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An MTA Fiscal Flood

May 20, 2013

By Nicole Gelinas

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Rushing to spend Sandy $

In his budget speech back in January, Gov. Cuomo announced a grand plan to spend $6 billion in federal funding to waterproof New York’s transit system. Four months later, it’s obvious that the MTA has no clue how to spend $6 billion to keep our antique subway system dry.

But you can bet the MTA honchos will try anyway since Cuomo doesn’t want to leave a dime of "free" federal money on the table.

Separate from preventative costs, the MTA says it took about $4.8 billion in actual damage from Sandy. The feds will cover most of that, too.

The biggest single hits were $600 million worth of wreckage at the South Ferry station and $650 million in damage to the A train tracks in the Rockaways. Throughout the system, the MTA also figured last fall that it would have to spend $770 million to repair signals and $300 million to restore tracks, among other things.

But all those eye-popping figures last year were really just guesses.

Take the Rockaways estimate: The line will open for service at month’s end meaning, presumably, the work is largely done.

But the last time the governor’s office announced a concrete figure, back in March, it pegged "initial work" at replacing the washed-out tracks at $17.9 million.

From photo op to photo op, there’s no reconciliation between huge initial numbers and later smaller ones. But this seeming opposite of a massive cost overrun isn’t that surprising and it’s more Cuomo’s fault than the MTA’s.

Last year, the MTA was under huge pressure to announce huge numbers, fast or watch the state lose out on federal aid. And now that the state has secured that cash, no one much cares what happens to it. After all, the money was free.

And we still have no idea how much rebuilding South Ferry will really cost.

If the MTA’s cost estimates on damage are just guesses, estimates on how much it will cost to flood-proof the system are wild guesses.

Cuomo never said how he arrived at the $6 billion figure for making the MTA more watertight than the Titanic.

Sure, he mentioned things like "vent covers, tunnel bladders, pumping capacity." But consider the one concrete "prevention" thing the MTA has done since Sandy.

The Rockaway line, as the MTA notes, "is the most exposed area in the New York City subway network." To make it less exposed, the agency just built a salt-resistant steel seawall that rises two feet above Sandy’s highest surge. So that it lasts 100 years, the wall is driven three stories deep into soil. The cost: more than $16 million (separate from the track-replacement costs); how much more, there’s no way to tell for now.

There, at least, the MTA had a clear problem to fix: To avoid an above-ground surge, build a wall. Other "storm-proofing" goals are a lot murkier.

At a press conference last Thursday, MTA chief Tom Prendergast was perfectly honest that the agency hasn’t the faintest idea how to prevent water from getting into the rest of the system: 540 points of entry for floods in Lower Manhattan alone.

And many of the best ideas are decidedly low-tech and low-cost deployable watertight grates and shields across vents and stairwells, plus inflatable bladders.

To please Cuomo, though, the MTA is trying to come up with something more exciting and the expensive consultants it’s hiring are salivating at the opportunity.

Of course, the last time the MTA tried to spend a lot of money in a hurry, it got the rest of us in trouble.

The South Ferry Station that drowned during Sandy was just finished four years ago at a cost of $527 million.

Back in the early 2000s, when the MTA started this project, no one considered whether it was wise to build such a fancy station complete with "architectural elements" that let water in fast in a flood zone.

Sure, the MTA briefly considered the risk of flood, and determined that "all surface openings leading to the subway terminal" would be above "the 100-year base flood elevation," but that "if a major flood event were to occur, the terminal and tunnels could experience standing water." Oops.

But why did nobody think of that in the first place? Simple: New York had tons of 9/11 money for Downtown, and it had to spend it on something. So they just threw the $420 million the feds gave us for this project down the drain.

Original Source: http://www.nypost.com/p/news/opinion/opedcolumnists/an_mta_fiscal_flood_ry1O6HvEJCOgjNTi157DZP

 

 
 
 

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