06.29.16

SCHUMER: EAST RIVER TUNNEL CRISIS AVERTED; MASSIVE CASH SHORTFALL RISKED CATASTROPHIC DELAYS & POTENTIALLY DANGEROUS CONDITIONS FOR LIRR RIDERS; PROJECT NOW BACK ON TRACK AFTER SCHUMER PUSH DELIVERS MORE THAN $430M FOR CRITICAL REPAIRS; FUNDS NOW IN PLACE TO REPAIR TUNNELS & AVERT DELAYS FOR THOUSANDS OF LONG ISLAND COMMUTERS

Last Year, Schumer Made The Case For Why Tunnels Essential To LI Deserved Millions in Federal Funds To Ensure East River Tunnel Repairs; Warned Lack of Funding Could Cause Significant LIRR Outages and Delays 

Schumer Says The Hundreds of Millions in Sandy Transportation Funds—That LIRR Desperately Needs— Should Get East River Tunnel Work Back On Track, As Well as Avoid Unnecessary East Side Access Disruptions 

Schumer: $432 Million Is Rightfully On Track For Critical LIRR Project; Hundreds of Thousands of LIRR Commuters Can Breathe Sigh of Relief 

Today, U.S Senator Charles E. Schumer announced that, after his efforts making the case for why the East River Tunnel project should be a national priority, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (USDOT) Federal Transit Administration (FTA), will provide $432 million in Sandy relief funds for repairs that can be used for the vital East River Tunnels project, which provides services for the Long Island Rail Road, New Jersey Transit and Amtrak. The tunnel tubes are in desperate need of repairs due to Superstorm Sandy damage, however, a recent U.S. District Court decision to stall Amtrak’s $550 million in Sandy-related insurance payouts have put the much-needed repair work in limbo, which spurred Schumer to step in and push swift federal action. Schumer said a delay would have been unacceptable, even dangerous and would have given hundreds-of-thousands of LIRR and other commuters a giant headache.

"The USDOT and Secretary Foxx have rightfully heeded the call and will inject $432 million into the MTA for critical projects like the Long Island Railroad Tunnel project—and this comes not a moment too soon,” said U.S. Senator Charles Schumer. “This news is a godsend for the hundreds of thousands of Long Island commuters who rely on this service to earn a living, shop, visit loved ones and more. 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.”

Last August, upon learning of the project cash crisis caused by the insurance shortfall, Schumer began working personally with the DOT, the FTA and FEMA to release the necessary Sandy-relief funds to the MTA to cover the shortfall. Schumer also urged the federal agencies to work together to address other outstanding rail and transit needs and insurance shortfalls that might exist for other regional transit agencies. Finally, Schumer helped secure additional regulatory flexibility for agencies like the MTA to give them the ability to prioritize the most critical local projects with the federal mitigation funding they have already received.  

Specifically, Schumer pointed to a pot of just over $800 million dollars in Sandy-relief funds that remained available to the FTA. Schumer has said that these federal funds, as well as other sources of funding through existing FEMA programs, should be used to help offset the cost of repairs that insurance thus far is not covering. Schumer said that these $432 million in funds will help ensure that the East River Tunnel work, which is needed to avoid increasingly long delays and service outages, can occur on schedule, in addition these funds and new flexibility secured by Schumer for the MTA will ensure that the most critical remaining regional recovery projects can move forward as soon as possible. The Schumer secured funding will not only help the LIRR tunnels, it will also help ensure that the East Side Access project can move forward as planned, without undue outages and work stoppages that could have occurred has the East River Tunnel project been delayed because of a lack of funds.  

Superstorm Sandy badly damaged the East River Tunnels with approximately 14 million gallons of floodwaters. According to Amtrak reports, corrosive salts and chlorides from the storm continue to impact the tunnels' underground structures. Over time, delays involving the East River Tunnels have increased. In 2012, the year that Sandy hit, there were 817 LIRR delays. Last year, that number grew to 1,458 incidents and will likely continue to grow in years to come.

In response, Amtrak‎ has planned an aggressive schedule to repair the tunnels and is working in concert with the MTA and their East Side Access project in order to minimize delays and congestion.

