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MTA L Train Work Mostly Completed

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EXCLUSIVE: L-Pocalypse not — MTA has already completed the bulk of L train construction

By CLAYTON GUSE | NEW YORK DAILY NEWS | APR 25, 2019 | 7:15 PM

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MTA workers walk inside the L train tunnel during an exclusive media observation tour Thursday night in Manhattan. 4/24/2019 Manhattan, NY Go Nakamura for New York Daily News (Go Nakamura/for New York Daily News)

All the dread over the L-Pocalypse — the fear of a 15-month L train shutdown, the planning for alternate routes, the idea of panicked commuters jamming East River ferry boats — is proving way overblown.

Rebuilding of the L train’s busy Hurricane Sandy-damaged East River tunnel officially begins Friday evening, but major repair work on the damaged stretch has been underway for months, the Daily News has learned.

After a controversial last-minute change of plans pushed by Gov. Cuomo in January, crews will remove less than 1% of the bench walls, which originally were to be entirely removed and replaced.

Before January, the MTA planned to remove enough concrete from 35,000 feet of bench walls, enough to fill 580 large dump trucks.

Now the bench wall portion of the project involves filling just a handful of dump trucks — and the MTA is nearly halfway done with that part of the job.

Instead of ripping out the cables encased in the bench walls, the MTA is installing brackets on the walls to hold new, modern power and communication lines.

Leaving the bench walls largely intact means the MTA only has to shave about three inches of concrete from the face of the structures every 250 feet, where protruding manholes are in place.

There are 96 of those manholes in the tunnel. Over the past three months, crews have shaved back concrete next to 40 of them.

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Old electric cables are revealed from the wall inside the L train tunnel on Thursday. (Go Nakamura/for New York Daily News)

That demolition work — which has nothing to do with water damage from the hurricane — expands the tunnel width by a few inches, giving enough space to run trains at slightly faster speeds.

MTA crews have also replaced both sets of tracks in the tunnels, as well as one of two existing pipes that pump out water in the case of another flood. The agency will add two new pipes to make the tunnel slightly more hurricane-proof. Clamps that will hold those pipes are about halfway installed.

The agency has also refined the idea put forth by the deans of the engineering schools at Cornell and Columbia universities to cover the damaged sections of the bench walls with fiber reinforced polymer, or FRP.

The News got a tour Wednesday night of the tunnel, which was damaged in 2012 when it was flooded during Sandy. The L train is to run with reduced service on nights and weekends for at least 15 months beginning Friday to complete repairs — but sources told The News the service cutbacks could last just 12 months given the amount of work that’s already been done.

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A newly-installed fiber reinforced polymer bench wall is seen Thursday in the tunnel. (Go Nakamura/for New York Daily News)

MTA head of capital construction Janno Lieber said that in January, his team experimented with applying wet polymer to the damaged structures, but found it to be too time consuming. His team came up with a better method in February to cover the crumbling sections with FRP segments manufactured in a factory.

Several of those segments have already been put in place. Roughly 7,900 feet of the bench wall will be encased in the material, which is also used on bridges and boats and is said to be impervious to nearly every element except sunlight.

The remaining construction includes the replacement of rail ties, installation of the racked cables on the tunnel walls, and, most significantly, the demolition of a pair of thin, 3,400-foot stretches of concrete above the bench walls called the duct bank.

Those three-inch-thick sections of concrete house long-abandoned ConEd power lines, and were damaged during Hurricane Sandy. The MTA now plans to remove the sections and the cables entirely. They do not need to be replaced.

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Series of metal brackets are seen in preparation to install water pump pipes inside the L train tunnel on Thursday. (Go Nakamura/for New York Daily News)

“This is a more surgical solution,” said Mark Roche, one of the heads of the project. He called the new procedure "fine tuned.”

The MTA initially planned to take the same approach to the L train tunnel as it did with the R train’s Montague St. tunnel in 2013, which runs from Whitehall St. in Manhattan to Montague St. in Brooklyn. That shutdown caused 14 months of service disruptions as crews demolished and replaced an entire set of bench walls.

Lieber and Roche were not working at the MTA then. Both believe the MTA and its consultants had planned to take the same approach with the L train simply because the agency had done it before.

