line work until later this spring, but a Subchatter has a glimpse of the bid demands. If this is the final request, it’s not a pretty picture for L train riders.
As the document notes, the Canarsie Tube was flooded from essentially Manhattan to Brooklyn. The worst of the water damage occurred between Avenue D and the North 7th fan plant. The work includes demolition and reconstruction of over 36,000 feet of ducts; power cable replacement; communications system work; reconstruction of a pump room at Avenue D; and replacement of nearly a mile’s worth of track. That’s not going to happen in one FASTRACK treatment, and the MTA expects this $50 million contract to last 40 months.
So what does this mean for L train riders? The damage to the Canarsie Tube was, by some accounts, right behind the R train’s Montague St. Tube and the G train’s Greenpoint Tube in terms of the severity, but the MTA isn’t planning on shutting down the Canarsie Tube for any long-term work. The demand for service is too great, and the parallel service is inadequate. There’s no 14th St. bridge for shuttle buses, and the nearest East River crossings are the 7 to the north in Long Island City and the J/M/Z ride over the Williamsburg Bridge.
During the weekends, though, the M train will be expected to pick up the slack. In all likelihood, the M will run north through Manhattan via 6th Avenue as it does during the week, and those trains will be packed. It’s not replacement service, but it’s the next best thing. As of now, we don’t know how those weekend outages will be structured or how long the weekend work will last. But that’s what’s ahead for the Canarsie Tube when work eventually begins within the next few years.
For more on the Sandy recovery efforts and the MTA’s Fix And Fortify program, check out my upcoming Problem Solvers session at the Transit Museum on January 27th. I’ll be interviewing John O’Grady, an MTA engineer, on the challenges facing the agency as it continues to recover from the storm. Tickets are free for museum members and otherwise cost $10.
For the MTA, it’s hard to find much good in the outcome from Superstorm Sandy. The saltwater that flooded the city’s subway tunnels significantly sped up an already-looming aging process, and the agency has had to spend federal dollars and manpower on restoration rather than, say, expansion. R and G train riders suffered through a lengthy service shutdown, and A and C train riders are in for a year of weekend service changes as the MTA rebuilds systems taken out by Sandy. But out of a crisis comes opportunity, and the L train is set to be the beneficiary of a bad situation.
As I mentioned over the weekend, the L train is finally — finally! — getting an upgrade New Yorkers have asked about for years. The 1st Avenue station will get an entrance at Ave. A. It’s not quite as good as a new stop at, say, Avenue C, but as I understand it, the slope and depth of the tunnel make that a near impossibility. Rather, the MTA will improve access for both Alphabet City residents and disabled riders as the new entrance will be handicapped accessible.
The work is part of a $300 million request to the FTA for Core Capacity funding. As L train ridership has nearly doubled since 1998 — the MTA cites a 98% increase over 16 years — the MTA is desperately seeking ways to handle the crowds. As part of the grant proposal, the MTA will add two trains per hour for an increase in service of around 10 percent, and the agency plans to add elevators at Bedford Ave. and a new street entrance as well. That stop has seen growth of 250% since the late 1990s and may see more yet. That’s an impressive figure for a line that could have been cut entirely in the late 1970s.
“More than 49,000 customers use the 1 Av and Bedford Av stations on an average weekday, and the stations experience overcrowding during peak periods. The area around the Bedford Av station has been rezoned to allow for almost 10,000 new residential units, and ridership is expected to continue to rise,” said New York City Transit President Carmen Bianco. “We have to increase capacity on the Canarsie Line and improve customer flow at stations to meet this increasing demand, and securing federal funding for a project of this magnitude will go a long way toward achieving that goal.”
So what does all this have to do with Hurricane Sandy? As the MTA noted in its press release regarding the funding request, the work at the 1st Ave. station will start first, and it will “be coordinated with planned repairs to the Canarsie Tube, which was flooded during Superstorm Sandy.” In other words, as a few people with knowledge of the situation have said to me, without the looming Sandy shutdowns for the L train, the new station at Ave. A wouldn’t really be feasible. The GOs for the L will enable the MTA to perform the focused work needed to build out a new entrance around a tight two-track line.
There are still some questions surrounding this work. It’s not clear how much the station improvements at 1st and Bedford Avenues will cost or how much of the money is going toward the capacity upgrades. We don’t yet know the timing either, and considering the damage to the city, it’s hard to praise Sandy for positive results. But the MTA is seemingly making the most out of a bad situation, and for that, East Village residents can now look forward to transit upgrades.
On Sunday night, at 10:51 p.m., a Manhattan bound N train left De Kalb Ave., and instead of rolling over the Manhattan Bridge, this N train took the long way. It stopped at Jay St./Metrotech, moseyed over to Court St. and then became the first train in passenger service since mid-2013 to ride through the Montague St. Tunnel. For the MTA and Governor Andrew Cuomo, who stopped by Lower Manhattan yesterday to mark the occasion, the reopening, two to six weeks early, was a sign of recovery from Sandy. It’s also a story of what the MTA can do with external pressure on deadlines. We’ll get back to that in a minute, but let’s journey first to Brooklyn.