However, a decision by U.S. District Court Judge Rakoff to low ball Amtrak's Sandy-related insurance settlement may delay repairs to the East River Tunnel, and, in turn, the East Side Access Project. Specifically, the U.S. District Court ruled a cap on Amtrak's insurance settlement for Sandy damages at $125 million dollars. ‎Schumer said this ruling means that Amtrak is $550 million dollars short in funding needed to repair the East River Tunnels. Schumer added that because the East River Tunnel repairs must be done in concert with the East Side Access project in order to avoid additional delays and outages, the shortfall in funding could delay both major projects and says that is a chance we cannot take.

Schumer said the East River tunnels are a critical part of the transportation system in the New York metro area and now carry close to 300,000 passengers daily. Despite being owned by Amtrak they are a shared regional asset that provides invaluable service to both the railroad and major regional transit agencies. 

Schumer’s original letter to DOT Secretary Foxx and FEMA Administrator Fugate appears below.

Dear Secretary Foxx & Administrator Fugate:

I want to thank both of you for your continued efforts to help the New York and New Jersey region recover from Hurricane Sandy. Through your combined efforts, as well as those of countless others, there are a number of repair, restoration, and resiliency projects currently underway throughout the region. However, the recovery is not yet over and recently some additional damage to infrastructure, specifically in our region's transit and rail systems, has been discovered.

Furthermore, as transit and rail agencies continue to settle with their insurers, they have discovered shortfalls between what is needed to repair critical infrastructure and what the insurance company have been willing to pay out. One of those recently discovered insurance shortfall issues, and perhaps the most critical, is the gap in funding available to repair the East River Tunnels. 

As you know, the East River Tunnels are vital to the New York State and regional economies. They link New York's Penn Station with destinations north and east including Amtrak's service to Boston as well as all of the Long Island Rail Road's (LIRR) service and they provide a vital connection for New Jersey Transit (NJT) trains to access Sunnyside Yards. The tunnels have become a critical part of the transportation system in the New York metro area and now carry close to 300,000 passengers daily. Despite being owned by Amtrak they are a shared regional asset and provide invaluable service to both the railroad and major regional transit agencies. During Hurricane Sandy, two of the four tubes under the East River were badly damaged and are in desperate need of immediate repairs. Amtrak has planned an aggressive schedule to repair these tunnels and has worked with the MTA to ensure that they work is done in concert with the needed work for the East Side Access project in order to minimize delays, congestion, and the impact on commuters. 

Unfortunately, a recent preliminary decision by the U.S. District Court to cap Amtrak's insurance settlement could delay Amtrak's repair plans and subsequently put the project schedules for both East Side Access and the East River Tunnel repairs in jeopardy. Specifically, the District Court's ruling would leave Amtrak roughly $550 million short of the necessary funds for the repair work. This shortfall could cause Amtrak to delay their project for a number of years until the appeal process can be resolved. As result of that delay by Amtrak, the coordinated schedule developed with the MTA for East Side Access work would also need to be delayed. Furthermore, the delay in repairs to the East River tunnels could lead to increasingly frequent service outages and lengthy delays in the tunnels themselves, which could be hugely detrimental to the LIRR, the MTA, and NJT. This is simply unacceptable, both projects –the repair of the East River Tubes and the East Side Access project— are simply too important to Long Island, NYC, New Jersey and all of the New York metro region to be placed into jeopardy. 

Therefore, I urge you to work closely to quickly release the necessary funds to cover Amtrak's shortfall from the unobligated Sandy Relief funds currently being held at FTA as well as from other sources of FEMA storm recovery funds available so that their East River Tunnel repair project and East Side Access can move forward as planned. Following Hurricane Sandy, I worked with my colleagues in Congress to pass the Hurricane Sandy relief bill that included over $60 billion in federal funds to help the New York and New Jersey area recover from this devastating storm. Currently, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) is still holding over $800 million in Hurricane Sandy relief funds that it has said should be used to cover latent damage and insurance shortfalls, such as the one recently incurred by Amtrak. In addition, I understand that FEMA has been in contact with USDOT about additional FEMA resources that could be used to help cover other shortfalls or latent damage that might become evident in the months to come.

Therefore, I urge your two agencies to work closely to ensure that needed funds are made available to help offset Amtrak's insurance shortfall and ensure the East River Tunnel work moves forward as planned. Moreover, if other damage is discovered or insurance shortfalls occur throughout our regional transit and rail system, those issues should also be addressed in a timely manner. By releasing some of these held over Sandy Funds, or where appropriate, other sources of FEMA funds, to Amtrak and their regional transit partners your agencies can 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. 

I appreciate your attention to this issue, should you need any further information please do not hesitate to contact my office. 

Sincerely, 

U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer

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