Roche previously oversaw construction on the new Tappan Zee Bridge, a rare New York project that came in within budget and on time. He joined the MTA in September 2016.

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MTA Senior Director of Alternative Project Delivery Mark Roche explains the upcoming tunnel repair Thursday night. (Go Nakamura/for New York Daily News)

“We’ve been trying to do things differently at the MTA since we got here,” said Roche. “You’ve got to have the imagination to win.”

The MTA reached agreement on the last of the contracts needed for the L train project on Thursday. The Federal Transit Administration has signed off on the new work.

MTA spokesman Max Young said the new L train strategy will cost $10 million less than the previous plan.

While the L train work is underway, riders will be offered data showing the amount of potentially dangerous silica dust in the subway tunnel air. The data will be updated weekly.

Roche said the MTA will carry out the remaining demolition work on weekends. Overnight work from Mondays through Thursdays will consist of tasks like pipe and rail tie installation.

Now, the MTA’s biggest challenge is to handle the rush of night and weekend commuters along the L line during reduced service.

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MTA workers are seen in the L train 1st Avenue station on Thursday night in Manhattan. (Go Nakamura/for New York Daily News)

L trains will run every 10 minutes within Brooklyn from around 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. each weeknight and throughout the weekends. During the same hours, they’ll run every 20 minutes in Manhattan and across the East River.

The agency has admitted that some trains may be too packed to board while service is reduced, and is hoping riders will switch to other subways and use a new set of free shuttle buses that will shepherd folks between the L, G, J and M lines in Brooklyn.

MTA Chairman Pat Foye called Lieber and Roche “heroes.” “They did an unbelievable job,” he said. “They improved the lives of 250,000 people.”

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Slight correction there: most of the track work needed has been completed during the nights and weekends closures of the past few months. It's a bit disingenuous for the Daily News to paint this entire project as "mostly complete" when the bulk of the work as it pertains to the current service changes is the repair and replacement of the electrical components that were severely damaged during the storm surge, which is only just now has begun. That hasn't changed from the initial plans; only its execution has. That's why it's still expected to take at least a year, even with the changed scope. The MTA may have been able to knock a few months off the original work schedule by completing most of the structural repairs during the interim prep period, but that's it.

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7 hours ago, Lance said:

Slight correction there: most of the track work needed has been completed during the nights and weekends closures of the past few months. It's a bit disingenuous for the Daily News to paint this entire project as "mostly complete" when the bulk of the work as it pertains to the current service changes is the repair and replacement of the electrical components that were severely damaged during the storm surge, which is only just now has begun. That hasn't changed from the initial plans; only its execution has. That's why it's still expected to take at least a year, even with the changed scope. The MTA may have been able to knock a few months off the original work schedule by completing most of the structural repairs during the interim prep period, but that's it.

It's Clayton Guse. He's already demonstrated that he can't competently write pieces on transit. (Just look through the Bus section...)

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8 hours ago, Lance said:

Slight correction there: most of the track work needed has been completed during the nights and weekends closures of the past few months. It's a bit disingenuous for the Daily News to paint this entire project as "mostly complete" when the bulk of the work as it pertains to the current service changes is the repair and replacement of the electrical components that were severely damaged during the storm surge, which is only just now has begun. That hasn't changed from the initial plans; only its execution has. That's why it's still expected to take at least a year, even with the changed scope. The MTA may have been able to knock a few months off the original work schedule by completing most of the structural repairs during the interim prep period, but that's it.

To be fair, even a few months saved translates into a lot of time (= money) saved for the commuters who use the service. I'm thinking back to when the QMT repairs were being done, and I would have praised the gods for even a few weekends saved by finishing construction early lol.

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No doubt about it. My point was that they shouldn't say that most of the project has already been completed, then report that the remainder will still take about a year or so because more work still needs to be done. It gives the impression that the MTA doesn't need to do much else and are just creating headaches for riders with no real purpose.

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5 hours ago, Lance said:

No doubt about it. My point was that they shouldn't say that most of the project has already been completed, then report that the remainder will still take about a year or so because more work still needs to be done. It gives the impression that the MTA doesn't need to do much else and are just creating headaches for riders with no real purpose.

Right.  Some people simply don't know what they are talking about.  It may on the surface seem done, but even if so, the last parts could be very tedious work where 10% of the work takes up 90+% of the time needed. 

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