As PATH Resumes after Sandy, Questions Remain about Agency, Flood Plans
Wednesday, December 19, 2012 - 06:50 PM
UPDATED* (Brigid Bergin, New York -- WNYC) Hoboken, NJ commuters are finally getting some relief Wednesday as PATH train service resumed on a limited schedule seven weeks after Sandy flooded the transit system. Though the new direct service into Manhattan was greeted like an early Christmas present to residents, larger management and transparency issues are surfacing about the agency that runs the bi-state rail system.
In the first weeks after the storm, when all trains into New York were interrupted, Irene Smith faced a commuting nightmare. She lives at the end of the NJ Transit Port Jervis line and commutes into Manhattan. It took her eight hours a day, she said, and involved a train, a ferry, and a bus to get to and from work. When NJ Transit service from Secaucus improved, her commute shortened to three hours. The last leg to return was the PATH train.
“Well it changed the last part of my trip from about half an hour, to an hour,” said Smith. “And I have a two hour trip before I get to Hoboken, so it was really rough.”
The PATH still isn't fully operational. There's no overnight service, though the agency hopes to restore it by New Year’s Eve.
Port Authority officials say the PATH system suffered catastrophic damage from the 10 million gallons of water they estimate flooded the tunnels. By Port Authority estimates that caused $300 million worth of damage -- just on the PATH system.
Just shy of a month after Sandy, acting PATH director Stephen Kingsberry took reporters into the damaged Hoboken station and PATH tunnel to show the media the extent of the storm damage.
Kingsberry pointed to photographs of flooding at the PATH stations. The images were released by the Port Authority after the storm and picked up by many local media outlets, including TN. For the tour, the photos were pasted to poster boards sitting on an easel behind him.
One picture shows water breaching an elevator shaft at the Hoboken station. There's also a shot of one of those pressurized floodgates. Those floodgates were purchased after the last time the system flooded during a powerful Nor'easter in December of 1992. That storm knocked out PATH service for 10 days.
But those floodgates are only four feet tall and Port Authority spokesman Ron Marsico explained via email, “The entrance flood gates were not designed for the unprecedented storm surge that occurred” during Sandy.
However, those aren’t the only floodgates the Port Authority has been investing in. There are budget lines dating back to 2009 for a “floodgates / flood mitigation” project. Officials confirm the Port Authority has spent $181 million on those projects. But it’s not clear what that money paid for.
The 2012 capital budget explicitly states the Port Authority completed installation of floodgates and interior strengthening in Tunnel F, one of the tunnels out of the World Trade Center site.
A spokesman for the Port Authority says those gates are part of a security project that's not scheduled to be operable until 2014. But that's all they'll say about the project.
The PATH system doesn't have a permanent director, leading to chatter within the transit community about management issues. The acting PATH director is Stephen Kingsberry. His former boss, Michael P. DePallo, left to run the transit system in Los Angeles October 13. . There's also been a lot of movement in the ranks of the Port Authority since the Ward left.
The Port Authority says there's a clear chain of command, but it also keeps a very strict approach to how it shares information.
*The initial version of this story incorrectly made reference to the Port Authority being without a permanent director. That is incorrect. Pat Foye has run the authority for over a year. TN regrets the error
Brigid Bergin is at email@example.com and you can follow her on Twitter @brigidbergin.