Brooklyn Boro

OPINION: Where’s the beef for Cuomo’s L-Train partial shutdown?

January 7, 2019 By Larry Penner Special to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP
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Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s announcement that the work on the Canarsie Line tunnel scheduled to start in April will be changed lacks critical details. 

How much longer will it take for NYC Transit and private contractors to complete work with only overnight and weekend closures than the previously announced 15-month 24/7 project duration?  MTA and NYCDOT have already spent millions in planning, environmental review, design and engineering, assuming a 15-month 24/7 shut down. They normally would perform value engineering, a method to look at alternative methods for performing work, which would result in cost savings. This work was performed by experienced engineers and engineering consulting firms. They have first-hand knowledge of how the nation’s largest subway system works. 

Cuomo’s outside experts came from the Columbia and Cornell University world of academia.  If their new design idea was used abroad, both the MTA and NYC Transit President Andy Byford (who previously ran transit systems in London and Toronto) would have discovered it under value engineering.    

The most cost-effective time to do construction work is when contractors have 24/7 access. The contractor is on site full time, mobilized with a staging area for workers, supplies and debris removal. There is little need for NYC Transit to provide expensive Force Account (track employees) Flagging protection for construction workers. Third Rail power is turned off with no active subway service. Forcing contractors to mobilize workers prior to tunnel access evenings and weekends increases project costs. So does having to stop work prior to resuming of subway service.   

Cuomo’s proposed new strategy could add millions to the project costs. Having only one tube open overnight weekdays and on weekends provides operational problems.  Bi-directional service on one track is risky. Headways between trains could be up to 20 minutes. Rather than wait, many riders will switch to Lyft, Uber, taxi or other car services.  Any train with mechanical difficulties in the tunnel could result in chaos. Significant numbers of riders use the L Line evenings, overnight and on weekends.  

Work for installation of new elevators and entrances along with other station, track, lighting and power work outside of the tunnels in Manhattan will also require significant additional NYC Transit employee support. It will cost millions more to provide protection for private construction employees.

Several hundred million was previously provided under a Federal Transit Administration Super Storm Sandy Recovery and Resiliency grant in 2016.  Washington doesn’t pay for the same work twice. 

Will the MTA have to pay back Uncle Sam for any previous design and engineering work which may be rendered useless given the “new design”?  Will the MTA now have to update FTA’s previously approved project Environmental Impact Statement?  It is clear that the scope of work, project schedule, completion date and budget will be different from the original grant approval commitments.  Has the MTA formally informed FTA of these changes? 

The MTA is legally required as part the master grant agreement with FTA to provide monthly financial and milestone progress reports. This includes any changes to scope of work and contract change orders over $100,000. This is accomplished under the FTA Transit Award Management System known as TRAMS. MTA and NYCDOT provide these reports on many other active capital improvement projects and programs worth over $12 billion.  Has the MTA met with FTA and its own independent engineering oversight consulting firm to provide a presentation on the new “design” changes?  Have they explained in detail the impact on scope of work, budget, project implementation milestone schedule and useful life of investments?  What has the FTA’s response been?

MTA HQ and NYC Transit looked like a deer caught in headlights by Cuomo’s announcement.  Was it designed to ingratiate himself with voters rather than serve the long-term interests of riders?  When will the MTA HQ, Board members, NYC Transit, NYCDOT managers and engineers formally review and comment on this “new design” and budget impacts?

The same is true for both the MTA and FTA independent oversight engineering consulting firms who were hired to provide detailed oversight.  Both prepare monthly reports for their respective employers.  What will the impact be on the final project budget? 

The winning contractors Judlau and TC Electric $477 million bid was based on the original scope of work and design proposed by the MTA.  This included 24/7 site access to both tunnels with no active subway. This contract will now have to be renegotiated. They now have the basis to request additional reimbursement in the millions. These added costs will be far more than any credits given the contractor for deletion of work as a result of the new design. 

Contractors claims for additional financial reimbursement can be based upon delay claims due to limited site access and change orders for significant design and work scope changes to the original contract.  Who will cover costs for materials previously ordered by the contractor in preparation for initiation of work in April that may now not be needed?  How will the MTA find additional funding to supplement previously approved federal funding? 

Cuomo attempts to portray himself as the second coming of the late President Franklin Roosevelt and Master Builder Robert Moses.  He is not an engineer, transportation expert or daily commuter.  Cuomo does excel at photo ops when walking the tracks without wearing either a safety vest or hardhat as required by FRA.  I doubt he is ever taken and passed the standard FRA safety training course like thousands of MTA employees or has used a Metro Card like millions of commuters.


Larry Penner is a transportation historian, advocate and writer who previously worked 31 years for the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Transit Administration Region 2 NY Office.

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