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Transportation Nation

Post-Sandy Repairs To NYC Subway Will Cause Years Of Disruption

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Tracks coated with the residue of saltwater flooding (photo by Jim O'Grady)

(New York, NY - WNYC) Expect delays. That's the message from the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority as it readies to spend $2 billion in federal relief aid to make repairs to the subway after Sandy.

Flooding from the storm coated thousands of electrical components in parts of the system with corrosive salt water. The MTA says riders can expect more frequent interruptions of service as those switches, signals, and other parts are replaced.

Immediately after Sandy, the MTA scrambled to get the subway up and running, sometimes with components that were damaged by flooding but hastily cleaned and pressed back into service. Much of that equipment is functioning with a shortened life span, and will be replaced.

That means a lot of repair work will be happening in the subways over roughly the next two years. MTA executive director Tom Prendergast says the work will cause more line shutdowns, called "outages."

"The problem we're going to have is how do we do that and keep the system running?" he told members of the transit committee at MTA headquarters in Midtown Manhattan on Monday. "We don't want to foolishly spend money; we want to effectively spend that money in a very short period of time. So there are going to be greater outages."

Except for the still-shuttered South Ferry terminal and severed A train link to The Rockaways, the subway was almost entirely back up and running within a month after the late October storm. But Sandy's invisible fingers, in the form of corrosion, can still play havoc with trains.

MTA spokesman Adam Lisberg said, "The subways have recorded more than 100 signal failures related to Sandy since service was restored after the storm, plus problems with switches, power cables and other infrastructure. Most of those failures happened in yards, but some were on mainline tracks and led to at least short service disruptions."

Twice last week, signals on the R train failed and briefly disrupted rush hour service. The problem was traced to components degraded by salt water caused by flooding in the Montague Avenue tunnel, which connects Brooklyn to Manhattan beneath New York harbor.

The MTA is in line to receive $8.8 billion in federal Sandy relief aid, which is to be split about evenly between repairs and hardening the system against future storms. Projects funded by the first $2 billion must be completed within two years after their start date. That will cause a flurry of repairs in large swaths of the subway--mostly in Lower Manhattan, the East River tubes, and lines serving waterfront areas of Brooklyn.

The MTA already shuts down or diverts train traffic from parts of the system on nights and weekends to upgrade tracks, signals and switches, and otherwise keep the subway in "a state of good repair." Add to that the new Fastrack program that closes sections of lines overnight for several days in a row, allowing work gangs to fix tracks and clean stations without having to frequently step aside for passing trains. And now comes even more disruptions in the form of post-Sandy repair and mitigation.

There's no word yet on when work will commence or on what lines the extra outages will occur, but straphangers would do well to start bracing themselves. Sandy wounded the subway to a greater extent than the eye can see, and it will take years--and extra breaks in service--to return the system to its pre-storm state.

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Transportation Nation

AUDIO: With the A Train Gone, Traveling to the Rockaways Becomes Much Harder

Monday, March 11, 2013

View from the A Train window as it crosses Jamaica Bay. (Photo by roboppy)

(New York, WNYC) Before Sandy, every A train trip between the Rockaway peninsula and the rest of New York City began and ended with a crossing of Jamaica Bay. The train moved along a piece of land so thin that, from inside the train, it appears to skim atop the water.  But for months, that 3.6 mile railroad bridge has been out, doubling commutes for Rockaways residents and further adding to the sense of deprivation brought on by Sandy.

On October 29, Sandy's storm surge overwhelmed that thread of connection. When the waters receded, the A train's foundation was gone, removing a major transit link from the peninsula's 130,000 residents.

One of those residents is senior producer of The Takeaway, Jen Poyant.  She moved to the Rockaways a few years ago for a relatively affordable beach home -- far from Manhattan, but still, a direct shot on the A train.  Water filled Poyant's basement, and came within a foot of flooding her first floor.  For a month, she and her family couldn't return home.  When she finally got back, she was overjoyed, but the daily trip to work can feel overwhelming -- like a little bit of work squeezed between commutes.

The direct train ride has become an odyssey from a slow-moving crowded bus to the train miles into the mainland.  Sometimes, fellow commuters told Poyant, it takes all night to get home from Manhattan.

The MTA says its aware of the frustrating commute, but can't promise relief until summer.

MTA executive director Tom Prendergast described the result to New York's City Council: "An entire bridge and critical subway line serving the Rockaways was destroyed."