I took a walk from Park Slope to Red Hook yesterday afternoon, and part of my stroll took me underneath the Culver Viaduct. I’ve lost count of the number of years this thing has been under construction, and the original completion dates, laughably enough, were around three years ago. On a bright late summer Sunday, a few workers seemed to be contemplated the safety nets that still surround the structure as they climbed atop the construction shed towering over 9th St. between 2nd Ave. and Smith St. It seemed to be a project with no end and no impetus pushing it toward a finish line.
Lately, local politicians have begun to notice that the Culver Viaduct rehab has entered that twilight zone of incompletion with little visible day-to-day progress, and they have begun to ask some questions. Brad Lander put out a statement on the project toward the end of August. A contractor default has put the finishing line out of view, and a quick glance at the 4th Ave. station makes it clear much remains to be done.
But now, let’s go back to Lower Manhattan, R train cookies and all. After a closure for a complete rebuild of the systems that line the Montague St. Tunnel, Gov. Cuomo and MTA dignitaries were on hand Sunday to celebrate. The Governor of course loves to take credit for the good while ignoring the bad (or even removing $30 million from the MTA’s budget), and he didn’t miss a chance for a good photo op this weekend.
“Superstorm Sandy brought incredible destruction down on the New York City subway system – but today we’re taking another huge step forward to repair the damage and strengthen the system to withstand the next major storm,” Governor Cuomo said. “This tunnel is safer, stronger and more resilient than ever before, and everything on this section of the R train is new – new rails, new signals, new pumps and new power supplies. We’ve made it a top priority to reimagine our state to withstand the new reality of extreme weather, and today is another example of how that approach is making this a safer state for all.”
In a press release announcing the reopening — in time for Monday’s commute — MTA officials noted that the Federal Transit Administration funded the project and thanks Cuomo for “his leadership in making the MTA and New York stronger” after Sandy, whatever that entailed. As you can see, I’m more than a bit skeptical over Cuomo’s treatment of the city’s subway system as a way to earn easy headlines and quick political points.
On a deeper level though, rebuilding the Montague St. Tunnel early, even by a few weeks, shows that in-house MTA projects with a driving political need can wrap on time. I don’t know if the MTA spent efficiently or wisely; I do know that by taking the tunnel out of service, the work wrapped on time and not, say, three years late. There are lessons to be learned here, but they require hard trade-offs. So far, the MTA and New Yorkers haven’t been willing to make those sacrifices, but maybe they should. After all, some of them can get a cookie out of it.
For more scenes from Sunday’s event, check out the MTA’s photoset or shots from the Governor’s Office. I particularly enjoyed this one showing the branching of the Montague Tunnel into the BMT Broadway Line and the BMT Nassau St. line.
When it comes to construction work, “early” is not a concept many people associated with the MTA. From staircase replacements and escalator repairs to the work on the Culver Viaduct to the 7 line or East Side Access, rarely is anything high profile finished early. We’re lucky, in fact, if something wraps on time.
When it comes to post-crisis which for which someone else is paying (and that is, more often than not, managed in-house), the MTA seems to shift into gear. The five-week shutdown to the G train’s Greenpoint Tubes wrapped on time over Labor Day weekend, and now reports are circulating that the Sandy recovery work on the R train’s Montague St. Tunnel could finish early.
Although various reports earlier this spring noted work was proceeding quickly, The Brooklyn Paper broke the latest story earlier this week:
The tunnel that carries the R train between Brooklyn and Manhattan — which has been closed for more than a year — may reopen ahead of schedule, according to insiders at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
A staffer working to restore the Montague Street Tunnel said the tube, which was closed in August 2013 for post-Hurricane Sandy repairs, will likely be up and running before October, weeks ahead of its scheduled reopening.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the worker said the Authority has already begun sending track geometry cars — automated track-inspection vehicles loaded with high-tech gizmos — through the tunnel to make sure new construction is up to snuff, which is one of the final steps before returning a route to service.
The MTA denied an early opening to the Brooklyn Paper, but a spokesman was more forthcoming to the Daily News. The project, Adam Lisberg said, could “meet or beat the October deadline.” Meanwhile, I’ve spoken to some MTA sources who say the tunnel opening early isn’t a matter of if but when. If politicians are interested in a photo opp ceremony, the reopening could be delayed a few days, but by some accounts, Montague St. is just about ready for revenue service trains.
Now, again, it shouldn’t be newsworthy that the MTA is opening something two or three weeks early or even on time, but because of the way construction projects are handled, it is. We can applaud the reopening of tunnels shut due to damage from Sandy, but we should eye skeptically other work that can’t be completed on time. What takes weeks to fix an escalator? What takes over a year to wrap up new build work? Why are emergency repairs so much quicker? I can’t answer those questions, but someone — or multiple someones — should be looking into it before that ribbon-cutting for the Montague tube, whenever that may be.
