At its second public meeting last night, the L Train Coalition grappled with the unsavory options under consideration for the Hurricane Sandy-damaged Canarsie tube, which connects the L line to Brooklyn and Manhattan. The biggest question posed by the dozens of anxious community members in attendance: why isn't the MTA seriously considering the possibility of building a third tunnel running between Brooklyn and Manhattan before starting repairs to the damaged two?
According to Minna Elias, New York Chief of Staff for Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, this question did come up at the February 5th meeting between elected officials and the MTA, but was deemed unrealistic because it would cost somewhere in the ballpark of $4.5 billion and take longer than the projected timeline for repairs to the existing tubes, which could take between 18 months and 7 years, depending on how much the MTA limits service to get the job done.
"That obviously is the alternative that would cause the least disruption," Elias said. "They tell us they are concerned that before they would complete such a project and get the money to complete such a project the problems would get worse—they’re concerned about safety is their answer to us. I can tell you that getting the funding to build a new tube would be an extremely heavy lift."
There is currently approximately $700 million in federal funds for Sandy recovery that can be allocated toward Canarsie tube repairs, but elected officials are concerned that if they don't act soon, those funds might not be available depending on the next federal administration.
MTA spokesman Adam Lisberg couldn't confirm the cost estimate that Elias provided, but said that building a third tunnel really isn't on the table.
"I promise you that rebuilding the tunnels from the ground up will be cheaper and faster," Lisberg said in an email, adding, "The question is how best to accomplish that, and we're looking for productive input from the public as we make that decision."
At an MTA meeting this morning, MTA Chairman Thomas Prendergast echoed that sentiment, though a bit more ominously:
MTA will have robust conversation with community on "the best solution with the least pain." "We can't satisfy everyone," warns Prendergast.
— Second Ave. Sagas (@2AvSagas) February 25, 2016
On the Canarsie tube: "We do need to do a closure, because you have to demolish this tunnel, and that creates silica dust." @MTA
— Kate Hinds (@katehinds) February 25, 2016
But the L Train Coalition doesn't want the MTA to be so quick to dismiss the possibility of building a third tunnel.
"I don’t think we should just accept the idea that a third tunnel is not possible," said Del Teague, a longtime North Brooklyn community activist. "I'm concerned that they don't want to deal with that because they're afraid they're going to lose this Hurricane Sandy money...so how come they can't put pressure on the Feds to let them hold onto it, build a third tunnel, let the third tunnel get built, and then work on the other stuff without losing the Hurricane Sandy money? I know it's all a big bureaucracy, but things can be done if the government feels that people are going to revolt strongly enough."
Several constituents present demanded to know why the estimated cost of building a new tunnel is so high, pointing out that in Europe and other global cities, similar projects have been accomplished at significantly lower costs. For example, in Lubeck, Germany, an underwater tunnel was constructed in four years and cost $201 million. When those gathered at the meeting questioned why building a new tunnel would come at such an exorbitant price, Elias simply said, "New York is unique."
Some even came prepared with suggestions on where the money to build a third tunnel could come from.
"I think the city’s trying to do a $2.5 billion streetcar that’s completely redundant to the ferry system," said Darren Litman, a Greenpoint resident. "So lets take the money from the streetcar and let's drive that into this tunnel."
The L Train Coalition is asking the MTA to agree to have an independent engineering firm look at the data and physical condition of the tunnels and assess whether the options the MTA has dubbed realistic are indeed the best ones. The coalition has said several times that it wants a community meeting with the MTA by no later than March 2016, but they say they have not yet heard back from anyone at the MTA. At today's meeting, however, Prendergast told State Senator Daniel Squadron that he will commit to having that meeting within the next couple of months.