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Schumer: Repair of Sandy-damaged East River tunnels can’t wait

In 2014, Amtrak announced a plan to repair

In 2014, Amtrak announced a plan to repair Sandy damage to two of its four East River tunnels, where walls have deep cracks and seawater continues to corrode concrete. Credit: Patrick Cashin

Sen. Chuck Schumer is decrying Amtrak’s plan to put off repairing superstorm Sandy damage inside the East River tunnels until as late as 2025 — more than a dozen years after the passages were flooded with corrosive saltwater.

Schumer, the minority leader who is credited with securing $432 million in federal funding to pay for the repair project, on Monday said it is “not acceptable” to delay the beginning of the repair effort or to set a completion date “so far in the future.”

Amtrak officials said earlier this month that the project, originally expected to begin about 2019, was being delayed both because of the complexity of its ongoing design phase and because the agency prefers to wait until after the Metropolitan Transportation Authority completes its East Side Access project before taking the tunnels, which connect Penn Station to Queens, out of service for repairs.

East Side Access aims to link the Long Island Rail Road to Grand Central Terminal by late 2022 — reducing customer demand on Penn Station.

“We just marked the fifth anniversary of Sandy and it’s disheartening that Amtrak and the MTA have yet to move forward with these critical repairs to the Sandy-damaged East River Tunnels,” Schumer (D-New York) said in a statement. “LIRR passengers want immediate action to fix these already Sandy-damaged tunnels. Passengers are sick and tired of the delays, especially when the money to fix them is already in the hands of the MTA — which must work with Amtrak to put this money to work for Long Island and the whole region’s economy.”

Amtrak officials said in a statement Monday that they “agree with Senator Schumer’s call to urgently advance the rehabilitation of the East River Tunnels impacted by Hurricane Sandy.”

“Amtrak has been undertaking the planning, design and prep work forward and the next steps require the cooperation of the MTA and [NJ Transit] to schedule and fund these essential, multiyear repairs,” Amtrak spokesman Jason Abrams said.

In 2014, Amtrak announced its plan to repair the Sandy damage inside two of its four East River tunnels, including from chlorides and sulfates in the floodwaters that have caused deep cracks in walls and continue to corrode the concrete structures, according to engineers.

After the announcement of the new timeline for the project, MTA spokesman Jon Weinstein said in a statement that Amtrak “absolutely needs to fix” the tunnels, which he called “a vital connection for hundreds of thousands of Long Island Rail Road commuters and they need to be fixed.” But, last week, MTA Chief Development Officer Janno Lieber, who oversees all major MTA projects, said waiting until after East Side Access is complete to begin the tunnel repairs “does make rational sense.”

Commuter advocates joined Schumer in calling for added urgency on the tunnel repairs.

Mark Epstein, chairman of the LIRR Commuter Council, said riders “are concerned that the East River tunnels remain safe, available, and operationally efficient.” And Laureen Harris, president of the Association for a Better Long Island, a business group, said Schumer’s call was echoed not only by her group, but also “the nearly quarter of million daily LIRR commuters who bring home their NYC paychecks.”

“Every day that this work goes undone, the corroding tunnels continue to deteriorate,” Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach) added.

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