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Hurricane Sandy

The Brian Lehrer Show

Open Phones: Topical College Essays

Monday, December 10, 2012

Some high school seniors had their college applications delayed by Sandy, and may be writing about the experience. What real-life events were in your essay? Call us at 212-433-9692 or leave a comment below. Plus, Don Fraser, Director of Education and Training at the National Association for College Admission Counseling, offers suggestions on how to best address the interruption. 

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Transportation Nation

Critics: Christie Deep-Sixed Climate Change Prep

Friday, December 07, 2012

Christie on December 7 photo: NJ Governor's Office

"I know there are some folks at Rutgers who are looking at whether climate caused all this, but I certainly haven't been briefed in the last year, year-and-a-half on this," Christie told WNYC's Bob Hennelly last month.

But the question may be more than academic.

The state's transit agency that answers to Christie, New Jersey Transit, acknowledged this week it lost $100 million in trains and equipment. Some critics are linking NJ Transit's decision to store trains in low lying rail yards during the storm to its lack of a climate change preparation plan. The agency said, before the flood, it had figured that there was an "80 to 90 percent chance" there wouldn't be flooding.

That turned out to be a losing gamble, and one, critics say, that reflects a pattern in Christie's term in office.

In his first year, Christie closed the Office of Climate Change and Energy which had been created and given top-level priority under Jon Corzine.

It was run by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). Its mission was to ready the state  to handle more severe storms, heat and rising sea levels.

“So none of this work is getting done,” said Bill Wolfe, a 30-year-veteran of DEP and now a harsh critic.

“And if you want to get something done, the DEP has all the tools to get something done and they’ve chosen not to use those tools for political reasons, reflecting the Governor’s priorities and Governor’s policy,” Wolfe said. “And they just don’t want to own up to that.”

Robert Martin, Commissioner for the Department of Environmental Protection, defended the Christie Administration’s efforts. The DEP hasn’t been weakened, he said, it’s been streamlined to cut red tape and wasteful spending.

Thrift is an issue Christie is comfortable talking about. Climate science isn't. As Sandy was bearing down on the region , WNYC’s Bob Hennelly asked Christie if the Governor was discussing the increasing severity of storms with climate change scientists.

“No, that’s over my head.,” Christie replied.

That’s been Christie’s approach to questions about climate change. Once he said he was "skeptical." When he was pressed about the increasing severity of storms, he maintained he’s a lawyer, not a scientist.

“But that’s what we have an academic community to do is to think about those bigger issues and if those experts have an answer for me, my door is always open to listen to them,” Christie said.

Several of the people who lost their jobs when the Office of Climate Change was cut now work in academia -- at Rutgers University.

The Bergen Record earlier this month dug up a video of David Gillespie, director of Energy and Sustainability Programs for NJ Transit, specifically saying the agency decided not to develop a climate adaptation plan.

 “The mitigation plan that we have for movable assets -- our  rolling stock --  is we move it out of harm’s way when something’s coming,” Gillespie said. “Generally we have enough time to do that, so we didn’t spend a lot of money on that.”

Gillespie said there’s  no need to make changes in the next five to 20 years, and that the agency has 50 years to adapt to climate change.   That's despite a federal study distributed to all the nation's transit agencies that warned them to protect their assets by readying for worsening storms.   And despite the lessons of Irene, where New York's transit system suffered the worst transit damage in modern history.

New Jersey was well prepared for Sandy,  said Martin, the DEP chief. “While unfortunately some lives were lost, by and large we protected the state, we protected thousands of lives and lots of homes and lots of property overall and again we’ve done a great job with that and the Governor provided great leadership overall."

And NJ Transit's James Weinstein told a Senate committee Thursday that the agency had no choice -- if moved elsewhere out of potential flood zones, the trains could have been damaged by falling trees, or stranded, as they were during Irene.  "Keeping the trains in the yards was the best decision, especially in light of what happened during Irene.”

