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MTA: Storm plans under way; Rockaway service back May 30

MTA employees work around the clock to pump

MTA employees work around the clock to pump seawater out of the L train's tunnel under the East River after superstorm Sandy. (Nov. 5, 2012) Credit: MTA/Patrick Cashin

The MTA is working on a plan for customized covers to seal off subway entry points during major storms like superstorm Sandy.

At a news conference at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's South Ferry station, which suffered severe flooding from Sandy, agency interim executive director Thomas Prendergast unveiled plans to harden the transit system, both in the near term and long term.

The Oct. 29 storm flooded subway tunnels with corrosive saltwater that destroyed delicate components. The MTA has estimated the damage to its system at about $7 billion.

"The damage to the system was something I had never seen . . . This was damage of historic proportions," Prendergast said. "We learned from it. And hopefully if we have another one we'll do even better."

The MTA already is in the process of designing and procuring customized covers, potentially made of plywood or fiberglass with foam seals, that could quickly be installed at thousands of water entry points throughout the subway system, then covered with sandbags.

Prendergast said that at the six stations at Manhattan's southern tip alone, there are 540 such entry points, including station stairway entrances, elevator shafts, sidewalk air vents and emergency exits.

Prendergast said the covers are a potentially permanent solution, and could be in place relatively soon, but not in time for this year's hurricane season, which begins next month. Until the new covers are available, Prendergast said, the MTA will continue using a "crude," but largely effective, method of sealing off entry points with plywood planks and sandbags.

Prendergast said he did not have an estimate on what the plan would cost.

To come up with more comprehensive ways to keep water out of the subway system for the long-term, Prendergast said the MTA plans to hire consultants with expertise on the issue. Those could include dike systems and tunnel plugs, he said.

In a statement, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo echoed his commitment to building back the transit system "better and smarter than before."

"The last six months have meant substantial cleanup and repair, leading to the rapid restoration of full service in all but the hardest-hit facilities," Cuomo said. "Now we must focus on the priority and challenge of making permanent repairs to keep the subways safe and reliable for years to come because the people and businesses of New York depend on a strong and robust mass transit system."

Prendergast said the MTA also is working on similar solutions for its motor vehicle tunnels and the East River rail tunnels used by the Long Island Rail Road, but owned and maintained by Amtrak.

The MTA also announced that A subway line service to the Rockaways will return May 30. The line was among the most devastated, with entire sections of track washed away by Sandy. In one of the first examples of the MTA hardening its system for future storms, the agency installed 2 miles of corrugated steel walls along Jamaica Bay adjacent to the tracks.

"Life hasn't been so easy for the residents of the Rockaways," MTA interim chairman Fernando Ferrer said.

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