Home Superstorm Sandy The slow pace of MTA spending as Cranberry Tube Sandy work looms

The slow pace of MTA spending as Cranberry Tube Sandy work looms

by Benjamin Kabak

The A/C train’s Cranberry Tube was flooded during Superstorm Sandy. Repair work begins in July. (MTA New York City Transit / Leonard Wiggins)

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.

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Berk32 June 23, 2015 - 11:08 am

Surprised that shutting down the Cranberry tube on weekends is such a problem… They can run the A/C thru the Rutgers tube and with the E still running to WTC they’re only losing service at 2 stations – High St in Brooklyn (which is close enough to both Jay St and the 2/3 Clark St stations) and Fulton St in Manhattan (which was plenty of other service and connections available – people going from Brooklyn to lower Manhattan who miss the announcement to transfer to an R at Jay St/Metrotech will even be able to now transfer to the J at Delancy/Essex to get to Fulton)

vanshnookenraggen June 23, 2015 - 3:37 pm

Gotta love that IND built in redundancy!

Michael June 27, 2015 - 1:38 am

That is only if you’re looking at it from the point of view of the trains moving from point A to point B. Considering that the Fulton Street Transit Center is the only direct connection between the A and C trains and the #4 and #5 trains, the various construction related G.O’s & train reroutes for weekends at a time for several years related to the Fulton Transit Center construction, and the Hurricane Sandy work – the rerouting of A and C trains along Houston Street take on a completely different cast.

In addition the re-routing of A and C trains along Houston Street also hampers the connection between those trains and the #2 and #3 trains. The connections between the various routes are important for many plenty of riders.

It is simplistic to just look at the issue as “well the trains can get to their destinations.”

Journeys that require double-back upon double-back trips just to make connections between various train routes are no picnic.


Berk32 July 2, 2015 - 1:01 am

You didn’t read what I said very carefully

Michael July 2, 2015 - 12:31 pm

I read exactly what you wrote.

I’ve also lived with and used the various round-about ways of getting both to and from work and home when the A and C trains are using the Rutgers Street tunnel, and lack of other direct connections between the A and C trains and the #4 and #5 trains.

Now, please tell me something that I do not already know!

The critical connection at the Fulton Street Transit Center IS THE ONLY DIRECT CONNECTION between the A and C trains and the #4 and #5 trains!

Please, please tell me something that I do not already know!

Getting off the Staten Island Ferry at Bowling Green for the #4 & #5 – two stops to Fulton Street for the A & C trains to Brooklyn and my job. At the end of the day – same way back home, even on the weekends.

(It used to be hourly ferries on the weekends, now there are half-hourly ferries & buses – then the subway and its hassles! At work late is LATE!)

Just why do some transit fans think it is pleasure traveling round-about to West 4th Street and back just to get the A or C trains to get to Brooklyn? Or the reverse to get home, when there’s still a ferry and a bus to get home?

In the past there were those lovely weekends when the suggestion was to travel up to 14th Street to catch the downtown #6 for a change at Bleecker Street for the A or C trains! The newish uptown platform connection is nice, but that still means extra, extra travel time!

Why do some folks think that going out of way far distances out of your way, in the opposite direction then traveling back is a good thing? It simply is NOT TIMELY! Not when one already has a long journey!

The building of the Fulton Transit Center had plentiful G.O’s where the A and C trains were re-routed for several weekends at a time! I just loved those posted suggestions at Fulton Street to run-around for the WTC and the E train!

When the Lawrence Street and Jay Street stations were separate stations, I’d paid double-fares for a 1-block out-of-system transfer just to not deal with the various weekend G.O.’s on the A & C trains on the way to work. On the way home I’d still have an hour to wait for the ferry. Yes – unlimited Metro-Cards did help later on – but not with the ferries.

I’ve even hopped the #4 to Borough Hall to run around the blocks to get the A & C trains at Jay Street. All so I can get to work on time, or to get home with less hassle! So please, please tell me something that I do not already know!

Now that the Jay Street-MetroTech & Lawrence Street stations are connected – YEAH! Except for Hurricane Sandy or the various re-routes via G.O. and the N & R trains take the Manhattan Bridge to Brooklyn. The year long closure of the Montague Street tunnel killed that backup plan – meaning back to using the #4 & #5 and the A & C trains – and their plenty-full around-about weekend G.O.’s.

