Who Should Foot the Bill for Sandy’s Damage to Tracks and Train Tunnels?

Water rushing into the Hoboken PATH station through an elevator shaft last night. Photo credit: ##http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/headlines/2012/10/hurricane-sandy-live-updates/##Port Authority of New York and New Jersey##

As the East Coast surveys the damage from Hurricane Sandy, cities are still struggling to get their transit systems back up and running.

In New York City, there is no firm timetable for restoring subway service after train tunnels were flooded with a surge of saltwater, in what New York MTA Chair Joe Lhota has called the most devastating event to ever strike the subway system.

In Philadelphia, SEPTA is slowly bringing back service on subway and bus lines. The regional rail system is down at least until tomorrow, with the majority of the damage apparently from downed trees. Amtrak has also continued its suspension of service on the Northeast Corridor, with repairs pending on the track and signal systems, as well as the removal of trees and other debris.

New Jersey Transit was hit hard, with “major damage on each and every one of New Jersey rail lines,” according to Governor Chris Christie, including washouts along the North Jersey Coast Line and at Kearny Junction, as well as flooding at rail hubs in Secaucus, Hoboken and Newark Penn Station, according to the AP. It could be seven to 10 days before PATH train service is restored.

DC’s metro came back online at 2:00 p.m. today, and there was no major flooding or damage reported to Baltimore’s and Boston’s transit systems.

Damage to infrastructure isn’t the only cost of the hurricane — lost productivity will also ding the economy, as workplaces up and down the coast stay shuttered for another day today.

One early estimate pegged the total damage caused by the storm at more than $20 billion, with insured losses at about $7 billion. Infrastructure repairs figure to account for a substantial portion of the costs. With transit agencies and local governments still feeling the fiscal squeeze, who will foot the bill?

Luckily, FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate says FEMA is flush with money for the response, including repairs to infrastructure, with a $7.8 billion disaster relief fund. That’s reassuring, after the agency was caught empty-handed in the wake of Hurricane Irene.

Transit has an extra cushion now, too, thanks to a provision in the new transportation bill, MAP-21, that created an emergency relief program for transit, similar to what exists for highways. Funds still need to be appropriated, but the Federal Transit Administration does have the authority to distribute funds to agencies in need.

Larry Hanley, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union, pointed out that the frequency of extreme weather events like Sandy can be attributed to greenhouse gas emissions, saying that the costs of the storm should fall on the fossil fuel industry. “Ultimately, who should pay is the oil companies,” he said. “They’re the people who are polluting the environment, the people who are causing this global warming that’s ‘not really happening.’ If ever there was clear evidence of climate change, it’s what we’ve been through over the last several months, with the hot summer and now this storm activity. Like the cleanup in the Gulf, they should be called upon to clean up after this storm.”

Equally important is who shouldn’t pay – transit riders. If the costs of cleanup and restoration fall to the agencies and operators, that will result in service cuts and/or fare increases for passengers. “Over the last several years, when there have been problems in agencies, the passengers are the ones who had to step up and take cuts in service and fare increases,” Hanley said. “They should be automatically exempted from this one.”

  • Larry Littlefield

    The answer as to who will pay is younger and future generations.  It will be 3/4 federal debt, and 1/4 state and local (MTA debt).

    The next question is how and who among younger generations will pay this debt.  But compared with U.S. public and private debts overall, this is nothing.

  • Ryan

    In Australia we raised $2 billion after flooding in Queensland in 2010. Out of a population of 21 million. On average we paid $1 per week extra tax for a year. Why is this not done in the US?

  • Ryan

    I should mention the lowest average income earners paid $1 a week rather than on average we paid $1 per week.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “In Australia we raised $2 billion after flooding in Queensland in 2010. Out of a population of 21 million. On average we paid $1 per week extra tax for a year. Why is this not done in the US?”
    Generational values.  It is the sort of things people in the U.S. did in WWII and the Great Depression.  Not so much anymore, although the mythology remains.  Its hard to sacrifice when you are already spending 110% of your income to get by, or “get by,” depending on your income bracket and your politics.