With the A train out, the MTA put subway cars on a truck, drove them to the peninsula and lifted them by crane onto tracks that serve six stops at the end of the line. The H train now runs for free from mid-peninsula at Beach 90th Street to the eastern end of the Rockaways. Bus service has also been increased.

But these are temporary measures. The list of needed repairs to the A train is extensive, and the going is slow. "We had to build out the shoulders on the east and west sides of the track, where you saw the washouts occur," Prendergast said. "We've had to replace damaged and missing third rail protection boards and insulators. We've had to replace signal power and communications equipment, which is ongoing." And damage to the Broad Channel subway station has not yet been fully repaired.

The MTA has patched and reinforced the land bridge where Sandy took large bites from it. But crews are still laboriously laying track and rebuilding the signal system from scratch — both on the railbed crossing Jamaica Bay and on the west end of the peninsula.

In the meantime, the MTA says it'll keep increasing service on the Q53 line, using old buses that have been held back from retirement. Those buses are jammed with riders every weekday rush hour as they make their way over the Cross Bay Bridge. More buses are coming in April.

The A train is expected back no earlier than late June.

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WNYC News

With the A Train Gone, Traveling to the Rockaways Becomes Much Harder

Monday, March 11, 2013

WNYC

For months, the 3.6 mile railroad bridge connecting the Rockaways to the rest of New York City has been out, doubling commutes for residents and further adding to the sense of deprivation brought on by Sandy.

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The Brian Lehrer Show

Coastal Rebuilding; Sen. Gillibrand; Working for Free

Thursday, March 07, 2013

The Small Business Administration is granting loans to businesses in hard-hit coastal communities damaged by Sandy. WNYC’s Robert Lewis talks about a ProPublica and WNYC investigation into money going into vulnerable coastal areas. Plus: Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) on a new gun trafficking bill; Max Boot’s new book on current and future insurgencies; a road trip has lessons about gun culture; and what kind of calculation do you make about whether to work for free or not?

Transportation Nation

Sequestration Means Less $$$ To Harden Northeast Transit Against Future Storms

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

One of eleven major NY subway tunnels flooded by Sandy. (photo by MTA New York City Transit / Leonard Wiggins)

(New York, NY - WNYC) New York area transit has received a double setback, both having to do with Storm Sandy and what's needed to recover from it: money.

Thanks to the sequester, the U.S. Department of Transportation will be disbursing five percent less in Sandy disaster relief to transit systems damaged by the storm. That means 545 million fewer dollars for the NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority; the PATH Train, which connects northern New Jersey to Lower Manhattan; and transit agencies in six northeastern states battered by the storm.

The NY MTA officially learned of the funding reduction in a letter sent Tuesday from the president of the Federal Transit Administration to the authority's acting executive director, Tom Prendergast.

"Dear Tom," the letter began. "I have regrettable news..."

The letter went on to say that "due to inaction by Congress" -- meaning the failed federal budget talks -- there would be less money to recover from Sandy, "the single greatest transit disaster in the history of our nation."

Millions Less For Mitigation

The cut won't be felt right away because the first $2 billion in aid, out of nearly $10.4 billion, is in the pipeline. The NY MTA's first grant was $200 million "for repair and restoration of the East River tunnels; the South Ferry/Whitehall station; the Rockaway line; rail yards, maintenance shops, and other facilities; and heavy rail cars."

The PATH Train, which is operated by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, received $142 million "to set up alternative commuter service; repair electric substations and signal infrastructure; replace and repair rolling stock; and repair maintenance facilities."

Future grants were supposed to be used, in part, to protect transportation assets and systems from future disasters. But the letter goes on to say that the cut will curtail those efforts: "FTA will now be required to reduce these investments by the full $545 million mandated by the sequester."

The feds say that the reduced pile of Sandy recovery money means priority will given to reimbursing transit agencies for "activities like the dewatering of tunnels [see photo above], the re-establishment of rail service ... and the replacement of destroyed buses."

Also Affected: A Troubled Megaproject

A spokesman for the NY MTA said the reduction in funds won't affect progress on mega-projects like the Second Avenue Subway and East Side Access, which will bring the Long Island Rail Road into Grand Central Terminal.

"East Side Access and Second Avenue Subway will keep rolling along," the spokesperson said.

But at what cost? In the case of East Side Access, New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli gave a detailed answer on Wednesday, which constitutes transit setback number two. He said in a report that the cost of the project had nearly doubled from an original estimate of $4.3 billion to the current price tag of $8.25 billion. The completion date has also been pushed back ten years to 2019.

