As New York City works to recover from the lingering impact of Sandy, the headlining news from the MTA on Thursday was largely positive. A train service to the Rockaways will return on May 30, nearly a month ahead of schedule, and the subway system will again be complete. But it’s a superficial completeness as the damage from the storm and its surge will make its presence felt for months and years to come.
In conjunction with the good news about the A train, the MTA yesterday delivered a press briefing with the bad news. I didn’t have a chance to attend the briefing, but Matt Flegenheimer of The Times did. He shares the news:
Inside a crew room at the new South Ferry subway station, once flooded wall to wall with the waters of Hurricane Sandy, transit officials on Thursday offered a sobering progress report on a system that continues to feel the storm’s effects. Emergency repairs have proliferated. Exposure to saltwater accelerated the corrosion for many metallic parts, and reduced the useful life of equipment like cloth cable sheathings. Last month, a pump discharge line in the Canarsie tube, where the L train operates, ruptured under normal loads — residual evidence of the storm’s excessive stress on the system, according to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
And if a hurricane were to approach the city in the immediate term, the agency’s best option for fortifying stations would most likely be the same: sandbags, plywood, and the hope that water would not find a way through. “It’s sunny outside. it’s warm,” said Thomas F. Prendergast, the authority’s interim executive director and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s nominee to be chairman. “We’re about a month away from the start of another hurricane season.”
The authority said it was devising plans to protect itself against storms as powerful as a Category 2 hurricane, adding that officials would study whether it was possible to protect against Category 3 or Category 4 storms…Mr. Prendergast suggested that aboveground floodwall panels, to be placed over station stairwells or sidewalk vents, were seen as a leading option to protect the system. But he cautioned that these additions were unlikely to arrive for the start of the next hurricane season, leaving the authority with little choice but to rely on sandbags and plywood. “By and large, it worked very effectively,” he said of the low-tech remedies. “But we can do better.”
Even as Prendergast tries to put a positive spin on things, the fact remains that key points in the system — underwater tunnels between the boroughs — remain vulnerable to flooding and seriously damaged. The pump in the Canarsie Tube burst last month, and I’ve heard rumors of long-term saltwater damage in both the Montague St. Tunnel and the Greenpoint Tube that could require extensive repairs and service outages down the road.
In the materials accompanying the briefing, the MTA announced a variety of efforts. In addition to the new Sandy Recovery and Resiliency Division I discussed yesterday, plans include tunnel repair work, pump room and pump capacity augmentation; and flood mitigation and prevention efforts focused around vulnerable stations in Lower Manhattan and car yards in low-lying areas. Still, the challenges are extreme, and the MTA has to prepare for the worst. As the materials detail, for instance, the Montague St. Tunnel would fill with water in 30 minutes if flood levels reached just over five feet, and a Category 2 hurricane could lead to a storm surge of up to 16 feet.
Over the next six months, as hurricane season unfolds, the city’s transit network will remain vulnerable. It’s still recovering from last year’s storm and can ill afford another direct hit. Until these measures are in place, we’ll be relying on sandbags, plywood and some dumb luck while we hold our breaths and hope for the best.