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New York and New Jersey Transit Chiefs Make Case for Billions in DC

Post-storm rebuilding could protect against future storms

By Zachary Stieber
Epoch Times Staff
Created: December 7, 2012 Last Updated: December 17, 2012
Related articles: United States » New York City
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Joseph Lhota, chairman and CEO of the MTA, in Washington, D.C. Thursday testifying on the impact of Hurricane Sandy on transportation infrastructure. (Screenshot)

Joseph Lhota, chairman and CEO of the MTA, in Washington, D.C. Thursday testifying on the impact of Hurricane Sandy on transportation infrastructure. (Screenshot)

NEW YORK—The heads of Amtrak, the MTA, New Jersey Transit, and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey all traveled to Washington on Thursday to give testimony to a Senate subcommittee, laying out their cases for billions in federal funds.

Joseph Lhota, chairman and CEO of the MTA, said that the region makes up 11 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product, and that the MTA’s subways, buses, and rail network “is the lifeblood” of the region and its $1.4 trillion economy.

More than 80 percent of the agency’s inventory of supplies—some decades old—was used to restore service.

Even now, nearly half a million customers have no service, reduced service, or need to take alternate routes.

“To put that in perspective, that’s equal to the entire populations of the cities of Miami, Cleveland, Atlanta, or Pittsburgh having no transportation or having their commute[s] become significantly longer,” Lhota said.

The authority is seeking $5 billion in federal funds for restorations including bringing back to life the decimated South Ferry station in Lower Manhattan and replacing $770 million worth of signals.

Joe Boardman, Amtrak president, said the rail agency lost about $30 million in revenue and needed $20 million for direct fixes. Many improvements made after 9/11 proved successful during Sandy, he said, otherwise, “We would not be talking just days, we would be talking weeks” before returning service to New York City after Sandy, he told U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenburg (D-N.J.).

“We were lucky, because this is century-old infrastructure, and it’s got to be rebuilt,” he said. The agency is asking for $336 million, mostly for protection projects. “We have to take action, and deliver, just like we did after 9/11,” he added. “I mean we have to start moving, planning, and constructing.”

James Weinstein, executive director of New Jersey Transit in Washington D.C. Thursday testifying on the impact of Hurricane Sandy on transportation infrastructure. (Screenshot)

James Weinstein, executive director of New Jersey Transit in Washington D.C. Thursday testifying on the impact of Hurricane Sandy on transportation infrastructure. (Screenshot)

Patrick Foye, executive director of the Port Authority, said that storm damage was extensive to the agency’s infrastructure, which includes the region’s airports and the PATH subway system. The strong tidal surges, reaching above 14 feet, “crippled our transportation system, causing widespread flooding and power outages.”

Port Authority officials haven’t set a number for funds they are seeking, but Foye said they will need hundreds of millions for repairs and “billions to install mitigation projects,” such as elevating electrical substations and putting more pumps at JFK and LaGuardia airports.

James Weinstein, executive director of New Jersey Transit, said the system, also hit hard by the storm, will need $400 million for damages. Another $800 million would make the system more “resilient.”

The transit agency has been criticized for putting its cars and other equipment in places that ended up flooding. When Lautenburg asked what happened, Weinstein said, using the Hoboken Yard as an example, that officials had estimated there was a “80 to 90 percent likelihood” that flooding wouldn’t occur there. However, it did, and among the losses were 80 multilevel passenger cars when water came into the cars’ cabins.

Lhota of the MTA told the Senate subcommittee that apart from rebuilding, which is already a big effort, officials “need to think about how we can prevent this from happening again.”

Agencies Seeking Federal Funds

MTA: $5 billion
Amtrak: $330 million
NJ Transit: $1.2 billion
Port Authority: Still assessing damage

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) spoke before the transit executives. “We can’t just rebuild a 108-year-old system and replace it with the parts that existed then,” he said, referring to New York’s subway system. “We want to make sure that we’re much more flood proof, so we’re going to need all kinds of things,” he added, including subway plugs and station seals at “vulnerable points.”

“I can tell you New York has never suffered on this level because of a natural disaster,” U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) said later. “Ever.”

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