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.