Why Sandy Emergency Aid Is for Roads, Not Subways, Buses: Congress

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Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in Newark, hours after workers finished pumping water from the city's light rail line.  (Photo by Anna Sale)

(Anna Sale, Newark, NJ -- WNYC) The federal Department of Transportation announced $12 million in emergency highway funds for Connecticut and New Jersey on Friday. New Jersey gets the bulk: $10 million.

That money will pay for road repair. Ray LaHood, the U.S. Secretary of Transportation, says none of the aid money will pay to fix the stalled transit system in New Jersey, which is coping with washed away track, broken equipment and even a pile of boats stuck on top of a drawbridge. (Slideshow)

"They tried to get an emergency transit fund established, but it hasn't been funded," LaHood said of Democrats in Congress.

New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez supported emergency transit funding in Washington, but says it was blocked by Senate Republicans. He says Sandy’s paralyzing effects on regional transit could alter the politics of transit funding in Washington. “Maybe when we go back and we can make the case, see this is what we were talking about when we were trying to get you to agree. Agree now to give us an appropriation for this amount.”

New Jersey’s two U.S. senators joined Secretary LaHood on a tour of a flooded light rail line at Newark’s Penn Station on Friday. The last water had been pumped from the muddy tracks just hours before, and the extent of the electrical damage was still not clear. New Jersey Transit has not released an estimate or timetable for restoring service, earlier telling Transportation Nation the damage had been "unprecedented" and "crippling."

Secretary LaHood says it will be a busy weekend of repairs, but transit riders may still have to wait to resume their normal routines. “Be patient," he said. "We are doing all we can to make sure that people can be delivered to work on Monday in this region. Not just in New Jersey, but in this region. Whatever requests were received for additional buses, we’ve provided.”

Some of those buses will begin running between New Jersey park-and-ride locations and Hudson River ferries as early as Monday, New Jersey Transit announced. NJ Transit rail service along the Northeast Corridor will began connecting Trenton to New York City late Friday night.