A few times over the past few months, in various forums and conversations, MTA officials have expressed a surprised concern or a concerned surprise over the way the agency rebounded from Sandy. That feeling is captured in an article summarizing the Sandy fallout in The Times today. “The downside to it,” MTA Chairman Tom Prendergast said of the agency’s speedy rebound, “is I think sometimes it leaves people with the impression that we weren’t damaged that bad.”
It’s a perfectly normal feeling and one that nags at the post-Sandy work that remains to be done. The MTA had most subway lines up and running with in a week of the storm, and although it took seven months to rebuild the Broad Channel crossing, a casual rider could be forgiven for thinking things weren’t that bad. After all, the trains were running so what’s the problem?
Today, a year later, it’s not clear what the future holds for the subway system. The R train is offline, and the G will be shutdown for a few weeks next summer to repair storm damage from a flood that will have been over 20 months ago by the time of the shutdown. The MTA hasn’t started work on the other tunnels — 14th St., Rutgers Street — that suffered extensive flooding, and New Yorkers have a short memory. They haven’t complained much about the R train issues, but who will live with L train outages two and a half years after Sandy?
As the one-year anniversary of the storm arrives today, the MTA is working on recovery and resiliency. Later on Tuesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo will announce $3.5 billion in funds for storm-related expenses, and some of that money will go toward waterproofing the subways. For a system will so many access points, hidden or otherwise, it’s a tall order, but as the Daily News recently chronicled, the agency has a few things on tap.
Placing water-proof “submarine” doors at subway entrances is the most effective way of keeping vulnerable stations like South Ferry from being flooded in a superstorm, according to sources familiar with an MTA analysis. The study of ways to prevent a recurrence of the damage the subway system suffered from Hurricane Sandy also recommends steel-and-glass enclosures framing station entrances. For subway tunnel portals, the analysis recommends flood gates or slate-and-frame removable barriers to keep water from rushing in and destroying the signal, communications and power systems inside – as occurred during Hurricane Sandy last October, the sources said.
Meanwhile, as these flood prevention efforts need to move forward, so too must recovery. For that, we turn to The Times:
The consequences, officials acknowledge, will be felt for years, most acutely in the form of persistent service disruptions that will dog riders across the system — in areas directly touched by the floods and in others where storm-related triage could delay scheduled work intended to keep the subways in a state of good repair. It can feel like far more than a year ago that the authority was cast as a hero of the storm, restoring much of its system more quickly than expected while other transit agencies flailed.
…On a 109-year-old system, where many pieces were approaching the end of their useful lives without the nudge from saltwater corrosion, and repair-related closings were already more rule than exception, latent damage and unpredictable failures have made tunnel inspections a near-impossible chore. The new maxim: Even if something looks as if it works, it might not…
Those charged with maintaining and upgrading the system have been confronted with a simple math problem: There are only so many hours in the day when shutdowns will not affect a wide swath of passengers, particularly in an age of booming off-peak ridership; likewise, there are only so many lines that can be repaired at one time without hamstringing the system.
These are the hidden challenges facing the MTA, and in a way, it’s a testament to the agency’s ability to make the most out of a bad situation that the subways are even running again. It’s when there’s too much time to build and too much money to spend that the MTA runs into problems. We’re a year away from a storm that nearly swamped the entire system, and things are generally moving smoothly because of the work behind the scenes. What’s next?