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MTA Shuts Down Independent Review Of L Train Unshutdown Plan

"I got yer independent review right here."
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"I got yer independent review right here." Governor's Office

With exactly one month to go until the start of the revised L train project, the MTA's leadership is officially reneging on their commitment to allow a third-party monitor to review the scope of the plan and present their findings to the board.

The reversal was confirmed on Wednesday morning by acting MTA Chairman Freddy Ferrer, prior to the board's ratification of a $1.2 million contract with JMT Consulting Group. While the consultant will be tasked with monitoring safety and environmental considerations during the partial shutdown, they will not be assessing the overall feasibility of the project ahead of the April 27th start date—as both Governor Andrew Cuomo and his appointed chairman of the agency had previously indicated.

The authority's backtracking set off alarm bells among board members on Wednesday, some of whom have previously accused the governor of ramming through the surprise intervention and "neutering" oversight. Under the proposal announced by Cuomo earlier this year, the MTA will ditch the full 15-month shutdown of the tunnel, instead pursuing a construction approach that will only require them to close one tube at a time on nights and weekends. The new project, which is estimated to take between 15 and 20 months, has prompted MTA engineers to privately warn of "record on-board crowding," among other safety concerns.

According to some members of the board, the uncertainty about the construction plan, along with the apparent suddenness with which it was chosen, further underscores the need for a third-party monitor to evaluate the pros and cons of the proposal.

"It's a concern to me," board member Andrew Albert told Gothamist following the meeting. "Maybe I missed something, but I could swear the intent of the board was to have the consultant help us select which plan was the best plan."

When he and others expressed those same concerns to Ferrer on Wednesday, the chairman accused the board members of distorting his previous statement, and claimed that "the consultant was never [meant] to come back to the board with a comparison."

That claim would appear to be at odds with Ferrer's own repeated assurances during an emergency board meeting held in the wake of the surprise L train announcement in January. "I have stated a number of times already in this meeting that a third party team will be engaged to report to the board and me, all of us, on what the best path forward is," he said then. "We have to do that relatively quickly...but that's for the board to consider at the appropriate moment when we have those people on board."

Less than two weeks later, Ferrer reiterated this position, assuring board members that they would "participate not only in the selection of [the consultant] but with all of us, hearing from that individual, evaluating information and making choices. Nothing will be done in the dark of night, nothing will be done behind closed doors. Everything will be done out in the open."

Asked about his previous comments on Thursday, Ferrer maintained that he never intended to give the consultant power to review the plan, adding that his words had been taken out of context. A spokesperson for the MTA did not return Gothamist's request for comment.

Additional reporting by Stephen Nessen.

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