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The Brian Lehrer Show

After Sandy: Red Hook

Friday, December 07, 2012

Chef Monica Byrne, partner of the Red Hook based home/made restaurant and Roquette Catering, and one of the founders of Restore Red Hook, will be joined by Wally Bazemore, long-time community activist and resident of Red Hook Houses, and David Sharps, president of The Waterfront Museum and captain of the Lehigh Valley barge, to give us an update on Red Hook post-Sandy.

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WNYC News

How to Avoid Buying a Flood-Damaged Car

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Every time there's a storm that damages large numbers of cars, that’s an opportunity for unscrupulous dealers to try to re-sell damaged vehicles.

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Transportation Nation

WATCH: Superstorm Sandy: The Devastating Impact on the Nation's Largest Transportation Systems

Thursday, December 06, 2012

(The hearings have ended.  Here's our story. Follow along with the live webcast of a Senate subcommittee hearing here . It begins at 10:30 eastern time.

We will be tweeting highlights -- so follow along.

Here's who's on tap to testify.

Witness Panel 1

  • Honorable Charles Schumer
    United States Senator, New York
  • Honorable Robert Menendez
    United States Senator, New Jersey
  • Honorable Kirsten Gillibrand
    United States Senator, New York

Witness Panel 2

  • Mr. John Porcari
    Deputy Secretary
    U.S. Department of Transportation

Witness Panel 3

  • Mr. Joseph Boardman
    President
    National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak)
  • Mr. Joseph Lhota
    Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer
    Metropolitan Transportation Authority
  • Mr. Patrick Foye
    Executive Director
    Port Authority of New York and New Jersey
  • Mr. James Weinstein
    Executive Director
    NJ Transit
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Schoolbook

Student Provides Personal Take on Climate Change

Thursday, December 06, 2012

A student leader from Long Island City High School spoke to an international audience at a climate change conference in the aftermath of Sandy.

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Transportation Nation

Senate Hearing Will Detail Hurricane Sandy's Transit Damage

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

The heads of transit agencies affected by Sandy will testify on Capitol Hill Thursday, in what will be the most public assembly of the top brass of the NY MTA, NJ Transit, Amtrak and the Port Authority of NY &NJ in one public place for the first time since the storm.

New Jersey senator Robert Menendez called Hurricane Sandy the "largest mass transit disaster in our nation's history" last week. Thursday's Senate hearing should reveal additional details about the damage and destruction.

The transit agencies of both New York and New Jersey are largely functional -- but none are back at 100 percent. New York's MTA suffered $5 billion worth of damage. One-quarter of New Jersey Transit's passenger rail cars were flooded. And the Port Authority still can't say exactly when its Hoboken PATH train terminal will reopen.

Because so many Northeasterners use transit to commute, Senator Menendez said last week Hurricane Sandy affected 40 percent of the nation's mass transit users.

Thursday's hearing is being chaired by New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg. A spokesman for the senator said "the hearing will allow Senator Lautenberg and his colleagues to further review the devastation to the region's infrastructure and move forward rebuilding New Jersey's transportation systems so they're stronger and better prepared to handle the next storm."

One question expected to come up: why New Jersey Transit parked so many rail cars in an area that had been predicted to flood.

Lawmakers from both states are eager to receive federal disaster relief. New Jersey estimates that it suffered $37 billion worth of damage; New York is requesting $42 billion in aid.

We'll be live tweeting the hearing, which starts at 10:30am. Follow along on @TransportNation.

 

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WNYC News

After Sandy, DEP Focuses on Area Waterways

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

The Department of Environmental Protection says it’s been sampling waterways around the city, following Sandy.

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Transportation Nation

H is for Hoodie: Rockaways Shuttle Swag Will Benefit Hard-Hit Queens Neighborhood

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

For $34, you too can dress like MTA chair Joe Lhota.  Note: the catwalk is his actual office. (Photo courtesy of NY MTA)

You can ride the H train for free -- but the shirt is a different story.

On Tuesday, the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority launched the Rockaways Collection -- shirts, magnets, and pins branded with the logo of the shuttle now plying the heavily damaged Queens neighborhood.

The MTA says all profits from the sales will go to the Graybeards, a Rockaways non-profit helping rebuild after Hurricane Sandy. Products will be sold through the New York Transit Museum.