These semi-appalling facts are generally known. Less well known is the report's conclusion that the NY MTA's current estimates for the East Side Access timetable and final price tag "do not take into account the impact of Superstorm Sandy."

The storm did little to no damage to the project's eight miles of tunnels. But DiNapoli said it diverted NY MTA resources, which resulted in a construction delay at a key railyard in Queens, costing $20 million. The comptroller added, "Within the next three months, the MTA expects to determine whether the delay will have an impact on the overall project schedule."

In other words, there's a chance that East Side Access could be more than ten years late. A spokesman for the NY MTA declined to comment.

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WNYC News

New Jersey Shore Prepares for Nor'easter

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

WNYC

A potential Nor'easter has New Jersey towns from Long Beach Island to Seabright, preparing for possible beach erosion, rain, snow, high winds and moderate to severe flooding. Some mayors are calling for voluntary evacuations.

+ More: Track Water Levels with our Flood Gauge Map

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WNYC News

Regulators Concerned Banks May Be Reneging on Relief for Sandy Victims

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced Wednesday that the state Department of Financial Services will launch a review to determine whether large, well-known banks are reneging on a promise to provide homeowners affected by Sandy mortgage relief. The state's move comes after WNYC reported on Staten Island Sandy victims facing threats of foreclosure.

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WNYC News

After Sandy, Government Lends to Rebuild in Flood Zones

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

WNYC

If Staten Island’s Great Kills Marina Cafe is able to reopen this spring after Sandy ripped apart its interior – blowing out windows and punching through walls – it will be thanks to assistance from the federal government.

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Transportation Nation

Beyond the School Bus: How Children Around the World Get to School

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

For thousands of children worldwide, the toughest part of getting an education is getting to school.

Walking to school in Calcutta  (photo by Alfred Yaghobzadeh/SIPA)

A new exhibit now on display at the United Nations chronicles those sojourns.  Journeys to School follows the routes of children in 13 different countries take as they walk, ride donkeys, snowmobile, ride the subway, and even canoe to school. Many of them must navigate dangerous roadways -- an issue that was thrown into sharp relief in New York City last week, where a 6-year old boy was struck by a truck just blocks from his school.  All the photos underscore the link between transportation and education. Getting to school in a safe -- not to mention timely -- fashion is as important as the condition of the classroom.

(Photo by Kate Hinds)

Children going to school via somlot, a motorcycle rickshaw in Mae Sot, Thailand. The driver is also the children's teacher. "If I can't get the kids only 50% would attend class," he said. (Photo by Nicolas Axelrod/SIPA)

According to UN statistics, 1,000 people under the age of 25 are killed in traffic crashes each day.

Six-year-old Elizabeth Atenio walks two hours every day to attend classes at the Kibera School for Girls in Nairobi. (Photo by Nichole Sobecki/SIPA)

While much of the exhibit was devoted to countries in the developing world, some children are in major cities -- including New York.

14-year-old Far Rockaway resident Santiago Munoz, who commutes over two hours each way to school in the Bronx (photo by Kate Hinds)

Santiago Munoz lives in Far Rockaway, Queens -- a New York City neighborhood devastated by Sandy. Before the storm, Santiago's commute to the Bronx High School of Science was already daunting.

"I used to walk six blocks to the nearest A train station," he said, "and from there I would ride it for around, I would say 50 minutes, then transfer to the 4 train for 40 minutes." Tack on a ten minute walk from the station to the school, and his commute -- on an average day -- was one hour and 40 minutes.

But then Sandy washed out a key segment of the A train, and he now takes two buses to get to the subway. "And now it takes me two hours and a half to get to Bronx Science." He says he uses his commute time to do homework or catch up on sleep.

Munoz said the exhibit gave him perspective. While he acknowledges his commute appears tough to the average New Yorker, "compared to these kids -- not at all. They're very inspiring."

Ruth McDowall, standing in front of her photographs of schoolchildren in Nigeria (photo by Kate Hinds)

Photographer Ruth McDowall talked about the average school day for children of the nomadic Fulani minority in Kulumin Jeji, Nigeria.  "They have to wake up at 5:00 in the morning," said McDowall, "to do chores like collecting firewood, getting water -- sometimes it can take an hour or more in dry season." The kids start walking to school by 6:30 am. "They get to school by eight, do about three hours of school, and then do another hour and a half walk home." Because the walk is long and hot, many children become dehydrated on the way to school, where they often find it difficult to concentrate. When they get back home, the rest of the day is devoted to herding responsibilities.

