Three Years Later - Progress Being Made Toward A More Resilient New York

Since Superstorm Sandy overwhelmed much of the east coast in October 2012, New York City, along with its State and federal partners, has allocated more than $15 billion in federal emergency aid for recovery efforts. While a considerable portion of these funds was quickly spent in the storm’s immediate aftermath for recovery efforts and to assist individual homeowners and small businesses, the New York Building Congress believes at least $8 billion is being spent on for longer-term projects that will make the City’s core infrastructure more resilient.

Coastal Protections
In October 2014, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) allocated $930 million for a design competition to enhance the region’s storm resiliency.  The State and local agencies that received HUD funding and are coordinating project implementation are now working to complete environmental review, design, and implementation of key elements of six winning designs, including three projects in New York City:

  • The State of New York is designing 2½ miles of “Living Breakwaters” along the south shore of Staten Island, designed to counteract coastal erosion and wave action from  future storm events. Construction of the reefs and barriers has not begun, but the expected completion date is 2019. 

  • Another winning concept, “The Big U,” envisions a variety of storm mitigation measures encircling a 10-mile stretch of Manhattan’s waterfront, going south from West 57th Street and back up to East 42nd Street. HUD has allocated $330 million to the City to implement one component of that plan, known as the East Side Coastal Resiliency Project, reaching from Lower Manhattan up to East 23rd Street, to protect one of the deepest floodplains in Manhattan. The project, now in design, will elevate portions of the waterfront and incorporate creative recreational components to open more of the waterfront to the public. Construction is anticipated to begin in 2017. 

  • The City is also planning improvements to the Hunts Point food distribution center in the Bronx. Handling 60 percent of the City’s fresh produce, much of Hunts Point lies in the 100-year floodplain, leaving it vulnerable to flooding and climate change.  Key project components include levees that wrap around the peninsula, along with a clean energy micro-grid to provide back-up energy for the food market. Initiation of a pilot project is expected to begin in 2016.

Another $480 million in federal funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and HUD is allocated to the City Parks Department’s construction of coastline protection projects and a new boardwalk at Rockaway Beach. These new structures will be able to withstand storm and tidal forces that may impact the coastline in future years. Construction is underway and work is scheduled to be completed by May 2017.

Complementing this effort is Governor Cuomo’s New York Rising Community Reconstruction Program, which has produced 15 localized plans to improve the resiliency of vulnerable New York City neighborhoods. These include construction of a range of natural coastal defense like permanent dune systems, berms, bioswales, and other barriers along the south shore of Staten Island, Broad Channel, Canarsie, Battery Park, and Breezy Point. 

The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) allocated $3.8 billion in disaster relief funds to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), which the MTA is deploying to protect fan plants, under-river tubes, ground-level tracks, signals, train shops and yards, traction power substations, circuit breaker houses, bus depots, train towers, and public areas.  While the federal aid was significant, the MTA estimates its systems suffered $4.75 billion in damage. As a result, significant additional funding is needed to ensure the region’s infrastructure remains in good repair and is ready to withstand the next major weather event.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey estimated that Superstorm Sandy resulted in over $2 billion in damage to its seaports, tunnels, bridges, and airports. With $1.9 billion in federal disaster recovery assistance from the FTA, in addition to insurance and self-insurance, the Port Authority expects to be able to recover almost all of its storm damage costs while improving state of good repair and resiliency of its infrastructure.

Without the benefit of federal dollars, Consolidated Edison has completed significant portions of its $1 billion “storm hardening” plan to fortify critical infrastructure and protect New Yorkers from major storms. Projects completed include construction of more than a mile of concrete flood walls around stations and critical equipment; the addition of nearly 2,000 overhead isolation devices to reduce customer outages; and the installation of 800 special float-check valves to protect gas services from floods.  Still to be completed are the burying of 30 miles of overhead lines at a cost of $200 million; installing stronger, tree-branch resistant aerial cable and utility poles; and replacing cast iron and steel gas pipes in flood-prone areas.

The storm also revealed multiple vulnerabilities at the City’s water supply and wastewater treatment facilities. After making emergency repairs, the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) responded with an action plan, which it is implementing, focusing largely on its stormwater management and wastewater treatment systems. DEP is currently planning to invest $115 million in federal emergency aid to rebuild conduits to wastewater treatment plants.

Public Housing
The New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) has received $3 billion from FEMA to repair and upgrade 33 developments damaged in the storm. More than 80,000 NYCHA residents in 200 NYCHA buildings near the city's waterways were impacted, including the Red Hook Houses where there was no heat, hot water, or gas for 22 days following the storm.

Funds will be used for repairs and to implement new resiliency efforts, such as installing elevated boilers, flood barriers, and emergency generators. New play areas, roofs, electrical systems, and security systems will be installed as a part of the repairs and upgrades. Flood barrier systems will prevent lower floors from flooding during future storms. The repairs will take up to 36 months to complete.

Public Hospitals
Much like NYCHA, the City’s Health and Hospitals Corporation (HHC) owns several large facilities around the City that lie within the 100-year floodplain and were severely damaged during the storm.

HHC received $1.7 billion to address rebuilding and resiliency issues. At Coney Island Hospital, HHC plans to build a new, stand-alone "critical services" building. This $535 million plan includes a flood wall, an elevated emergency room above the first floor, and other strategies to prevent damage to critical mechanical functions.  Design is underway.

At Bellevue Hospital, HHC will replace the elevators so they will function during a storm and elevate most mechanical systems above the 500-year floodplain. Other hospitals also sustained damage and are susceptible to future events: projects at HHC’s Metropolitan and Coler hospitals will address future extreme weather impacts. 

“Significant progress has been made by federal, State and local government to commit funds and begin work on storm resiliency projects across an impressive range of critical infrastructure,” said New York Building Congress President Richard T. Anderson.  “Yet the City, State, and the MTA are still several billion dollars short of the resources needed to ensure good repair and improvements to withstand future storms like Sandy. Con Edison’s resiliency efforts have also been formidable, but it must continue to identify resources to complete its storm hardening plan without overburdening its ratepayers.”

Information for this report was taken from the City of New York’s NYC Recovery Sandy Funding Storm Tracker.  Victor J. Gallo, Carter Ledyard and Milburn, LLP, contributed to this report.

    The New York Building Congress is a membership coalition of business, labor, association and government organizations promoting the design, construction
and real estate industry in New York City.