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Joseph Lhota makes MTA's case for federal money in D.C.

Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman and CEO Joseph Lhota

Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman and CEO Joseph Lhota testifies during a Senate Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety, and Security Subcommittee hearing on "Superstorm Sandy: The Devastating Impact on the Nation's Largest Transportation Systems" in Washington, D.C. (Dec. 6, 2012) Credit: Getty Images

WASHINGTON -- MTA chief Joseph Lhota told a Senate panel Thursday the tri-state area transportation system needs federal help not only to repair damages from superstorm Sandy but also to rebuild to protect against future storms at a total estimated cost of $7 billion.

The hearing, chaired by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), came a day before the White House is expected to submit its Sandy disaster aid request, reported to be for about $50 billion, a number many local lawmakers say is too low.

New York and New Jersey together have requested about $80 billion, which includes money needed to fix damage and rebuild subways, tunnels, bridges and roads.

"Our preliminary estimates total nearly $5 billion in damages and this figure could rise," Lhota said of MTA losses.

"This figure represents just what we need to get the system back to where it was the day before the storm," Lhota said, adding, "it's critical" to make investments "to protect our system from future storms."

James Weinstein, executive director of NJ Transit, put Sandy's cost at $400 million for equipment replacement and repairs, and another $800 million for "mitigation" to fortify the transportation system.

"Clearly that mitigation is critical," Weinstein said. "We can't just rebuild what was there, not only because it may not be physically possible, but it would be foolish to do it."

Joseph Boardman, president of Amtrak, said the railroad will need about $336 million to cover operating losses and repairs, and to harden the system against extreme storms.

Port Authority executive director Patrick Foye gave no specific dollar amount for his agency, saying it's still assessing repair costs and insurance payouts.

"Clearly our needs are enormous," he said. "We are facing hundreds of millions of dollars in immediate repair costs, and billions more in mitigation and resiliency measures."

Also Thursday, New Jersey's Republican Gov. Chris Christie came to Washington to lobby for federal disaster money, meeting with House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and other lawmakers.

Christie also met with President Barack Obama at the White House. On former Gov. David A. Paterson's radio show, Cuomo said he talked with Obama by telephone Thursday to remind him, "This really is significant." Cuomo did not meet with Obama when he came to Washington on Monday.

Christie also met with the team led by HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan that's preparing the administration funding request.

"We continue to hope that we'll have the request sent up soon," White House spokesman Jay Carney said Thursday.

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