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L station repair spending projected to double as MTA takes different track

August 29, 2019 Jose Martinez, THE CITY

This story was originally published on Aug. 29 by THE CITY.

L train riders were spared shutdown for more than a year at the last minute in January, but other construction work pushed back by the change of plans is looming — and costs are booming.

The projected price tag for structural repairs at the L’s five Manhattan stations along 14th Street could nearly double — from $43.8 million to $77.8 million — MTA documents project.

An MTA spokesperson said some of that work would have begun during the now-canceled full-time shutdown of the L’s Canarsie tunnel in the East River, as part of a “piggybacking” onto repairs in the tunnel.

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But reports that provide updates on MTA capital projects now show that a bid opening previously scheduled for May 2019 has been postponed until January 2020 to “re-examine the scope of the work in light of the changed service plan of the Canarsie Tube.”

There is no timetable for when the bulk of repairs will begin to fix steel defects in station columns, beams and braces, as well as work to repair leaks and concrete defects in walls and ceilings.

The work could potentially have impacts on riders, the MTA acknowledges, as crews come in to shore up nearly century-old stations.

The path of least disruption

MTA spokesperson Andrei Berman told THE CITY that the unrelated L tunnel rehabilitation “remains on time and on budget” and that the reference to a May start for bids to fix up the Manhattan section of the line appeared “prematurely” in MTA project documents published in May, June and July.

“While the scope of this work is being developed, it will be scheduled in a way to minimize any disruption to our customers — unlike the original L train approach, which would have shut the entire line down for 18 months,” Berman said.

In January, Gov. Andrew Cuomo abruptly upended a planning process that had been in the works for years: He scrapped plans for a round-the-clock tunnel shutdown that would have cut off service between the Bedford Avenue stop in Williamsburg and the 14th Street/Eighth Avenue stop in Chelsea.

Instead, less than four months before the scheduled April shutdown, Cuomo sided with Columbia and Cornell University engineering professors who proposed what he called “an innovative and more efficient approach” to limit the work to nights and weekends while keeping trains running.

‘Can’t trust the system’

Close to 275,000 riders on the L have had to shift to other subway lines or wait longer between trains on nights and weekends while work takes place in one of the Canarsie Tunnel’s two tubes, and many said they have adjusted.

“It’s been better than I expected,” said Leo Oliver, 24, who rides the line daily. “The waits are tolerable and at least it’s still running.”

“I feel like you never know, I can’t trust the system,” said Sam Thomas, 37, as he waited for an L train in Manhattan. “But we are able to go back and forth.”

The structural work, according to records, will be to steel and concrete sections that have deteriorated from age and leaks.

Transit watchdogs said Cuomo’s sudden shift has added to scrutiny of the work to repair flooding damage in the tunnel that was caused by Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

“We saw the benefit of the full closure so more work could get done, but we’re also open to see what a new approach might bring,” said Kate Slevin of the Regional Plan Association, which had pushed for more L line upgrades during the shutdown abandoned by the MTA. “Pressure is definitely on and people will be closely watching, given the change.”

This story was originally published by THE CITY, an independent, nonprofit news organization dedicated to hard-hitting reporting that serves the people of New York.

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