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NYC subway tunnel used by 225,000 people a day will shut down for 18 months

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The L Trainpocalypse is nigh

Amelia Holowaty Krales

Starting in 2019, the L train between Manhattan and Brooklyn in New York City will be completely shut down for 18 months in order to repair the extensive damage wrought by Hurricane Sandy. It is the longest and most painful service disruption in the history of America’s largest subway system.

An estimated 225,000 people ride the L train between Manhattan and Brooklyn every day, which is more people than the daily ridership of Baltimore, LA, and Miami’s systems combined. The decision comes after months of public hearings and anxiety by the MTA, which had also considered shutting down just one of the tunnel’s tracks at a time for a much longer, three-year repair process. By opting for the quicker option, the agency is siding with riders who said in surveys they preferred the 18-month shutdown.

The L train tunnel, which is also known as the Canarsie Tunnel, suffered extensive damage during the 2012 storm that sent millions of gallons of corrosive saltwater from the East River into the tube. The damage includes tracks, signals, switches, power cables, signal cables, communication cables, lighting, cable ducts, and bench walls throughout a seven-mile long flooded section of both tubes.

The MTA says it will use the opportunity presented by the shutdown to give the L train’s stations a much-needed facelift, including installing three new electric substations to allow for the MTA to run more trains during rush hour.

The shutdown “cannot be avoided or delayed,” said MTA chair and CEO Thomas Prendergast. The MTA stressed the lengths it went to engage with riders who would be effected by the shutdown, including “four large-scale, interactive community meetings” attended by “hundreds” of straphangers. But there’s no doubt the L Trainpocalypse (as it has come to be known) is going to be incredibly painful for residents and businesses alike.

The MTA says its working on a plan to provide alternatives to the subway, such as running shuttle buses over the Williamsburg Bridge between Brooklyn and Manhattan. Some advocacy groups have called for shutting down 14th Street in Manhattan, under which the L train runs, to everything but buses and bikes, essentially turning the road into a transit expressway.

Over the last decade or so, Williamsburg and Bushwick have become two neighborhoods that, for better or worse, have come to define Brooklyn, both as a neighborhood and a global brand. Even though many New Yorkers routinely sneer at the parade of beards, piercings, and tattoos that ride the L train every day, I would doubt that the shutdown is leaving anyone feeling smug. It will be a transit nightmare of epic proportions, and the MTA will have to come up with some highly creative solutions in order to curb declining confidence among New Yorkers in their public transit system.