 

But can the MTA afford to give away money? The transit agency sustained $5 billion in damages from Sandy. It will cost $650 million alone just to restore A train service from mainland Queens to the Rockaways. It had to truck subway cars out to the neighborhood just to operate the free H train shuttle service.

An MTA spokesman says yes.

"We have a financial plan," says Aaron Donovan. “We will have money available through issuing short-term notes to restore the service and we expect to be reimbursed by FEMA and our insurance.”

The MTA announced last week it was taking on debt to pay for Sandy damages and will issue $950 million in bonds. At that time, chairman Joe Lhota said he had "an enormous amount of confidence" that the MTA would receive "a substantial amount of money" from the federal government.

Since then, both New York City's mayor and the state's governor have gone to Washington to make the case for federal aid.

To learn more about the H train, and to watch a video of how the MTA got subway cars out to the Rockaways, go here.

 

 

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WNYC News

Solar Generators Power Sandy-Stricken Areas

Monday, December 03, 2012

A non-profit clean energy group, Solar One, has been deploying solar generators to areas most affected by Hurricane Sandy. The group currently has several generators running in the Rockaways, and made a recent delivery to Midland Beach on Staten Island.

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WNYC News

Mobile Health Team Provides Aid in Long Beach, Broad Channel

Monday, December 03, 2012

Residents of Long Beach, Long Island and Broad Channel Queens can receive free health care at a mobile clinic run by the North Shore-LIJ Health System. The van is alternating where it's stationed between the two communities during the week.

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Transportation Nation

R Train To Go Further South in Manhattan, But Not Crossing To Brooklyn -- Yet

Sunday, December 02, 2012

More of the NYC hurricane recovery subway map will be shaded in on Monday morning at 6am (click for large version)

New York's R train -- which hasn't gone south of 34th Street since Hurricane Sandy -- will make it as far south as Whitehall Street beginning Monday morning.

In an email, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said “the resumption of service to the Whitehall Street station will restore a vital link to midtown’s west side for Staten Islanders and also ease crowding along the Lexington Avenue Line."

The Whitehall station is located near the ferry terminal. The South Ferry #1 station, which was completely flooded during the storm, is still being repaired. The MTA has ballparked the cost of restoring both stations at $600 million.

Cuomo's email called the restoration of service a "herculean task" that required "repairing and replacing track, third rail, communications systems, pumping equipment, electrical feeds and controls."

But straphangers planning to exit at Whitehall could be working out their quadriceps. According to the MTA: "Customers should be aware that only one escalator at this deep station, leading from a landing above the platform to the mezzanine located at the south end of the station nearest the ferry terminal entrance, will be in operation. The escalator at the north end of the station (Stone Street entrance) had previously been removed from service for replacement and remains out. The two escalators at the southern end sustained extensive damage in the wake of the storm but one has been restored to service. We urge anyone who has difficulty climbing stairs to consider using the Rector Street station instead. "

The Montague Tube, the tunnel which carries R trains between lower Manhattan and Brooklyn, was flooded during the storm and is still being repaired. Service on the R between the two boroughs is expected by late December.

Want to watch subway service return, post-Sandy? Check out this GIF.

 

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Transportation Nation

NY/NJ Port Official: We Never Thought We'd See 13-Foot Storm Surge

Friday, November 30, 2012

(Bob Hennelly, WNYC -- New York) The New York City region’s cargo port system may have been up and running six days after Sandy struck, but the storm's unprecedented storm surge left its mark and is prompting a review of past assumptions about port vulnerabilities to another Sandy-like event.

"No one believed there could be a 13-foot storm surge ever in this port and there was," said retired Rear Admiral Rick Larrabee, director of Port Commerce for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. "I talked to people who have worked here for 30 years who said they never feared for their lives but they did that night."

The Port Authority's cargo handling operation is a sprawling complex that encompasses waterfront facilities in Brooklyn and Staten Island, in New York as well as vast terminals in Newark, Bayonne and Jersey City in New Jersey

Top of the to do list is exploring how to make their facilities less vulnerable to the kind of prolonged power outage that came after the storm. "We have got to work with the utilities," Larrabee said. "We are all interdependent."

