In an attempt to ward off flood damage for the upcoming hurricane season, the Port Authority is installing stackable metal flood barriers at PATH stations, stockpiling spare parts, pre-positioning pumps and generators, and getting thousands of sandbags in place.
Last year, Sandy caused $2 billion worth of damage to Port Authority airports, bridges, and tunnels. But it was the PATH system that suffered some of the agency's most catastrophic flooding, and full service took months to restore -- in part because it was difficult to find replacement parts for the aging equipment. It took 13 weeks for PATH service to resume between Hoboken and the World Trade Center.
No one wants a repeat of the iconic photo of water pouring out of an elevator shaft at the Hoboken PATH station. Port Authority Chief Pat Foye said the Port would install temporary metal barriers at PATH entrances, elevators and escalators. He described the barriers as "a series of metal logs that can be put in place -- they can be installed as a storm is brewing and then taken out." They can be stacked as high -- or higher -- than flood levels during Sandy.
Foye said the PATH outage hampered the region's recovery, and added that so far, the Port Authority has been awarded $1.36 billion from the Federal Transit Administration. "That funding will be dedicated to PATH recovery and resiliency and to the World Trade Center transportation hub," he said.
Foye said the Port was following the guidance of the National Hurricane Center, which has advised the Northeast's greatest hurricane risk will come between September 1 and November 30. He and deputy executive director Bill Baroni will be meeting with staffers from the National Hurricane Center to be fully briefed on the 2013 storm season.
When asked about climate change, Foye said "we're taking it very seriously." He said the Port Authority conducts both full-scale and tabletop exercises on as many different types of emergencies as possible. "That planning is underway literally on a twelve-month a year basis.
In its Wednesday board meeting, the Port Authority approved an additional $59 million in mitigation funding. Of that amount, $21 million will go to PATH system to install more pumps, watertight doors, and flood barriers. The World Trade Center will get $5.5 million for similar protections. Foye said the WTC already has approximately 40,000 sandbags and 2,400 tons of sand available to prepare for storms.
Some of the Port's longer-term projects will involve elevating or relocating electrical substations, raising -- "to the extent that we can," according to Foye -- critical signal and electrical equipment in the PATH tunnel, and installing flood gates in tunnels.
"Every one of our facilities is going through this short-term, medium-term, and long-term response to the storm and installation of resiliency and mitigation," said Foye.