Rush Transcript: Governor Cuomo Calls on MTA to Hold Emergency Meeting to Determine Feasibility of the L Train Plan
Earlier today, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo held a conference call and called on the MTA to hold an emergency meeting to determine the feasibility of the L Train plan. The proposal, which was presented by a team of engineering experts from Cornell University's College of Engineering and Columbia University's Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science on Thursday, indicated that a closure of the L Train Tunnel is unnecessary. Last month, Governor Cuomo convened the panel of engineering experts and toured the L Train's Canarsie Tunnel to review the plan ahead of the L Train shutdown.
A rush transcript of the Governor's remarks is below:
Thank you very much. Happy New Year for people who I haven't had a chance to speak to yet. I'd like to follow up on the conversation we were having yesterday about the L train tunnel, or Canarsie Tunnel, as it's also called. For those people who are not familiar with the L train plan and the effect in New York City, the consequence and the effect has really disrupted people like few situations that I have seen, frankly. It effects, they say, 250,000 people, but the effect is much larger than that. When you start to develop a traffic alleviation plan—dedicated lanes, bike lanes, et cetera—it winds up being a city-wide effect, and the more people started to understand what was involved, it became a much larger issue than just the riders of the L train. Dropping a stone in a pond and the ripples just continue to advance. And it was brought to my attention at an increasing decibel level. I had no previous engagement with the plan other than my Department of Transportation was cooperating with the City Department of Transportation, et cetera, and the MTA had been pursuing the plan.
I asked the Columbia and Cornell for a team of expert engineers—civil engineers, electrical engineers, mechanical engineers—who had international experience in this field to take a look at the plan. Frankly, I assumed that they would confirm the original plan because the original plan was designed by national firms. Parson Brinckerhoff is the company that designed the original plan. Parsons Brinckerhoff is a national firm and the standards in the industry. Amtrak uses Parsons Brinckerhoff, most of the large transportation companies use them. They really are the standard in the industry, not that I'm endorsing them, but they are widely used.
So when I called Columbia and Cornell, I assumed that those experts would review the plan and would confirm the plan. That would then give me the comfort to say to New Yorkers, everybody has looked at this plan. It's been put together by the best national experts, it's been reviewed by the best international experts, and I know it's an inconvenience, but it is the best that can be done. And for me to say that to the people of the state, I wanted to make sure that it was true and it was my effort to make sure that I felt comfortable with that statement. The Cornell and Columbia—which, by the way, were tremendously cooperative and I am very grateful on behalf of all the people of this state—they put together a team. The team had no prior knowledge. The team has no monetary interest. They are wholly objective. There is no agenda besides, let me look at the plan and see what I think. The team came together, they were coupled with the MTA team that developed the plan and they toured the tunnel. I went with them on touring the tunnel with the—we say MTA, but it's not really the MTA. It's the consultants to the MTA who put together the plan—Parsons Brinckerhoff, the contractor, et cetera.
We then looked at other tunnels. We then looked at the Amtrak Gateway Tunnel, which is of a similar design and time, and they started asking questions. And it was very much a collaborative process. What Columbia and Cornell brought to the table was international experience and precedence that had been used in Europe. The London Tunnel, the Riyadh Tunnel, Singapore Tunnel, Hong Kong Tunnel, that use a different design than we use in the United States. They don't use this, quote unquote benchwall design, which was the original architectural design, which is construction of a cement wall on the base of each side of the tunnel. In that cement wall, they run conduits, ceramic pipes. In the ceramic pipe they run the cable. The original design was done for fire protection. Since then, the fire protection codings have increased in sophistication and you no longer need cement to protect these cables from fire.
In any event, the conversations went on for hundreds of hours. And the collaborative came to the conclusion that there was a new design that they can use, which has been used before, not experimental, it has been used before in tunnels in Europe. Remarkably we can't find tunnels in the United States that have done it and I think if this actually works out, you'll see Cornell and Columbia actually do a case study on this because, the question is, why don't we do this in the United States? But, that's down the road.
But that was the collaborative conclusion. It would not require the tunnels to be closed because the scope of work is less. One tunnel would be closed weekends and nighttime, but the other tunnel would be operational so that they service seven days a week, 24 hours a day. That's where we are. They presented the plan yesterday. And the question is now, what's next? What's next is the MTA board has to vote on whether they want to pursue the plan. If they pursue the plan there's secondary questions - they'd have to renegotiate the contract with the contractors because the scope of work is different, et cetera. So there's a number of details they would have to pursue. But the first question is, does the MTA want to pursue the plan? And that requires the board to hear the plan and make the decision.
So today I'm calling on the MTA board to have an emergency meeting, hear the plan, hear what they're consultants on the tunnel project say about it, hear what the MTA senior people think about it, hear from whoever they deem relevant to hear from. But, make a decision. And do it quickly because people are making plans and time is of the essence. And if they decide to pursue this alternative plan, great. If they decide not to pursue the alternative plan, but make a decision, right? And that's probably what's most important. I can tell you that their consultants on the project all think this alternative works and makes sense because they were part of the collaborative that concluded on this plan. But, that's all irrelevant, really, because it's up to the MTA board and those 17 members which are appointed by various political entities and have their own perspectives.
But, I am calling on them to have a meeting, have a meeting right away, make it a public meeting, hear the plan, let the public hear the plan. Because New Yorkers, God bless them, can be a little skeptical and I can see why they would be skeptical in this situation. They're distrustful of government in general. This is now a much different plan. So let them hear the plan, have a fulsome conversation, make a decision and go. Indecision is a decision. The decision to do nothing is a decision. I believe in affirmative decisions. Hear the plan, let the public see it, hear it, ask questions, make a decision, take a path and let's go.