Sandy wreaked havoc on the nation's largest transportation systems.
US Senators and transportation officials from New York and New Jersey said it will cost the region billions of dollars in repairs and investments to not only bring their public transit systems, bridges, and tunnels back to pre-Sandy levels, but to improve upon and prepare their infrastructure for future storms.
They outlined their needs at a Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety and Security held Thursday. It is chaired by one of the region’s own: New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg.
MTA Chairman Joseph Lhota said it will cost nearly $5 billion dollars to bring the agency's subways, rails, bridges and tunnels back to pre-Sandy conditions. He warned it could be months and even years before the system is fully restored.
"We have subway lines running at slower headways resulting in longer commutes and severe crowding,” Lhota told the Committee. “Nearly half a million of our customers either have no service, reduced service or have had to take alternate routes. To put that into perspective, that's equal to the entire populations of the cities of Miami, Cleveland, or Pittsburg."
Lhota said the federal government needs to help the MTA because it is the life-blood of New York's regional economy, which he says makes up 11% of the nation's GDP.
New York's total transportation damage is estimated at $7.5 billion dollars. But, US Senators and transportation officials say it will cost much more to prepare the state for future storms.
Senator Chuck Schumer says New York needs to build with the future in mind.
"New York has no choice. We have to simultaneously rebuild and adapt to protect against future storms,” Schumer said at the end of his testimony. “We are a waterfront region. New York and New Jersey is a water front region. It has become abundantly clear we're in the path of violent new weather realities, and we have to adapt."
Senator Schumer said he doesn't want FEMA funding transportation repairs because it is required, by law, to only restore infrastructure to original conditions. He said that is what happened after Hurricane Katrina where transit officials used federal money to buy the same old buses that were destroyed in the storm. Senator Schumer said “that makes no sense.” He said New York transit, instead, needs gradual and flexible funding from the Public Transportation Emergency Relief Program.
New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez said Superstorm Sandy not only destroyed hundreds of homes, it wreaked havoc on the state's roads, bridges and rails. He showed pictures of the devastation during his testimony while calling on representatives from other states to do their part and help New Jersey rebuild.
"As we have stood with the people of the Gulf Coast in Hurricane Katrina and in Florida; the people of Joplin, Missouri after a tornado ravished their community; when the Mississippi flooded; when crops were destroyed in the Midwest, we have been there. And since this is the United States of America, we need you to be with us,” Senator Menendez said with a strong emphasis on “united”.
New Jersey Transit said it will cost $300 million to bring their system back to pre-Sandy conditions and pay for the revenue lost while the system was closed. It will take another $800 million to prepare NJ Transit for future storms.
The transit system has been criticized for parking many of its new rail cars in a flood zone ahead of the storm. NJ Transit Executive James Weinstein said the agency estimated there was an 80-90% chance that area would not flood when they put the trains there.
Amtrak estimates put damages to their system and lost revenue at about $60 million. The railroad’s CEO Joseph Boardman said previous improvements helped mitigate the damage. Nevertheless, the railroad has requested $335 million in emergency federal funding to cover its losses and for upgrades to make its tunnels and Penn Station more resilient to flooding.