And to head off the suggestion of taking a bus to the ferry terminal, then the SIR to another bus to get to the end of the R-train in Brooklyn, then the subway back to downtown Brooklyn for either a change to the F-train and a change to the A & C train, or a out-of-system walk-about – is simply not in any way shape or form a time’s savings. Ever notice that the A & C trains did not connect much to other lines in Brooklyn? I have.

So Please, please tell me something that I do not already know!

I zeroed in on the critical connection at the Fulton Street Transit Center that IS THE ONLY DIRECT CONNECTION between the A and C trains and the #4 and #5 trains! And you want to tell me that I did not read or understand your message?

Please, please tell me something that I am missing?


Tom July 2, 2015 - 2:45 pm

Why not take the R train, NOW, to Metrotech and Xer to the a/c? It seems that going forward you have an easy, straightforward way to route around the Cranberry tube closures.

But yeah, that east Side IRT connection at Fulton is one of the best in the system.

Michael July 5, 2015 - 1:21 pm

There are weekends or nights when there’s a choice between Plan-A and Plan-B, and it does not matter.

There are weekends or nights when the choice is Plan-A OR Plan-B, because they are doing something to the other one.

There are weekends or nights when both Plan-A AND Plan-B are FUBAR. Plenty of times that has happened, leaving Plan-C. I don’t really like Plan-C.

There are times when for reasons that defy any rational explanation – Plans A, B, C, D, and E are not gonna work, and you’re left with Plan-F. I really hate Plan-F!

So when someone comes along all smiley face, and says, “Gee, isn’t nice that…” That person simply does not know “even the half of it”, they don’t have “a clue”, and they “really just don’t understand…”

There are some very critical connections among the various subway lines that do not have direct equivalents or replacements. Round-about trips on the weekends and nights can easily be time-consuming and lengthy-travel wise. Saying “Just add additional time” is an interesting statement when your regular commutes are 90-minutes plus on the weekdays, and easily 2-hours on the weekends.

Often for subway-fans the trip is the goal, but for regular riders the trip is the means to an end.


Tom July 6, 2015 - 6:15 pm

Thanks for clarifying. My niece lived on Staten Island and went to Brooklyn Tech and had a commute like yours. What isn’t easy to understand if you haventdone it is how one delay causes you another massive delay, like a 50 minute ferry wait.

I assume you are familiar with Alon Levy’s plan to extend the Harlem line to Staten Island, crossing near Fulton street with a line connecting from Hoboken to Downtown Brooklyn. That seems like something that should become a regional priority, and would help you quite a bit. I bet you could pay for it with Tax Increment Financing for Downtown buildings, newly valuable.

Berk32 July 2, 2015 - 3:28 pm


Christopher June 23, 2015 - 12:23 pm

Maybe not the right place to mention this: but why is the High Street station still named for a street that basically doesn’t exist? Why not call it Cranberry or Cadman Plaza? Something that would help people figure out where it is!

Alex June 23, 2015 - 12:31 pm

It still exists… For one tiny block on the other side of the Brooklyn Bridge. So, yeah. Cadman Plaza has my vote.

tacony June 23, 2015 - 1:53 pm

To remind us of the great city we once had? If we want to be accurate it should now be called “Passive green space surrounding Brooklyn Bridge on-ramps.”

I kind of like the stations in Queens that still use the old names of the streets before the numbers were imposed on the whole borough. Bliss Street! Ah, what life must have been like.

If we want to get technical about station names, “West 4th St-Washington Sq” should be called “West 3rd St-Waverly Place.” The station has exits on 3rd and Waverly but has no exits on 4th or the Park at all.

Phantom June 23, 2015 - 3:10 pm

There’s a part of me that wants to keep old names forever.

To some extent it will always be ” Pacific Street ” and ” Lawrence Street ”

Long live High Street. Next to that bridge that goes high over the river.

j.b. diGriz July 1, 2015 - 4:56 pm

Because its current name is immortalized in a Beastie Boys song. 🙂

John-2 June 23, 2015 - 2:27 pm

It seems as if it’s going to take that many months and involve that many tunnels, at 16 months per tunnel on weekend closures you’d be looking at 80 months — 6 3/4 years — before all five tunnels are finally repaired (assuming they immediate start on the next tunnel once one if completed). That would put the last of the work being completed sometime in the spring of 2022.

The MTA would probably be better off just biting the bullet and going for full shutdowns and finishing the work in roughly five months (based on a 140-day work schedule) than stretching things out so long. That would get all five tunnels fixed in about a two-year period.

Spiderpig June 23, 2015 - 3:32 pm

I think they would consider this if time were of the essence in that a tunnel could collapse, but I’m assuming they don’t have the capacity on weekdays to reroute that many trains, rather than what they did with just the R.

