Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s announcement that the upcoming Canarsie Line tunnel that was scheduled to start in April 2019 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 shutdown. This work was performed by experienced engineers and engineering consulting firms. They have firsthand knowledge of how the nation’s largest subway system works. Cuomo’s outside experts come from the Columbia and Cornell University world of academia. If their new design idea was used abroad and could work, both the MTA and NYC Transit President Andy Byford (who previously ran transit systems in London and Toronto) would have considered it.
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. Headway’s between trains will double. 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.
Several hundred million was previously provided under a Federal Transit Administration Super Storm Sandy Recovery and Resiliency grant. Washington doesn’t pay for the same work twice. Will the MTA have to pay back Uncle Sam for any previous environmental and design work which may rendered useless given the “new design”? Will the MTA now have to update FTA’s Environmental Impact Statement?.
MTA HQ and NYC Transit were blindsided by Cuomo’s announcement. Was it designed to ingratiate himself with voters rather than serve the long term interests of riders? MTA HQ, board members, NYC Transit, NYCDOT managers and engineers have had no time to review and comment on this “new design” or potential budget impacts. What will the impact be on the final project budget? Having to count on periodic versus 24/7 access, potential private construction contractors will increase their proposed bids. How will the MTA find additional funding to supplement previously approved federal funding?
Cuomo’s micromanagement is penny wise and pound foolish.
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.