The MTA’s looming L train shutdown is the bad P.R. problem that won’t go away. It doesn’t really have to be like that, as I wrote in January, but the MTA and neighborhood activists along the L train are engaged in a giant game of transit chicken. So far, it seems, the MTA is losing, and as the agency stalls and stonewalls on calls to release more details regarding the state of the Canarise Tubes, it will only get worse for an agency facing the reality of a shutdown for one of its most popular routes.
As we learned back in early 2015, the extent of the L train work is massive. The MTA has to reconstruct all of the systems inside the Canarise Tube and replace the track bad following a flood that saw 7 million gallons flood the tunnel from Ave. D to the North 7th St. fan plant. The tunnel itself isn’t at risk of collapse, and the agency was able to make temporary repairs to enable train service to run between Brooklyn and Manhattan for some indeterminate length of time. But sooner or later, the tunnel will need repairs.
What the MTA hasn’t done is release a report on the status of the tunnel, and emotions in Williamsburg and eastward are running the gamut from worry to flat-out distrust. Over at Gothamist, Miranda Katz wrote a comprehensive story on the dispute between the MTA and its riders along the L train. She writes of the frustration community members are experiencing. “To date we have sent first requests, second requests, and we’re about to send a third request,” Gerald Esposito, CB 1’s district manager explained this week. “We’ve gotten no answer at all from the MTA, and we’ve CC-ed every single elected official that represents this district…Do you think the courtesy of a reply is out of order here?”
Katz had more from the Community Board:
What the community would really like to know is what plans the MTA is seriously considering to make the Canarsie Tube repairs, and whether those plans will suspend L service between the boroughs for several years. The MTA has said that it is not ready to make that announcement. It has committed to holding public hearings with community stakeholders on the matter, but no dates for those hearings have yet been set.
“We’re not even asking [them] to give us a plan at this point, we just want to know what the problem is,” said CB1 member Martin Needelman. “If there weren’t any problems, they wouldn’t have to do it. So the question is, what information do they have that shows what the problems are?”
…Asked whether such reports or studies exist, and if so, why they haven’t been released to CB1, MTA spokesperson Adam Lisberg said, “The MTA has committed to a public meeting with the affected communities, and we’ll have robust communications with all the elected officials, community groups and others that we want to hear from as we develop our plans.”
CB 1 wants the ability to conduct its own studies or at least evaluate the MTA’s assessments, but those assessments haven’t been forthcoming. Meanwhile, considering the extent of Sandy damage, I have no reason to doubt the MTA’s view of the L train, but the MTA still has to make the case to its constituents that any prolonged shutdown is necessary and unavoidable. The agency hasn’t done that yet, and as L train riders worry that the tunnel will, at of the blue, become unusable, riders are in the dark as to the extent and impact of the damage.
The complaints from CB 1 extend beyond what we’ve seen from the so-called L Train Coalition to date. This isn’t about kicking out an unresponsive MTA rep or proposing building a new tunnel first; this is about open communications between an agency that holds the fate of a few hundred thousand daily commuters in its hands. Right now, they’re failing the neighborhood, and as long as the MTA goes without divulging more details, the less credibility they have.