More than $400 million in federal funds has been secured to make critical repairs inside East River rail tunnels badly damaged by corrosive saltwater from superstorm Sandy, Sen. Chuck Schumer said Tuesday.
The U.S. Department of Transportation is expected to award $432 million Wednesday to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority as its allotment of an $800 million pool of funding for transportation infrastructure resiliency projects, Schumer (D-N.Y) said Tuesday.
The DOT did not respond to request for comments.
“We look forward to hearing more details about the funding award and specifics on how the money can be used,” MTA spokeswoman Beth DeFalco said.
Schumer, who noted that he helped obtain the funding said the DOT and Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx “have rightfully heeded the call” to fund the tunnel project, and “not a moment too soon.”
Corrosive chemicals continue to eat away at two of the tunnels leading into and out of Penn Station four years after the October 2012 storm. The tunnels, primarily used by the Long Island Rail Road, were inundated with 14 million gallons of saltwater, resulting in deep cracks and large holes in concrete passages.
Amtrak, which owns and maintains the tunnels with financial assistance from the MTA, has been preparing a plan to fix the damage, but said last year it could not afford the repair because a federal court ruling capped the insurance payout for the tunnel damage to $125 million.
“This is great news, and I expect the vast bulk of this money will go to the East River Tunnels that are so vital to Long Island commuters,” Schumer said Tuesday. “Right now, unfortunately, these tunnels are the weakest link in the commute of so many Long Islanders, but with these funds on track, the tunnel tubes can be brought up to a good state of repair and reduce the frequency of maddening delays.”
Amtrak has said there is no immediate safety risk posed by the damage in the tunnels used by about 300,000 passengers daily. But until the repairs are made, service problems related to the damage, some due to concrete chunks falling onto tracks, will persist, especially on the LIRR, which operates about half the trains in the tunnels. LIRR delays caused by Amtrak problems nearly doubled between 2012 and 2015.
Amtrak officials have also said delays to the tunnel repairs could also result in delays to Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s East Side Access effort to link the LIRR to Grand Central Terminal, because the two projects’ schedules must be closely coordinated.
“It impacts everybody. I think that’s why it’s such an important thing,” Amtrak Chairman Anthony Coscia said of the injection of funding for the tunnels. “Their condition after superstorm Sandy was one that heightened the levels of unreliability.”
In August, Schumer wrote to the Federal Transit Authority, urging the agency to “quickly release” unobligated Sandy dollars that could “not only ensure a timely repair of the East River tubes, but can also help protect the important project schedule of East Side Access, which is vital to Long Island commuters.”