(photo by Kate Hinds)

 

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon (photo by Kate Hinds)

The exhibit is on display in the United Nations Visitors Center until April 26, 2013.  It's organized by UNESCO, public transportation company Veolia Transdev and photo agency SIPA Press.

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The Brian Lehrer Show

Post-Sandy Mold; Medical Ethics; Organizing for Action; Food Expiration

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Michael Reilly, Columbia health sciences professor, discusses the public health risks of mold in buildings damaged by Sandy. Plus: a new series on medical ethics with Duke University bioethicist Nita Farahany; President Obama's political action group Organizing for Action; a new New Testament; and when it's okay to eat and serve food that is passed its sell-by date.

WNYC News

Bloomberg to Offer Own Sandy Buy-Out Plan, with a Twist

Monday, March 04, 2013

Weeks after Gov. Cuomo proposed buying out homeowners in flood-prone areas, the Bloomberg administration is indicating that it will offer a similar program. But the mayor’s program could turn over acquired properties to someone else to be developed again.

Unlike Previous Disasters, Few Tax Breaks After Sandy

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WNYC News

Unlike Previous Disasters, Few Tax Breaks After Sandy

Monday, March 04, 2013

It’s tax season and many residents of New York and New Jersey lost homes, property and paperwork, making this season particularly difficult, but after Sandy, residents aren’t getting the kind of tax breaks that victims of previous national disasters have received.

Bloomberg to Offer Own Sandy Buy-Out Plan, with a Twist

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New Jersey News

Flood Insurance Claims Delayed and Diminished

Friday, March 01, 2013

WNYC

Many New Jersey homeowners badly-affected by Sandy are still struggling to repair their damages and rebuild.  But thousands who filed flood insurance claims months ago, have yet to receive the money they need to pay for that work. That's causing a lot of finger pointing from Trenton to Washington.

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WNYC News

In Red Hook, Fairway Reopening Seen as Post-Sandy Milestone

Friday, March 01, 2013

Red Hook’s Fairway market is re-opening to much fanfare — but the renovated store has yet to incorporate new flood precautions into the building four months after Sandy floodwaters shuttered the store. Andy Zuleti, general manager, told WNYC “we’re exploring a lot of options, but haven’t done anything yet.”

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The Brian Lehrer Show

Public or Private LIPA

Friday, March 01, 2013

WNYC investigative reporter Robert Lewis talks about efforts to restructure the Long Island Power Authority after Sandy and his reporting on who gains from privatization.

 

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The Brian Lehrer Show

Telecom Outages After Sandy

Friday, March 01, 2013

Ilya Marritz, WNYC reporter, talks about his reporting on why some New Yorkers are still grappling with reduced telecom service after Sandy. Is your phone or internet line still down after Sandy knocked it out? Share your story with us (email newsroom@wnyc.org and put "outage" in the subject line) and post your location on the map below.

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The Brian Lehrer Show

Lessons From The Netherlands Post-Sandy

Thursday, February 28, 2013

NY1's Juan Manuel Benitez and Josh Robin talk about their travels to the Netherlands in search of lessons about storm mitigation for our region post-Sandy. Their special is called "Fighting the Tide" and the Spanish-language series is "Contra viento y marea"

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New Jersey News

FEMA Aid Deadline for NJ Approaches

Thursday, February 28, 2013

WNYC

The deadline for New Jersey residents who suffered losses from Sandy to register with FEMA for disaster assistance or apply for low-interest loans from the Small Business Administration is Friday.

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WNYC News

Sandy Victims Face Relocating, Repairs and Now ... Foreclosure

Thursday, February 28, 2013

While many families whose homes were damaged by Sandy are receiving some mortgage relief from banks, advocates say the measures will only postpone a rash of foreclosures, not prevent them.

Comments [2]

The Brian Lehrer Show

NJ Budget; Sandy and the Netherlands; Sen. Murphy

Thursday, February 28, 2013

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has presented his budget. New Jersey Senate Republican Leader Thomas Kean Jr. and Gordon MacInnes, President of New Jersey Policy Perspective, react to the Governor’s proposals – including the expansion of Medicaid in the state. Then, a NY1 reporting trip to the Netherlands found lessons for storm mitigation for this area after Sandy. Plus: our series on fashion continues with a look at sustainability; U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.); leadership coach Dennis Kimbro tells the stories of black millionaires; and where do you draw the line with taboo foods?