On April 26, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that the project was completed three months ahead of schedule and under budget. L train service has resumed its previous service schedule, including nights and weekends, although it’s modified under the MTA’s Essential Service Plan during the coronavirus outbreak.
“While New Yorkers continue to cope with the devastating impact of COVID-19, the L train project completion is timely proof that when we are confronted with a challenge, we can build back better and stronger,” Cuomo said in a statement, “especially when we work together and think outside the box.”
Patrick Foye, chairman and CEO of the MTA, said in a statement that even in the face of the global health crisis, the agency delivered the project safely.
“This innovative approach is further proof that the ‘new’ MTA is committed to doing things differently to the benefit of our customers,” he said.
“Our motto is ‘faster, better, cheaper,’” added Janno Lieber, chief development officer and president of MTA Construction & Development.
After years of planning and preparation for an expected 15-month shutdown of the Canarsie Tunnel between Brooklyn and Manhattan, Cuomo announced in January 2019 a new plan to fix the tube.
The governor convened academic leaders, including the deans from the engineering schools at Cornell University and Columbia University, to review the tunnel, which was corroded by Hurricane Sandy.
The panel recommended new construction methods and technology that was, at that point, only used in Europe.
The result was a new approach that allowed the L train to continue running service throughout the construction on weekdays, minimizing disruptions.
The MTA noted that during the project, the agency implemented “aggressive” health and safety precautions for employees and contractors. They launched a new daily reporting app, mandated use of personal protective equipment, and implemented around-the-clock disinfection of contact surfaces.
They also banned the sharing of tools and closed common facilities to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.
“Columbia faculty were excited to participate on bringing new innovations into this challenging L train rehabilitation,” said Mary Cunningham Boyce, dean of the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science at Columbia University. “With the opening of the L train tunnel ahead of schedule, we hope the MTA can use the fresh approach and new technologies we helped bring on future infrastructure projects.”
The new construction methods included the use of structural fiber reinforced polymer (FRP) panels to encase damaged portions of the old bench wall. A new cable racking system also allows cables to be added or upgraded as needed.
The MTA has deployed a new fiber optic monitoring system, allowing the agency to constantly scrutinize the structure of the L train tunnel, especially the benchwall. It can take measures proactively with real-time data reporting of movement and temperature changes.
Other improvements include 12,610 feet of new track, including plates and continuous welded rail, 6,380 linear feet of new discharge lines, and an energy-efficient tunnel lighting system.
The agency added that there was environmental monitoring throughout the project with “no exceedances” in public health standards. The MTA collected data measuring dust and silica levels as well.
While the tunnel portion of the project is complete, the MTA still has work to do to improve accessibility and capacity at stations in Manhattan, including First Avenue, Avenue A, Avenue B and Avenue D.
In Brooklyn, the Bedford Avenue station will see four new stairways and rehabilitation for four existing stairways. The original Bedford North entrance is now open, while the new entrance will open in May.
The original Bedford South entrance and Driggs South stairs will also open in May, while the new Bedford South entrance and Driggs North stairs will close for final finishes and reopen this summer.
Elevators from the street to the mezzanine and the mezzanine to the platform will be completed by the summer. Additionally, street restoration work near Bedford Avenue will start in May and be done by the fall.
In a statement, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney said she was very pleased that repairs were made without a full shutdown, which would have “significantly impacted my constituents and small businesses.”
“With the completion of this project, Cuomo and the MTA have once again proven that New York can complete state-of-the-art infrastructure projects under budget and ahead of time,” she said.
Danny Pearlstein, policy and communications director with the Riders Alliance, said the L train project has provided major lessons, such as the ability of the MTA and the Department of Transportation (DOT) to work together on complex projects.
He noted the 14th Street busway as a change that put tens of thousands of riders first.
“As we build back from COVID, the MTA and DOT must collaborate to cement the gains of fast, reliable bus service that essential riders are seeing while streets are empty,” he said.
Another lesson, Pearlstein said, is that the MTA can act nimbly to accomplish its goals. He urged the agency to put riders’ priorities first, starting new signals to address overcrowding.
Finally, he said, the federal government has a role to play in the MTA’s operations. Pearlstein noted that the post-Sandy L train project was federally funded, and Congress should again provide $3.9 billion in aid to the MTA.
“The governor must keep transit atop the state’s agenda,” he said, “and prevent fare hikes or service cuts that would kneecap our pandemic recovery.”