The Governor On The Job

Andrew Cuomo had to go see for him self.

In the wee hours of Friday morning, while most of Gotham laid down to rest, one governor refused to sleep. With just four months left until the start of the L train shutdown, and the fate of a city hanging in the balance, Governor Andrew Cuomo climbed down into the Canarsie Tunnel between Brooklyn and Manhattan to get some answers.

What kind of answers? The walls of a formerly flooded, 100-year-old tunnel tell grim tales.

“The floodwaters came in, the salt came in, the salt stayed,” Cuomo told reporters at a 1 a.m. press conference afterward, describing the damage that Hurricane Sandy had wrought. “And salt and electrical equipment is a toxic cocktail.”

Sure, the MTA has laid out the details of the shutdown, which is supposed to last 15 months. But the MTA is not the governor. The governor doesn’t even control the MTA!

“I want to make sure that as governor of the state of New York, that I can look New Yorkers in the eye and say, ‘We have gone through the project, we have gone through the project with the best minds on the globe, and this is the best way to do it and the fastest way to do it,'” Cuomo said. “I need personally to feel confident in that decision.”

So there he was, in the tunnel with the best minds on the globe—the deans of the engineering schools at Columbia and Cornell, two private sector engineering heavies—trying to find out if this L train shutdown is really what it’s cracked up to be.


Mary C. Boyce, Dean of The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science and Morris A. and Alma Schapiro Professor, Columbia Engineering, one of the governor’s hand-picked experts (Governor’s Office)

“They had very interesting feedback, they’ve asked many interesting questions, they’re gonna need more information before they can come up with a definitive conclusion,” Cuomo said, before walking through the four possible scenarios resulting from his visit.

“One conclusion that could be reached is, everything being done is right and there are no suggestions. Second option is, we have some minor suggestions to make that could save some time. Third suggestion is, we have improvements that we can make to the system. And the fourth suggestion is, we have a totally different theory of how this can be done. New materials, new engineering techniques, et cetera.”

The governor said we’ll know the recommendations of his hand-picked experts in just a few weeks.

One reporter asked why Cuomo was just deciding to tour the tunnel now, especially if these recommendations may end up completely changing the project.

“Well, because it’s four months before the scheduled start of the project. Your question is the answer,” the governor replied. “We have had this conversation for four years. The best way to do it, the fastest way to do it, the best way to do it, the fastest way to do it. That has been the charge, for four years. The MTA believes their methodology is the best way to do it and the fastest way to do it. New Yorkers tend to be a skeptical bunch.”

There is sort of a weird feeling about this. Cuomo is reaching back to the Soviet days in the old USSR where the great leader was supposed to give his blessing to the projects that the state was doing, in order to reassure the people.
The experts he brought in, weren’t. At least they were not experts in running a huge transit railroad. Yes the MTA screws up. Oftentimes the screwups are huge and expensive. On the other hand this sort of thing is something that the MTA has had to deal with for a long time. If the MTA thinks that the Canarsie tunnel will take fifteen month to repair, I would have to go with their judgement. I’ve talked with a bunch of the MTA people over the years and for the most part they are very dedicated to keeping the trains running. The problem is that the L line does not have the connections that other Brooklyn trains do so that trains can be rerouted. The first junction after the tunnel is Broadway Junction and that is way out in the middle of Brooklyn. The line through the tunnel and into Manhattan does not connect with anything else in the system. So L trains cannot be rerouted to another tunnel.
That means that the service will have to be closed in order to repair the tunnel. This isn’t a solution that anybody likes, but the sooner it is done, the easier the work will be and faster. The MTA has prepared for years for this shutdown. It’s time to just get on with it. Cuomo’s posturing accomplishes nothing except to make him look like one of those clowns from the last century.

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