He also thinks it’s critical to keep a sense of urgency when it comes to following up on lessons learned.

"I have a theory about the half life of events like this. The further out it gets from when it first happened the fuzzier it gets," Larrabee said.

Larrabee said the storm surge enveloped 14,000 new cars on the docks on the New Jersey side of the Hudson, incapacitated 40 percent of the 50 gargantuan cargo cranes that stand several stories high and took out 2,500 trucks critical to moving freight off the docks.

It also flooded Larrabee's Ports Administrative Office and the Port's police headquarters, which still remains out of commission a month later.

Larrabee says before the storm, the area’s cargo network was headed for an increase in volume, but the storm and its aftermath could hurt the final annual total.

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WNYC News

Ret. Admiral Thad Allen Talks Disaster Response, Recovery

Friday, November 30, 2012

Retired Admiral Thad Allen, who led federal recovery efforts after Hurricane Katrina, is now co-chairing a New York commission to review the state’s response to weather-related emergencies.

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Transportation Nation

Hurricane Sandy was "Largest Mass Transit Disaster in our Nation's History," Says Senator

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Snapped catenary poles on NJ Transit's Gladstone line (photo courtesy of NJ Transit)

At an emotional hearing today before the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, senators representing storm-damaged states described the damage wrought by Hurricane Sandy.

Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) said his state was the "epicenter" of the storm. He listed Sandy's toll upon New Jersey -- 39 dead, 231,000 homes and businesses damaged. And included in his list: the impact of the storm upon the region's transit system.

"The storm was the largest mass transit disaster in our nation's history. Four out of 10 of the nation's transit riders had their commutes disrupted by the storm, many still today," said Menendez. "NJ Transit alone had dozens of locomotives and rail cars damaged in the flooding and miles and miles of tracks damaged."

NJ Transit still has a rail line that is not operational, and the Port Authority says it will be weeks before it can restore Hoboken service on its trans-Hudson PATH train line.

New Jersey is requesting $37 billion in federal disaster aid, of which $1.35 billion would go to transit, roads and bridges.

Watch the archived hearing here.

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WNYC News

Downtown Businesses Still Struggle After the Storm

Thursday, November 29, 2012

One month after Sandy, business is still very much disrupted in downtown Manhattan.

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Transportation Nation

NY MTA Takes On Major Debt Rather Than Raise Tolls & Fares To Pay For Sandy

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

NY MTA Chairman Joe Lhota.

(New York, NY - WNYC) The NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority held a board meeting Wednesday -- its first after Sandy -- and the main topic was how to solve a conundrum: filling the $5 billion hole that the storm blew in the agency's budget while simultaneously rebuilding New York's damaged transportation system.

NY MTA Chairman Joe Lhota seemed determined to assure the public that the agency, at the very least, had a plan. He began by saying revenue will not be raised by additional increases to planned toll and fare hikes in 2013 and 2015.

"The burden of Sandy will not be upon our riders," he said. "I have an enormous amount of confidence in our federal government that we will receive a substantial amount of money to get us back to the condition of functionality we had the day before the storm."

He said he didn't expect to see service cutbacks--though he didn't rule them out--and that he'd stick to a pledge to add or restore $29 million in subway and bus service.

Lhota said he is expecting FEMA and insurance to pick up 75 percent of the $5 billion tab. And he's hoping FEMA will boosts its reimbursement up to 95 percent. But the MTA can't count on that. As of now, the authority is on the hook for $950 million, which it needs right away to rebuild.

They'll get it by issuing $950 million in bonds. Lhota said the move will add $125 million to the authority's debt burden over the next three years. The best Lhota could say about where the money would come from is "cost-cutting measures" that are "unidentified at this time."

The MTA is paying $2 billion dollars in debt service this year. By 2018, debt service is expected to gobble up 20 percent of the authority's revenue. That's before figuring in the nearly $1 billion in debt that it voted to add Wednesday.

