Williamsburg residents have more questions than answers as they brace for the L train shutdown

Todd Shaffer via Flickr Creative Commons

By: Lola Hewitt

NEW YORK—Each week day, 225,000 people ride the L train to get in and out of Manhattan and Brooklyn. That will all change in January of 2019 when the tunnels shut down for massive repairs from the water damage that occurred after Hurricane Sandy flooded the tunnel with 7 million gallons of water. When that happens, the people who depend on the L will have to find another way.

In Williamsburg, off the first L stop in Brooklyn, there are a lot of businesses that may be affected by the closure. Billy Koeing, the owner of the cupcake shop Sweethaus, said that when the L has shut down before for the weekend there was a discernible decrease in business. “I think that it was just a little less frantic,” he said. “It was busy, but not as busy as it usually is.”

Ashley Newman, the owner of the pottery shop Baked in Brooklyn, said her employees can take the J or M train instead. “But I guess that’s a little bit of a walk,” she said, “so it will take them a little longer to get work.”

Sandy flooded nine of the fourteen underwater tunnels with salt water, which is very corrosive. There are three tunnels where the work has already been done: Montague, Greenpoint and Steinway. There are three tunnels where the work is underway: Fifty-Third, Cranberry and Joralemon. Work also still needs to be done to Rutgers, Clark and Canarsie. The Canarsie tunnel was hit especially hard.

The L line runs from Eighth Avenue and 14th Street in Manhattan to Rockaway Parkway in Brooklyn, making it only one of the three crosstown subway lines in Manhattan.

Daily ridership along the entire line is 300,000. The tunnel is 100 years old, and was due for an upgrade before the storm hit. It consists of two tubes lined with cast iron and concrete. Each tube carries one track, and during peak times 40 trains per hour go through the tunnel. Sandy flooded these tubes, damaging every part of the tunnels.

As a result, tracks, signals, switches, power cables, signal cables, communication cables, lighting, cable duct will need to be reinstalled. The saltwater rotted away the duct bank, which holds the cables necessary for communication and electricity. The silt in the saltwater dried out and hardened like cement. Now if MTA workers try to pull away the cables from the duct bank, the concrete will collapse and destroy the tracks.

Adrienne Jennings, a longtime resident of Williamsburg (and, full disclosure, my mother), has an Airbnb in Williamsburg and she does think that the closure of the L will affect her business. “Every single person that reaches out to me before they book with us wants to know how easy it is to get into Manhattan,” she said. “We are very conveniently located to the L train, so I have a feeling that I’m going to have to bring my prices down.”

Lots of tourists stay with Adrienne, and she’s not sure how they will get into Manhattan. “I was thinking they could take the ferry,” she said, “but the problem with the ferry is that it puts you so far east in Manhattan then you have to walk, they most probably will take the J and M [trains].”

The MTA has been awarded nearly $5 billion in federal Sandy aid for repairs. The closure will last for 18 months. People living along the Canarsie line voted between two options: three years off and on repair or 18 months of full on repair, 77 percent were in favor of the full, shorter closure. New stairs and elevators will be installed at the Bedford Avenue station in Brooklyn and the 1st Avenue station in Manhattan.

Whether people like it or not the repairs have to happen. Hopefully, Williamsburg won’t fall apart in the meantime.

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