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L Train Shutdown: What We Know, What We Want to Find Out Tonight

 Thursday is the first public meeting the MTA is hosting to discuss the L train shutdown.
Thursday is the first public meeting the MTA is hosting to discuss the L train shutdown.
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WILLIAMSBURG — Nearly four months after news leaked that the MTA needs to shut down L train service between Manhattan and Brooklyn, the first of two public meetings will be held Thursday night to discuss the MTA's plans.

MTA engineering staff will be on hand to talk about proposals for rebuilding the tunnel's two tubes and the agency will field questions and concerns at the Marcy Avenue Armory (355 Marcy Ave., near the J,M, Z train lines, but not the L train) in Williamsburg at 6 p.m.

Agency officials have been tight-lipped about the shutdown for months, confirming sparse information in the wake of media reports.

And while they sent a representative to a public meeting hosted by the so-called L Train Coalition, a group of business, transit advocates and community interests, that official hadn't been authorized by the MTA to provide any new information and he got booted from the meeting.

Leading up to the Thursday's meeting, we've rounded up all the things we've learned since news broke of the L train shutdown and what we still need to find out.


► A full shutdown will take about 18 months while a partial shutdown with limited service would last up to three years.

The MTA says it has to shut down the Canarsie Tunnel that connects Manhattan and Brooklyn along the L train line between First Avenue and Bedford Avenue. A full shutdown of all traffic in both directions would take about 18 months, while a partial shutdown with limited service the entire time would take three years. Limited service would entail trains running every 12 to 15 minutes, compared with the three minutes you'll wait during morning rush currently. The decrease would only allow for about one fifth of the train's current ridership. These are the only two time estimates the MTA has confirmed, though the agency has repeatedly said it is still weighing these and other options. The MTA has no plans to dig another tunnel, an idea that was briefly floated at a community meeting, but quickly dismissed as more costly and time-consuming.

► Construction won't begin until 2019.

Construction work on the Canarsie Tube is slated to begin in early 2019, according to documents released by the MTA in mid April. The agency hasn't yet begun to solicit proposals for the work, according to those same documents, another reason why the actual timeline and construction plans remain amorphous. The MTA says it wants to rush repairs to the other tunnels damaged during Hurricane Sandy and to train lines like the M train, which will require the relocation of dozens of area residents. None of the other tunnels will be shut down entirely, MTA Chairman Thomas Prendergast has said.

► A full shutdown would close all Manhattan stops along the line. 

If the MTA opts for a full shutdown, all Manhattan stops will also close. Planners with the Regional Plan Association have asked the city to turn 14th Street into a pedestrian, car and bus-only causeway while the L train is down if crosstown subway service is halted.

► The Canarsie Tube flooded, severely damaging equipment.

An estimated 7 million gallons of brackish water flooded the Canarsie Tube during Hurricane Sandy, damaging circuitry and tracks, which the MTA must repair. The community has called repeatedly for more information about the damage done during Sandy, asking multiple times for a report that the MTA either doesn't have or won't provide. Some are worried that the MTA might be using Sandy funds for non-essential repairs that would extend the L train closure.


► Is shutting down either partially or fully really the only option?

The MTA has confirmed two scenarios for construction. But we want to know if there other timelines or plans for repairs currently on the table. Those details may only begin to come out once the agency starts soliciting proposals and awarding contracts, which hasn't happened yet. City planners at the Regional Plan Association have weighed in on the matter, suggesting a full shutdown, saying that it would be less disruptive and costly in the long run.

► What are the MTA's plans for alternate service?

There are many ideas circulating on how to plug the gaping transit void that North Brooklyn residents would encounter in the wake of an L train shutdown: more shuttle buses over the Williamsburg Bridge with dedicated bus lanes; bolstered service on G, J, M and Z lines; more Citi Bike stations and bike lanes; a cable car over the East Riveopening closed subway exits across North Brooklyn and increasing ferry service from Williamsburg to Manhattan. The L line shuttles about 225,000 commuters daily, and no single alternate method can accommodate everyone. 

► Is there any kind of plan to help businesses along the L train line cope with a closure?

Business owners that rely on the L train to bring customers from other parts of the city whether they're offices, event spaces, venues, bars, restaurants or shops that rely on tourist foot traffic, have said a long-term L train shut down would be "akin to a recession."  When the L train closed down for five weekends last spring, some businesses said they'd lost out on thousands of dollars.

► What's the MTA's plan for continued community feedback?

Thursday is the first public meeting to discuss the shutdown and there's another one scheduled for next week in Manhattan. But after these two meetings, community advocates and transit groups want to know what kind of a system — or advisory group — will be set up to deal with community concerns as they arise, leading up to and during the shutdown.