The subway is in good service … until, maybe, another storm hits.
While the MTA has poured millions into rebuilding the transit system after Sandy, there are few guarantees that the time-effective work over the last two years will make the city’s tunnels more resilient than before. Should another storm hit, the authority hasn’t given any promise that it wont displace millions of subway riders from getting to work.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who spoke at the Montague tunnel reopening ceremony, said when prompted that the tunnels are not protected from future flooding if a storm strikes.
“Can I say that today? No,” he said. “Can I say that we would be in better position in terms of preparedness than we were? Yes. Have we educated ourselves from what happened? Yes.”
Workers replaced more than two miles of track and nearly 53 miles of cable in the tunnel, which was flooded with roughly 27 million gallons of water during Sandy’s peak. A high-capacity pumping system will dispel flooding from future storms, and a new circuit breaker room is sealed with a door of “submarine” quality.
The total cost of the Montague project, according to the authority, was $250 million – $58 million under budget – and was slated to open in October.
But in terms of more protection, little has been said. Many of the repairs since 2012, experts say, aren’t fortifying the system and instead just replace what was broken.
“There was no real coverage of what the MTA did,” said Gene Russianoff, a lawyer for the Straphangers Campaign. “They had signs around the route that said it was being done, but it didn’t say what they were doing.”
Russianoff, who rides the R from his home in Park Slope to his office near City Hall, said New Yorkers just want a subway that can transport them, and one that works consistently. Many subway stations near his Lower Manhattan office, Russianoff said, are very vulnerable and were – and could be in the future – very flooded by a storm.
“We are, and the MTA is, still almost as vulnerable as it was during the day of Sandy,” said Klaus Jacob, an adjunct professor of international and public affairs at Columbia University. “I don’t think they have the funding necessary set aside.”
Jacob, though he isn’t involved with today’s plans to rebuild the tunnels, outlined a full overhaul of the subway system two years before the storm that included protection of subway grates on the sidewalk.
The sidewalks above stations are defenseless, he said, and no measures have been taken yet to decrease the exposure of the ventilation grates. In another storm, water would flow from ground-level to the tunnels and could be debilitating to the system. Stairways and other street-level openings are still open and vulnerable, too.
To date, the MTA has received more than $5 million from the Federal Transit Administration. But an additional $7 billion toward repairs over the next 10 years “would go a good way,” Jacob said, noting his guess is as a scientist, not an engineer.
The Federal Transit Administration on Wednesday pledged another $1.9 billion for Sandy-related upgrades and repairs, with nearly 70 percent of the pot going to the MTA. Some of that money will go toward protecting vulnerable areas, such as the $300 million for fortifying street-level station entrances.
“That is pittance compared to losses” the city would face during a long-term subway outage, Jacob said.