L Train Crisis With No Good Solutions Receives Its Worst Idea Yet

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Crews have finished work to remove water from the Canarsie tubes that carry the L train beneath the East River between Brooklyn and Manhattan, and are now working to repair circuits for pump motor controllers that were damaged by seawater during Hurricane Sandy. Metropolitan Transportation Authority / Marc A. Hermann
The Canarsie tube after Sandy. Photo: Marc A. Hermann

On Wednesday night, the L Train Coalition, a Brooklyn activist group, held its second public meeting to discuss solutions to the looming commuter crisis that is the potential three-year shuttering of the hipster-commuter line. The crowd of dozens thought it was offering the perfect solution: If the Canarsie Tube (which carries the L train under the East River) is so wrecked, why not just dig another tunnel?

At first hearing, it might not sound entirely nuts. The tunnel, which was damaged during Hurricane Sandy (and is actually a pair of tubes, one in each direction), needs repairs that are going to take between 18 months and seven years. One MTA plan involves closing the tube altogether for a year or so. In the LTC’s scheme, a new tunnel could be built and the trains switched over painlessly without a break in service.

Back in the real world, elected officials and the MTA have already looked at the idea and found that it would cost $4.5 billion and take even longer than the repairs would. MTA spokesperson Adam Lisberg essentially dismissed the idea, saying that rebuilding the extant tunnels would be both cheaper and quicker than constructing a new one. And surely, if we’re going to start boring new tunnels at a cost of several billion dollars apiece, that work belongs on a new line, whether down Utica Avenue or the rest of Second Avenue or almost anywhere in the city that is now without service, instead of duplicating a tunnel we already have to keep 50,000 Williamsburg residents a little happier for a year.

The coalition claims the MTA is dismissing the idea out of concern that Sandy relief money, which will pay for the tunnel overhaul, will dry up in the next administration. “I know it’s all a big bureaucracy,” said Del Teague, an activist in Brooklyn. “But things can be done if the government feels that people are going to revolt strongly enough." Other advocates asked why the cost estimate was so high when in Lubeck, Germany, an underwater train tunnel was constructed in four years for $201 million. (Short answer: Everything costs way more here.) They also called for funds to be diverted from Mayor Bill de Blasio’s $2.5 billion streetcar scheme.

L Train Solution: Build Another Tunnel?