Jimmy Snoogans June 23, 2015 - 4:00 pm

And then how do we get around the city for those two years? Or what do we do when the L is completely shut down for five months? Or other lines that don’t have good parallel service? You must live and work in Manhattan if you think that is a real possibility.

John-2 June 23, 2015 - 6:01 pm

Wouldn’t be two years — just one tunnel, 140 days closure at a time over a two-year period.

Obviously the L would be the most problematic, since unlike the Cranberry, Rutgers, Clark or Joralemon Street tunnels, there’s no nearby alternative for passengers or reroute option for at least some of the affected trains. But making the M a 24/7 service (at least going to Queens Plaza during off-hours and weekends) while the 14th Street tunnel is being repaired would be an option, along with the free walking transfer between the G and the J/M at Broadway.

Eric June 24, 2015 - 4:03 am

The free walking transfer should be there anyway.

adirondacker12800 June 24, 2015 - 1:53 pm

If you have a 7 day or 30 day unlimited Metrocard you have one.

JMB June 24, 2015 - 10:41 am

Could they reroute all L trains from beyond the Broadway Junction station onto the JZ tracks? Can’t tell if there is a track connection there. The remaining L stations could act as a shuttle to bring people to and from Broadway Junction.

Berk32 June 24, 2015 - 11:37 am

Yes – there is a full connection at Broadway Junction just south and east of the station platforms.


Michael June 27, 2015 - 1:43 am

Of course there is the option of working on one tube at a time, and using the other tube for bi-directional traffic.

Not that long ago for 5 weekends, the L-train tunnel was CLOSED, and there were buses that routed passengers to the J & M trains.


Chris C July 1, 2015 - 10:17 pm

Not really practical

This is what Amtrak does at the weekend in it’s trans hudson tunnels (sorry can’t remember what their proper name but it has been mentioned here in the past re single track working) and it plays merry heck with the schedules.

The Washington MTA does a fair bit of single track running at the weekends and it means something like 24 minute headways.

Brooklynite July 2, 2015 - 5:47 pm

It’s actually quite practical. NYC Transit did something similar on the Lenox Line in 1998, when there was a water problem that needed to be repaired over several months. Trains ran in one direction between 12am and 12pm and the rest of the time in the other direction. Trains in the opposite direction ran from 137 (for the 3) or were diverted via Lex (for the 2). Something similar can happen here: reverse-peak trains can be rerouted via Rutgers, with some modifications for capacity reasons.

Seth Rosenblum June 23, 2015 - 2:38 pm

Are there any documents on what the scope of the work will be? Are they going to do a complete strip out and re-build of the tunnels like they did with the R train? that seems like it would be impossible in 48-hour time blocks.

Elvis Delgado June 23, 2015 - 3:40 pm

Has it been officially stated that Joralemon and Clark will need to be rebuilt/rehabbed? From the accounts I read after Hurricane Sandy, I understood that they were (over-)built with pumping systems that worked well throughout the hurricane and that damage was minimal. Perhaps they just survived it in better shape than the later tubes, but still not all that well?

Rich B June 23, 2015 - 4:11 pm

What are they doing to prevent future flooding? I read that the Cranberry Tunnel work consists mostly of replacing electrical wiring a equipment. What about pumps, and protections to prevent water entry in the first place? Or has that already been done?

Spendmor Wastemor June 23, 2015 - 8:34 pm

Whaddya think this is, 1914? The IRT had air powered pumps that kept working through the flood.
Can’t do that today, that was capitalist, colonialist and (somehow) rayciss. Making it flood-proof would deprive Workers of their Right to future overtime, you Capitalist Plutocrat!

Spendmor Wastemor June 23, 2015 - 8:27 pm

If you’ve ever done even a month of construction work, you know how massively, grossly inefficient piecemeal work on a large project is.
This could most likely be done with a 6 week full time summer shutdown, and done to far higher standards. You’d have properly cured concrete, for one. Doing this a bit at a time is not only slow, it makes it likely that some of the fixes (such as new trackbed) will need to be “fixed” again, and again, and again pretty much forever.

Of course there’s no doubt Princess Andy and Wilhelm understand infrastructure and will get this straightened out before work starts.

Phantom June 25, 2015 - 3:16 pm


I wish there was a ” like ” button at the bottom of your comment.

Yes, I’d rather have more pain for a shorter time in order to get the job done faster and better and maybe cheaper.

I think that this should be the model for all such jobs, including new construction projects.


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