Before Mayor de Blasio’s streetcar bombshell last week, the MTA’s L train problem had taken center stage. With word out that the agency will have to shut the Canarsie Tube for either 18 or 36 months to perform unavoidable Sandy-related repairs, the Williamsburg and Bushwick communities, to say nothing of those further east, were up in arms, and the group’s first meeting with the MTA ended badly. The MTA official sent to listen wasn’t prepared to talk, and the community organizers summarily kicked him out of the meeting. Things could only go from there, and so far, they have, bit by bit.
Following meetings at the end of last week with local politicians, the MTA sent out a Saturday press release promising to work collaboratively with the neighborhoods to minimize the affects of the shutdowns. As the bench walls that line the Canarsie Tubes, for starters, will have to be torn out and rebuilt, lengthy shutdowns are all but unavoidable. The agency, however, will listen to concerns and plot alternative options as best it can.
“The Canarsie Tubes were heavily damaged during Superstorm Sandy when they were flooded with 7 million gallons of saltwater, which has eaten away at the metal and concrete materials that make up the tubes’ infrastructure,” agency head Tom Prendergast said. “We need to bring the Canarsie Tubes to a state of good repair, and we need to work closely with the community and its elected officials to determine the best way to proceed with this work and provide travel alternatives while it occurs.”
On Friday, Prendergast and new NYC Transit President Ronnie Hakim met with Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney along with State Senator Martin Malavé Dilan, Assemblyman Joseph R. Lentol, City Council Member Stephen Levin and representatives from Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams’ and Senator Daniel Squadron’s office. It was a veritable gathering of the minds, and these politicians convinced the MTA to consult with the communities affected by a shutdown while planning the work. Maloney, who was key in securing billions of federal dollars for the Fix & Fortify work, seemed happy. “Our meeting with Chairman Prendergast was productive,” she said, “and I am very pleased that the MTA has agreed to host community engagement meetings in the near future so that all my constituents who will be affected by the work can be sure that their concerns are heard.”
In announcing these meetings, the MTA stressed the benefits of the L line work. The agency plans to piggyback additional upgrades onto the Sandy repair work, which will include more entrances at the Bedford Ave. stop and staircases at Ave. A on the Manhattan side of the tunnel. The MTA will also install three new power substations which should allow for more frequent service. If only digging out tail tracks west of 8th Ave. were part of the plan as well.
But in announcing this community consultation process, the agency stressed that, while the tubes are reliable for now, 7100 feet of tunnel need to be repaired, and there’s no real good way around that. The community group is set to convene again on February 24, but the MTA hasn’t yet pledged to attend that meeting. Hopefully, the next few sessions are more cooperative and collaborative on both sides that the last. Otherwise, this already-painful process will just become worse.