Two days after saying he supported NY Governor Andrew Cuomo's surprise variation on an L train shutdown plan, but added that he won't be "steamrolled" into an unsafe plan, NYC Transit President Andy Byford told the Brian Lehrer Show this morning that he is "delighted" there's "a plan that avoids the disruption...to customers of 225,000 users between Brooklyn and Manhattan every day."
Stressing that he and Cuomo are "on the same page," Byford said, "Obviously we've got to get the details right." He also called himself the person who everyone will hold "responsible and accountable for delivering this plan safely, operationally."
A week ago today, Cuomo disrupted three years of planning for a 15-month L train shutdown, which was to start April 27th, 2019, by saying that his team of engineering experts came up with a plan that would only require a partial shutdown by closing one tunnel at a time over nights and weekends over 15-20 months. The governor's plan, which emerged three weeks after he and his engineering panel reportedly spent an hour inspecting the Canarsie tunnel under the East River, is short on details, like what the silica dust mitigation efforts will be, and still needed approval from the MTA board.
Byford, who was not involved in putting together the new partial shutdown plan, stood by his boss (Cuomo), telling Lehrer during a live conversation in The Greene Space on Thursday morning. "Although different in its execution, [this plan] still retains most of the original plan. We are still going to replace the track. We're still going to provide accessibility at the stations at the three stations that we said we would. We're still going to upgrade the core elements of the tunnel. It's the methodology that's different. What I said when I came into this job—and the governor brought me in to do it, let's not forget—I said I would embrace two philosophies: one be customer-led, and two be open to new ideas. This is are those two philosophies in action."
Byford says his next step for L Train is due diligence: have independent experts study the proposed new plan to rack cables and reinforce bench wall with fiber reinforced polymer, and proceed only with their reassurance.
— Stewart Mader (@StewartMader) January 10, 2019
When asked about City Council Speaker Corey Johnson's desire for municipal control of subways and buses, an idea that Mayor Bill de Blasio isn't quite on board with, Byford declared, "I'm a reformer. So I do believe we should constantly look to make the MTA less bureaucratic. We should make it more efficient, more dynamic. I don't like bureaucracy. I'm in the same league with the governor on that—he doesn't like bureaucracy, neither do I... Ownership is one thing. But as long as whoever owns the MTA—as long as they they let me get on with what needs to be done, as long as they give me the funding for what needs to be done, you can then hold me accountable.
"Our plan will deliver state of the art transit in an unprecedented time frame. So please unshackle me, release me from the various bureaucracies that hold us back, because we know what needs to be done. We just need the funding and the political support to do it."
The audience in the Greene Space applauded. (Watch the entire conversation below; Byford is the second segment, after Lehrer's discussion with State Senators Liz Krueger and John Liu).
Also during the interview, Byford confirmed that the 200 buses meant for the L train shutdown bus bridge—there would have been 80 buses an hour!—have arrived but they will instead be used to replace old, less environmentally friendly buses in current service. However, Byford points out that during a partial shutdown, there would be 20 minutes between L trains. "I want to make sure that's sufficient," he said. "I also want to make sure that's customer friendly so I'm not ruling out having a supplementary bus to support, to complement the subway or maybe even to replace it."
Not to be outdone, Cuomo called in to Brian Lehrer's show minutes later with... whatever this was:
After railing about the "transportation industrial complex," he's now claiming that the MTA and original engineers of the shutdown reviewed and put together the plan and determined it work. We haven't seen a plan and this contradicts what Byford said this morning.
— Second Ave. Sagas (@2AvSagas) January 10, 2019