Lhota said the budget setback would not stop the authority's megaprojects, which are funded by its capital program. The Second Avenue subway, the East Side Access tunnel between Long Island and Grand Central Terminal, and the 7 train extension are essentially funded and nearing completion. Sandy delayed their construction but didn't flood them.

Today's decision to bring on more debt raised an alarm with Gene Russianoff of the New York Straphangers Campaign, an advocacy group. "Funding these needs by MTA bonds will increase pressure on fares through increased debt service - and it sets a troubling precedent for the funding of the next five-year capital program starting in 2015," he said in a statement.

Lhota added that all of the $5 billion will be spent on restoring transit to its pre-Sandy state. (Repairing the South Ferry Station alone is projected to cost $600 million.) None of the funds will be used to harden the system against future storms. That's going to take a whole other pile of money that hasn't been located yet.

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Transportation Nation

NJ Transit to Begin Testing Gladstone Line on Friday

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

NJ Transit's rail system recovery map. The faded gray line is the Gladstone Branch. (Click for full version)

NJ Transit says it's in the home stretch of making repairs to one of its hardest-hit rail lines and will begin running test trains on Friday.

“While every NJ TRANSIT rail line sustained damage as a result of Sandy’s wrath, the Gladstone line was particularly hard-hit, with the heavy damage and unique challenges making repairs more timely and more difficult,” said NJ Transit Executive Director James Weinstein. “I would again thank our customers for their patience and understanding during this difficult time.”

As a result of Hurricane Sandy, five 90-foot catenary (overhead wire) poles snapped and had to be replaced -- as did more than five miles of overhead wiring along the length of the Gladstone Branch.

Crews also removed 49 trees that were on the tracks and are in the process of finalizing repairs to the line’s infrastructure, such as signals and switches.

The agency says Friday's test trains are needed to ensure all of the systems are operating as intended and to remove the rust build-up along the lines.

Until service resumes, the transit agency is running free shuttle bus service to meet Midtown Direct trains and selected Hoboken-bound trains departing Summit. To learn more about the shuttle buses, visit NJ Transit's website.

To see a slideshow of NJ Transit's storm damage, click below.

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New Jersey News

Christie Names 'Storm Czar' for New Jersey

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has appointed Marc Ferzan, who formerly worked at the state attorney general’s office and at PriceWaterhouse Coopers, to oversee the state’s recovery and rebuilding efforts from Sandy.

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Transportation Nation

PATH Officials: Several More Weeks Before Hoboken Service Is Back

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Closed Hoboken PATH train station (Brigid Bergin/WNYC)

(Brigid Bergin - New York, NY, WNYC) PATH train service in and out of Hoboken, New Jersey, remains suspended leaving commuters with options like pricier ferry trips or longer bus rides to get into Manhattan. Nearly a month after Sandy, Port Authority officials who operate the PATH Train system brought reporters down into a tunnel below Hoboken on Tuesday to see just why the repairs are taking so long.

Officials said the whole PATH train system suffered $300 million dollars worth of damage. They predicted it will be several more weeks before the Hoboken station reopens.

Huge spools of cable were sitting on flatbed cars where the PATH train would normally be. The turnstiles and vending machines were covered in clear, plastic tarps. The Hoboken station is currently an active construction site. So PATH officials began with a safety briefing and distributed hard hats and neon vests.

Before leading reporters nearly a quarter mile into one of the damaged tunnels, Stephen Kingsberry, acting PATH Train System director, pointed to a display of photographs from the storm. One showed water rushing down a set of steps even though a pressurized flood gate appeared to be in place.

"Water came down everywhere," explained Kingsberry. "And it was so much water that it flooded the track area which is beneath us."

Eight feet of water destroyed switches, corroded cables, and took about a week just to pump out. Since the city of Hoboken itself flooded, Kingsberry said there was no way to keep the station dry.

"I mean it wouldn't flood if we could move the station above ground and put it somewhere in the sky," Kingsberry said.  "But since we need to be underground where the trains are, we're doing what we can do to fortify what we have so the water won't penetrate as much."

Right now crews are working day and night. They're replacing damaged cables, switches and fixing broken equipment. Then the whole system will need to be tested before service is restored.

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