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Officials: Sandy's damage to transportation in billions

Sen. Charles Schumer said New York's transportation infrastructure suffered $7.5 billion in damage. (The Trucker file photo)

By JOAN LOWY
The Associated Press

12/6/2012

WASHINGTON  — Trains, tracks, tunnels, bridges, roads, rail stations and airports damaged from Superstorm Sandy will cost billions of dollars to repair, and even more money to make them resilient enough to withstand future storms, New York and New Jersey officials told a Senate panel Thursday.

New York's transportation infrastructure suffered $7.5 billion in damage, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said at a hearing before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee's transportation subcommittee intended to lay the groundwork for future federal aid.

"It's huge. I never saw anything like it," he said, describing the enormity of the storm's impact. The largest share of the state's transportation damage — about $5 billion — was incurred by the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which operates the city's subway system.

"We're going to be feeling the effects of this storm for weeks, if not months, to come," said Joseph Lhota, CEO of the transportation authority. "We're nowhere near normal."

Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., called the figures staggering.

"It was the largest mass transit disaster in our nation's history," affecting 40 percent of the nation's riders, he said. "Since this is the United States of America, we need you to be with us," he said, emphasizing the word "united."

The storm damage tally for New Jersey's transit systems includes $100 million to repair or replace rail equipment, including rolling stock, said James Weinstein, executive director of NJ Transit. About $300 million more is needed to fix and replace track, wires, signaling, electrical substations and other equipment, as well as to cover the costs of supplemental bus and ferry service and lost revenue, he said. Those estimates don't include $800 million more the transit agency believes is necessary make transit system better able to withstand storms like Sandy, he said.

"Repairs and resilience both take funding," Weinstein said.

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New locomotives were seriously damaged and water penetrated the passenger compartments of 80 rail cars, he said. The transit system has been criticized for parking the equipment in a flood zone ahead of the storm.

When asked about that decision, Weinstein said the agency estimated before the storm hit that there was an 80 percent to 90 percent chance there would be no flooding.

"If you lay a flood plain map over our railroad in New Jersey," he said, there are very few places that aren't in a flood plain.

Amtrak got off relatively lightly with damages, including lost revenue, totaling about $60 million, said Joseph Boardman, the railroad's CEO. Previous improvements to tunnels and equipment made with money from the economic stimulus program and other federal aid helped mitigate the damage, he said.

Nevertheless, Amtrak is requesting $336 million in emergency federal funding to cover its losses and for upgrades to tunnels and Penn Station in New York to prevent future flooding, Boardman said.

Federal aid is need not just to repair and replace what was damaged, but to prepare transportation systems for future severe storms, lawmakers said.

The Trucker staff can be reached for comment at editor@thetrucker.com.

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