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Feds to provide $3 billion in Sandy transit aid

Joseph Leader, Metropolitan Tranportation Authority Vice President and

Joseph Leader, Metropolitan Tranportation Authority Vice President and Chief Maintenance Officer, shines a flashlight on standing water inside the South Ferry 1 train station in New York in the wake of superstorm Sandy. (Oct. 31, 2012) Credit: AP

The federal government will provide another $3 billion in Sandy aid to the MTA and other regional transit providers to help strengthen their systems for the next major storm.

For the Long Island Rail Road, the money could go to flood-proofing East River tunnels that took in 12 feet of water during the storm.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority will have to compete with other public transportation agencies, including New Jersey Transit and the Port Authority, for its share of the funding, which will be awarded by the Federal Transit Authority through federal grants. The agencies must apply for the money by March 28.

"We've made great progress in the year since Hurricane Sandy devastated transportation systems in New York, New Jersey and other states in the storm's path," Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement. "With this funding, the Obama administration is making good on its promise to the millions of transit riders throughout the region that we will continue to rebuild their roads, bridges and subways stronger than before."

The $3 billion announced Monday brings the total allocated by the federal government for post-Sandy transportation projects to $8.7 billion. The new funding is the first pool of money specifically targeting major "resiliency" projects.

The Federal Transit Administration previously released $900 million for smaller, local resiliency projects such as buying generators or emergency lights.

MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan said the agency was reviewing the requirements to seek funding and will submit proposed projects that meet the guidelines.

"Sandy's damage to New York's transportation infrastructure was extensive, and federal assistance will be essential to our efforts to ensure that the region's vital public transportation system is resilient against damage and disruption from future extreme weather events," Donovan said.

Among the resiliency projects already proposed by the LIRR are measures to reduce flooding in its West Side Yards in Manhattan and inside the four East River rail tunnels leading to Penn Station.

While not addressing the merit of any specific project, FTA administrator Peter Rogoff said that the tunnels should be a top priority for the LIRR.

"Since the vast majority of Long Island Rail Road commuters are going the whole way into the city, we want to be cognizant of that and make sure that they get all the way there," Rogoff said.

Rogoff said the FTA's "highest priority" in distributing funds is protecting existing infrastructure "that serves millions of people every day." He also urged transit agencies to work cooperatively on projects.

The LIRR has also proposed using federal resiliency dollars to help fund its Double Track plan to build a second set of rails between Farmingdale and Ronkonkoma -- a long-planned project.

Projects proposed by the MTA include strategies to seal subway entry points, including street grates and stairwells, from water, and to plug subway tunnels.

"This money, provided by the Sandy relief bill, will allow us to bolster our transit system so that the next time a major storm comes to our shores -- and make no mistake, there will be a next time -- the systems that keeps New York running won't go down," Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said.

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