Greenpoint’s and Long Island City’s summer of their discontent came to end this morning as Transit restored G train service between Brooklyn and Queens. After shutting down the Greenpoint Tubes for Hurricane Sandy-related repairs in late July, the MTA celebrated wrapping the work on time this morning, and G trains will operate as they always do, sometimes more reliably than others, for the foreseeable future.
“Superstorm Sandy’s devastating impact on our Subway network posed a challenge never before faced by our organization,” NYC Transit President Carmen Bianco said in a statement. “However we rose to this challenge and are rebuilding our system better and stronger than before. The dedication of Transit personnel in rebuilding the Greenpoint Tubes and ensuring safe, reliable G train service for our customers is part of our continuing efforts to reinforce the system’s infrastructure and safeguard the most vulnerable areas of our subway system for decades to come.”
As the MTA has repeatedly noted, the Greenpoint Tubes suffered a considerable amount of damage during Sandy when three million gallons of salt water (and who knows what else from Newtown Creek) filled the tunnels that connect Brooklyn and Queens. Power cables corroded from the inside while rails and fasteners suffered significant damage. Ventilation, lighting and communications systems were all destroyed and still have not been fully restored. Still, service could resume today.
The shutdown, of course, was not without controversy or questionable conclusions by regular riders of the G train who bemoan service many view as unsatisfactory. In an amusing piece of person-on-the-street journalism, DNA Info reported that some G riders preferred shuttle buses to the subway. The shuttle buses, after all, ran far more frequently, albeit at significantly lower capacities, than the G train did. Business though in Northern Brooklyn and Long Island City are happy to see the subway connection restored even if the G will be undergoing a FASTRACK treatment next week.
Meanwhile, further south, the MTA is pushing to wrap up work on the Montague St. Tunnel by the end of October and will turn its attention to other East River tubes that suffered damage but will not require full shutdowns. As now, the MTA has simply said they will “will also address issues in other under river tubes to make the system more resilient.” Details should be forthcoming soon.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been over three and a half years since New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie unilaterally canceled the ARC Tunnel. Yet, it’s a decision that keeps coming back to haunt the entire region. Amtrak has proposed picking up the slack with their Gateway Tunnel, but that’s decades off. Now, questions have emerged concerning the region’s ability to cope with aging infrastructure and no replacement plans in place.
The latest comes to us from Amtrak. As the two Hudson River tunnels creep up there in years, the national rail agency has warned that age will become a major issue sooner rather than later. Amtrak’s chief put their life expectancy at “less than 20 years” and urged everyone involved to start funding — and then building — Gateway.
Dana Rubinstein had more:
The end may be near for the New York region’s cross-harbor rail tunnels, with no good alternative in sight. “I’m being told we got something less than 20 years before we have to shut one or two down,” said Amtrak C.E.O. Joseph Boardman at the Regional Plan Association’s conference last week at the Waldorf Astoria. “Something less than 20. I don’t know if that something less than 20 is seven, or some other number. But to build two new ones, you’re talking seven to nine years to deliver, if we all decided today that we could do it.”
Tom Wright, the Regional Plan Association’s executive director, described Boardman’s remarks as “a big shock.” “I’ve been hearing abstractly people at Amtrak and other people at New Jersey Transit say for years the tunnels are over 100 years old and we have to be worried about them,” he said. “To actually have Joe put something concrete on the table, less than 20 years … Within my office, there was a level of, ‘Wow, this is really serious.’”
In addition to age, as Rubinstein notes, Sandy damage is going to play a big role in this tale. The Amtrak tunnels, by some accounts, suffered approximately half a billion dollars in damage during the storm surge, but unlike, say, the Montague St. Tunnel, Amtrak can’t just take one of their cross-Hudson out of service for a few months to make repairs. That would reduce capacity from 24 trains per hour to just six, and as Amtrak owns them, the people who would suffer the most from single-tracking would be New Jersey Transit riders. Thus, it all comes back to ARC as without ARC, New Jersey Transit is beholden to Amtrak’s whims.
An Amtrak spokesman later tried to walk back Boardman’s comments. “As you know the Hudson River Tunnels are more than 100 years old and were filled with salt water during Super Storm Sandy, which can be very corrosive,” Craig Schultz said. “Amtrak is working with an expert to assess the condition of the tunnel structures since the storm, and that work is ongoing. I think the point Mr. Boardman was making in his comments at the RPA Assembly is that damage from Sandy accelerated what was already an urgent need for additional tunnel capacity between New York and New Jersey. We expect that the tunnels are going to need major rehabilitation, which can only happen with prolonged service outages permitted by a new tunnel.”
So where do we go from here? As with all of these major infrastructure projects, Gateway needs a champion, and right now, it doesn’t have one. It needs money, and right now, it doesn’t have it. Will we wait to fund it until it’s too late or will someone come to their senses before we have to live in an era when six trains per hour can cross the Hudson River? The clock is ticking.