The Bedford Avenue stop on the L train. (Roshan Vyas)
Subway riders along the L train route pressed officials from the Metropolitan Transportation Agency on Thursday night, during the first public meeting in Williamsburg to consider closure options for the train’s Canarsie Tunnel.
The agency has faced an outcry from residents and business in the area, after announcing that it needs to close the tunnel starting in 2019, to repair damage from Hurricane Sandy. That could take the form of a complete closure of both tunnels for 18 months, or the closure of one tunnel that would allow only 20 percent of current traffic, over a period of three years.
The community meeting included an unusual array of the MTA’s top officials, including Chairman Thomas Prendergast; Veronique Hakim, president of NYC Transit; M.T.A. Chief of Staff Donna Evans.
“I’ve been to many community meetings, but I’ve never been to one like this, complete with video, the top brass of the M.T.A., they even have the equipment damaged by Sandy,” said Rep. Carolyn Maloney, who was one of several elected officials who were also in attendance at the Marcy Avenue Armory.
In her opening presentation, Hakim noted that the M.T.A. intended to offer the eventual contractor incentives to finish the construction faster, with the selection to be based on a competitive negotiated procurement, rather than the lowest bid. But she added that the incentive might be less effective under the one-tunnel option, in which the contractor would have less control of the site.
Later, Prendergast said he was confident about the estimated work time.
“But we’re also going to challenge the contractor … if there are other things you could do … and cost was not an object, what means would you use,” he said. With the earlier restorations, contractors had ended up using some technology approaches that the M.T.A. had not thought of, he said, emphasizing that “we’re going to push to see if we can improve” the timeline.
Many of the questions submitted by attendees at the meeting concerned details about planned adjustments to alternate routes, including the M and G lines, opening shuttered entrances, and bus and ferry service.
NY1 anchor Pat Kiernan, who lives in the area, submitted a question about the lack of a subway shuttle between Bedford Avenue and Lorimer Street during the one-way option.
M.T.A. officials said there would not be enough space for workers to access the construction site and expressed general concern about Bedford Avenue’s capacity.
Staff also said they were working on boosting the agency’s bus and subway fleet ahead of the outage and hope to begin more frequent service on other lines before the closure so riders can get accustomed to other options, especially on the subway.
A real estate broker from the area commented that they were already seeing tenants dropping out of leases and called for the city to institute tax reductions or abatements so landlords can offer rent discounts during the closures.
One woman expressed concern about how her son with a mental disability, who she said struggles with change, would adjust to the closures.
“I truly understand that impact,” Prendergast said, emphasizing the importance of communicating the changes both to New Yorkers confident about alternate routes and those more dependent on their routines.
One comment in favor of the three-year-option was immediately followed by another asking “where [the MTA] was three years ago,” if the agency is now saying there is not enough time to plan and build another tunnel.
Prendergast explained that the M.T.A. was first working on the other tunnels to gain the experience and carefully plan for the Canarsie closure, and didn’t want to close too many tunnels at once.
Another attendee urged the M.T.A. to “seriously consider” an East River Skyway cable car proposal. “That’s not for us to [consider],” Prendergast said, pointing to the M.T.A.’s dedication to buses and trains, adding that it would be up to “someone else” to explore that further if there was interest.
One commenter also suggested that former Mayor Michael Bloomberg should fund a new tunnel that could be drilled using “modern technologies.”
Lawmakers also encouraged the M.T.A. to consider more creative and “out of the box” measures. Assemblyman Joe Lentol called for a weekend bus service between Williamsburg and Times Square. “I don’t want you to forget that Williamsburg … is happening.”
Maloney evoked the work related to the Second Avenue Subway, and a series of report cards issued by her office.
“Where they got an A was responding to the community,” she said, calling for Brooklyn to get the same consideration, and noting the formation of the L Train Coalition community group.
Rep. Nydia Velazquez expressed concern about the impact on small businesses and emphasized the importance of an “open, inclusive and transparent process.”
Comptroller Scott Stringer also called for creating a partnership with the community and making an effort to monitor the progress and the effects of the construction in real-time using technology. He also referred to the Second Avenue Subway experience. “Even when we did not out agree on outcomes and goals when there was real collaboration we made progress,” he said.
State Senators Dan Squadron and Martin Dilan, as well as Councilman Antonio Reynoso also spoke.
M.T.A. officials said they expected to make a decision in the next few months and select a contractor before the end of the year. Another public meeting is taking place in Manhattan next week.