The costs of repairing the transit systemBy
Two weeks ago, Hurricane Sandy swept through New York, leaving death and destruction in its path. With the cleanup and recovery efforts well under way, the monetary costs of the storm are slowly coming into view. The initial price tag, at least, tells only part of the story though as the effects from salt water exposure will be felt for years.
As the cleanup began in earnest a little more than a week ago and the subway system slowly came back online, The Wall Street Journal ran a short piece on potential costs of recovery. One recent study pegged the cost of cleanup at close to $60 billion citywide, and MTA executives warned that transit repairs would be substantial.
“Think of it as a 90- to 100-year-old patient that got into an accident and is in the hospital,” MTA Chairman Joseph Lhota said to The Journal. “Things always happen when you get in the hospital that you don’t expect. The amount of saltwater that is in the system, as we clean it out, we’re finding other things.”
Today, The Times reported that Gov. Andrew Cuomo will ask Washington, D.C., for at least $30 billion, and a good portion of that will be for transit repairs. The article notes that Cuomo will ask for $3.5 billion “to repair the region’s bridges, tunnels and subway and commuter rail lines.” Already, the Governor has pledged to refund the MTA fares lost to the days when transit was offline and then subsequently free, and with the precarious state of the MTA’s budget, these are dollars the authority can ill afford to lose.
Yet, there’s more to it then just this starting point. In The Times’ article, reporter Raymond Hernandez mentions how the $30 billion total would be allocated. Cuomo hopes to spend some money not just repairing infrastructure but upgrading it. Power delivery systems would be modernized, and the fuel supply lines would be upgraded to prevent the shortages currently impacting the region. Missing though is any talk of upgrading the subway infrastructure, and boy, does it need upgrading.
The immediate problem concerns one of avoidance. How do we prevent this storm surge from flooding out the subways the next time we get a big storm? (And, yes, there will be a next time.) Over the past few weeks, some have suggested giant inflatable plugs that can dam tunnels, but those still lead to flooding in front of the plug. Others have talked of storm doors, surge barriers and better drainage systems. Whatever the answer, something must be done with an eye toward prevention.
The long-time problem focuses around that exposure to salt water Lhota mentioned. Even with the system up and running, salt water will impact the useful lifetime of this equipment. Switches and signals will degrade faster than they otherwise would have, and the MTA will have to spend money it did not anticipating needing on necessary infrastructure repairs. Who will fund these projects as well?
We’re in unchartered territories here in many ways. In the post-election climate in D.C., multi-billion-dollar allocation requests may be tough to see pass through the House, but the region needs money and support. The services provided by the MTA, as we saw, are too critical for the region and its economy to be swept under the rug. A discussion focusing on storm preparedness if one we need to have sooner rather than later, and the money must follow.