    In any event, in NYC we are already just about the highest taxed people in the U.S.  And if we are taxed more, someone with power will probably grab it.  It’s part of the institutional decay, in the public and private sectors.

  • Anonymous

    What a bizarre analysis. 

    It shifts from weird to bizarre when she draws an absurd parallel with the oil spill in the Gulf. There, we had a direct, physical-mechanic link between a faulty drilling head and a massive oil spill, so it is fair those responsible for the well paid for the cleanup.

    Without arguing anything related to global warming, any reasonable scientist will say you cannot pinpoint specific weather events to global warming, individually, to start with. Even if you could, the single group contributing most to CO2 and CO2-equivalent emissions come from buildings (lighting, heating, cooling, electricity for equipment/appliance/gadgets). Then comes agriculture. Only after both comes transportation. 

    So it is outright bizarre to make these comparisons with the oil spill (or with other major industrial accidents such nuclear meltdowns, airplane crashes, hazmat incidents etc). 

  • leroy

    Minor Correction: The Green D Line in Boston experienced damage to an overhead power-line due to a fallen tree and is still out of service: http://www.wickedlocal.com/newton/news/x1890069436/MBTA-Green-Line-D-branch-expected-to-be-closed-for-at-least-24-hours#axzz2AqLaVqGu

  • Grant

    For anyone who’s still having trouble getting around because
    of transit issues, there’s a couchsurfing-like service where you can find
    people willing to give you a ride in exchange for a few bucks to cover
    expenses: http://us.amovens.com/en. If you have a car, you can offer to help
    folks out for a small fee.

  • mj10doobie

    @andrelot: yeah – this took a bizarre turn.  plus if you’re going for the “greenhouse gas/climate change” angle this particular logic is like blaming budweiser for alcoholism.

  • Most weather events are quite a bit more difficult to target to global warming than this one. In a normal environment, this storm would have weakened as it went north – rather than strengthening because the Atlantic was five degrees hotter than it should have been.

    Without global warming, this storm would have happened and it might have even made it all the way to landfall and might have been bad – but nowhere near this bad.

  • God should pay for it. God, right? Because he did it. God willed it or something. 

  • Anonymous

    @facebook-783035412:disqus There had been similar storms before, the last one of them in 1938.

    The fact is: it is political exploitation, and bad science, to “tie” any specific weather-related event to global warming, be it arguing that it is real because of Sandy or that it isn’t real because of extreme cold temperatures of 2009-10 winter (for instance). 

  • Shoppinglxg

    Hot summers have existed from the summer equinox to the autumn equinox in the northeast since I was born . Hurricane season in the northeast has been 6/1 to 11/ 1 for as long as I can remember. This article, apparently written by someone not familiar with weather patterns in the northeast, is the response I would expect from the liberal media which looks to point a finger and place blame instead of doing what New Englanders have always done….suck it up, fix what’s broke, and carry on. Excuses, excuses. Using the “fossil fuel industry” as the cause for our our new??? weather patterns is beyond ridiculous.

  • anderlot and Shoppinglxg; read more closely please. Hurricanes existed before; some even hit LI and NYC. This hurricane was much stronger than it would have been had it happened in 1938, because the Atlantic Ocean was about 5 degrees warmer than it should have been (due to global warming).

  • Anonymous

    Really, polluters should foot the bill, for heating up the ocean and making this storm *worse* than the 1938 storm (which I know all about).  But that would make too much sense.

  • Anonymous

    “There, we had a direct, physical-mechanic link between a faulty drilling
    head and a massive oil spill, so it is fair those responsible for the
    well paid for the cleanup.”
     
    Except in actual fact they didn’t pay for it.  So… really, the rule is that the rich and powerful never pay, guilty or not.  Not sure what to do about that.

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