Home Superstorm Sandy Reflections on the first post-Sandy year

Reflections on the first post-Sandy year

by Benjamin Kabak

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?

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Larry Littlefield October 29, 2013 - 2:02 pm

All I want to know is this. Water will typically be pouring over the streets for a limited period of time, during high tide.

If it does not pour down into the tunnels, will it instead flow inland toward the interlockings?

People say the level of water will match sea level. But not instantly. If that were true, every single tunnel that took water would have flooded to the ceiling end to end.

Harden the simple infrastructure in the tunnels. Protect the complicated infrastructure at the interlockings.

Spiderpig October 29, 2013 - 4:50 pm

This is why I find the tunnel plugs problematic. If you plug the tunnels, won’t the water just back up into different sections of the system? They have to close the openings that let the water into the system in the first place.

Clarke October 29, 2013 - 4:55 pm

Tunnel plugs make more sense for the reverse issue: to prevent water rushing into the subway in the chance that the tunnel is breached. I believe Boston added flood gates to the Red Line tunnel during Big Dig construction as the highway tunnel was being placed on top of the existing subway tunnel and the city wanted to prevent flooding in the event of a catastrophe in placing the highway tube.

The way the idea is being floated here doesn’t even make sense. Encouraging the tunnels to act as a dry well for the city shouldn’t be the goal, but I’d be interested in flood projections in Sandy if the subway and highway tunnels hadn’t taken on all those extra gallons.

John-2 October 29, 2013 - 2:11 pm

It does seem as though sealing all the exits and vents below flood level, and raising those elevated vents at the river crossings about Sandy’s maximum flood stage have to be part of any plan, since any water getting in will seek the lowest point in the system.

As for the tunnels, as noted before, the fact that the IRT, IND and BMT all have redundancy between lower Manhattan and downtown Brooklyn means repairs that have to be done will be an irritation, but at least some of the trains can be routed around those problems. The big kerfuffle’s going to be 14th Street, with no L train reroute option north/west of Broadway Junction, and no G train connection to the J/M/Z lines at Broadway. The MTA may end up having to do 24/7 M service and 600-foot G trains to deal with the load, sending Willamsburgh riders either down to Broadway with a Matrocard transfer, or up to Court Square to change for the E/M/7.

David Brown October 29, 2013 - 3:49 pm

They can do what they have done in the past: Run (L) Trains in two Sections: Bedford Avenue to Broadway Junction & Broadway Junction to Rockaway Parkway. One thing that could be a plus (assuming the Manhattan part of the (L) is shut down), is if they do some work on the 1st Avenue Station in preparation for SAS Phase III.

Bolwerk October 29, 2013 - 4:48 pm

Why? The M can bring Manhattan-bound L riders to either the 6 Train at Broadway-Lafayette or the 14th and 6th.

David Brown October 29, 2013 - 5:58 pm

John-2, the MTA actually will be doing more M Service, the MTA already announced that. Eventually it will be 24/7 for a different reason, which is of course, the shutting down of the Rutgers Tunnel. I could see the (F) being run in two spots. A: 179th to 2nd Avenue. B:Hoyt-Schermerhorn to Coney Island, with the (G) Terminating at Hoyt-Schermerhorn until Rutgers is fixed.

Larry Littlefield October 29, 2013 - 8:15 pm

I don’t think they can turn trains at Hoyt/Schemerhorn. They’d have to beef up and extend the G.

There is also a switch at York Street I believe. The F could relay there, allowing a transfer to both the A/C and restored R.

Tower18 October 29, 2013 - 8:57 pm

I don’t know that you necessarily assume the F will be cut at all. It could go via the A between Jay and W 4th, as it does like 1/4 of weekends anyway. You probably have to lose the C, but it’s a lot less disruptive than sending the F via Crosstown–that not only screws up lots of Brooklyn riders, but a whole hell of a lot of Queens riders.

I’m not sure you can get away with split service on the F.

John-2 October 29, 2013 - 10:32 pm

That’s what I’d expect, to keep the people in Carroll Gardens and Park Slope happy — F via Cranberry with the A, and the C goes 168th St. to East Broadway, possibly with the Brooklyn local section running from Euclid to Hoyt-Schermerhorn (if the interlocking between Hoyt and the Court Street-museum station is far enough away to turn Fulton C local trains without having to remove the trains from the museum). If not, then the A would be the only Fulton service during the time the Rutgers tunnel was under repair.

Tower18 October 30, 2013 - 2:48 pm

I don’t think you can turn Fulton trains at Hoyt-Schemerhorn. There is no interchange between the Fulton and Crosstown, so you can’t do that, and there’s no way to get trains from the Manhattan-bound local back to the Euclid-bound side. If they had to turn the C in Brooklyn, we’d lose the transit museum temporarily…which doesn’t seem likely. I think they’d just do the A local and lose the Brooklyn C. Not sure if they’d keep the Manhattan C 168-WTC or just cut it entirely.

Hopefully they can just do it on weekends, cutting the C and running the A or F on the other’s track while they do the repairs in the respective tunnels.

Michael Sherrell October 30, 2013 - 3:54 pm

Most likely if the Rugters Avenue tunnel is closed for repairs on weekends and/or late nights, what I think will most likely happen is really very simple. The A-train would become all local in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens. The F-train would travel on the A-route between West 4th Street and Jay Street-Borough Hall, returning to its usual path to/from Coney Island. The C-train would not run during those periods. I truly doubt that the Rugters Tunnel repair work would require its closing during the work-week, or during the rush hours. Bus service could be created to service the by-passed stations on the Lower Eastside of Manhattan. This is really not very difficult to imagine or understand.

asar October 29, 2013 - 9:31 pm

I have a sense that either the 14th or rutgers tunnel will benext for rehab. The mta doesnt really talk much about either tunnel, but the bedford av station wasnt looking to well after sandy. I hope rutgers is next. It may improve service on the f line for all we know. Its alredy delayed enough considering all the signal problems in brooklyn, and it shares a line with the g, which is also not efficient and consistent enough

Bolwerk October 29, 2013 - 10:13 pm

Don’t mean to sound facetious, but I don’t think I remember a time in my life when Bedford Ave.’s subway station looked “well.” :-\


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