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Sandy Effects Still Washing Over Rockaway Subway Lines With Delayed Projects, New Work

Ten years after the superstorm of the century, the MTA isn’t done with efforts to protect its waterfront routes.

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Rusted steel seawalls line the Broad Channel A station, Oct. 27, 2022

Hiram Alejandro Durán/THE CITY

Hurricane Sandy isn’t done messing with subway riders in the Rockaways just yet.

A decade after extensive damage from the October 2012 superstorm knocked out A train service between Howard Beach and the peninsula for more than six months, remaining Sandy-related repairs along the forked line are running with delays and getting pricier, MTA records show.

The cost of federally funded resiliency upgrades to stations, bridges and viaducts along the tracks that links the peninsula with the rest of Queens is now forecast to hit $467 million — up $60 million from an earlier goal, according to MTA documents.

The remaining work is among the lingering remnants of a storm that caused billions in damage to the subway system and specifically wreaked havoc on the coastal section of the A line and the Rockaway shuttle.

“It was a horrible storm and I saw what it did to my community,” said Thomas Atehortua, 23, as he waited Thursday for an A train at Broad Channel. “So I’m not at all surprised that the damage was so impactful and long lasting along this line.”

A boat on damaged A train tracks in the Rockaways, seen October 30, 2012, after Hurricane Sandy struck.

MTA New York City Transit / Leonard Wiggins

While the MTA last year wrapped up Sandy-related repairs inside the last of nine under-river subway tunnels damaged by the storm, reopened the flooded South Ferry complex in 2017 and has come up with ways to protect 3,500 street-level subway openings from excess water, the work in the Rockaways is still years away from being completed.

“It is a complicated project,” Janno Lieber, MTA chairperson and CEO, told THE CITY after the agency’s October board meeting on Wednesday. “It also needs to be carefully coordinated with the community because it has impacts on A train service in and out of the community, which is obviously important to that waterfront community.”

Lieber said the agency has already poured $150 million into Rockaway Line resiliency efforts, including erecting a protective seawall to guard against storm surge along Broad Channel, protecting critical station infrastructure and restoring full service in May 2013, just months after Sandy swamped tracks and bridges. 

‘We’re Not Done’

The work is part of a $7.8 billion program to address coastal storm risks throughout the transit system, $6 billion of which has already been committed to addressing the most vulnerable spots, according to MTA officials.

Among those soft spots is the Coney Island Yard, which was flooded with millions of gallons of water during the hurricane, damaging tracks, signals and its electrical system. Officials say crews are nearing completion of an array of flood protections, including the construction of more than two miles of steel and concrete walls around the yard.

Jamie Torres-Springer, president of MTA Construction & Development, pointed to last year’s flash flooding in the subway from the remnants of Hurricane Ida as a measure of how much the system still needs to be strengthened.

“Even as we approach the end of our formal Sandy program, we’re not done making the system more resilient,” he said Monday. “As storms like Ida have shown, climate change is only accelerating and its challenges extend far beyond coastal storm surge.”

The MTA in July put out a solicitation notice to find a contractor to design and build storm protections that include watertight seals, flood doors and deployable flood barriers at multiple stations along the line.

MTA workers make construct a wall along the A train at Broad Channel after Hurricane Sandy, March 22, 2013.

Metropolitan Transportation Authority/Kevin Ortiz

As part of the project, debris fences and “washout protection” will be added to a pair of bridges and other subway facilities along the line, and concrete viaducts on the peninsula will be repaired.

“Should it [already] be done? In a perfect world, yes,” said Lisa Daglian, executive director of the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee to the MTA. “But we obviously don’t live in a perfect world.”

The contract term, according to MTA records, is 44 months.

Lieber said the schedule changes reflect the complexity of Rockaways resiliency work.

“Sometimes, contractors as a group will say, ‘You know what, we need another month,’” Lieber said. “I think this is one such occasion where they’re doing so much different work and it’s not an unlimited pool of contractors.”

For Rockaways riders, more resiliency translates to more service outages while work to their line is completed.

“Sometimes when the shuttle is not running, you have to take a shuttle bus,” said Sakeena Sidberry, 26, who commutes from the Beach 98th Street stop. “I have to plan my day around how transit is running.”

As he waited for an A train at Broad Channel, Jacob Glover, 70, recalled riding buses 10 years  ago — when the train was not an option — to his job as a courier.

“Lights went out, there was no transportation, we couldn’t function,” he said. “It’s better now, 100 times better.”

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