Protective Measures for NYC Infrastructure

Leader: George Deodatis
Thursday, March 8, 10:00am – 11:30am

About the Readings

NYSERDA ClimAID Chapter 9
Pages 323-354; 352-354

This case study focuses on the impacts and geographic reach of a 100-year Base Flood as a function of sea level rise on the transportation infrastructure of the New York Metropolitan Region. A 2-foot rise in sea level with a 100-year flood is expected to have significant impacts along the Brooklyn and Queens shorelines, around Jamaica Bay, and on the Rockaway Peninsula. The combination of sea level rise and coastal storm surges is expected to limit the flow of vehicular and pedestrian traffic, parking patterns, and many of the MTA-NYCT bus routes. It can also slow access of first responders and emergency vehicles. Without investment in protective measures costs associated with transportation risks will increase and may reach an annual average of $1 million. Long-term Sustainable Strategies (from now to beyond 100 years) can be combined with the short and medium-term strategies and require comprehensive plans with time-dependent decision paths and “exit strategies.”

Discussion Summary

Current State of Infrastructure
There are numerous agencies in charge of different parts of NYC infrastructure. The MTA is in charge of some of the tunnels in NYC, but some authority lies with Amtrak, Port Authority, and both New York City and State. There are probably a dozen different agencies dealing with different parts of the transportation infrastructure in NYC, but no coordinating agency. Overall, any subway discussion is very political. Whenever there is friction between state and city, things don’t work with the subway.

Following Hurricane Sandy, the MTA decided to protect the subway system. There were $1B in observed damages from Sandy. The MTA developed a major program to cover every opening in the system predicted to be flooded from the study (4,000 openings). This system is now almost complete, but it doesn’t work in isolation. There is need for redundant measures. They have been successful in moving trains to higher ground in every event so far, but forecasts can change quickly. MTA is currently protecting areas that were hit hard during Sandy, but the next disaster may hit in very different areas.

Moving Forward
The New York metropolitan area needs a comprehensive plan, similar to those implemented in the Netherlands, that considers the entire geographic area, along with Long Island and New Jersey. This needs to happen at a federal level (or some other high level), with conversations still happening between city and state.

In many areas, sooner or later, people will have to move to higher ground. These may be places where there is continual damage on a yearly basis, even from nor’easters, in the same communities. Going back and repairing does not make sense from a cost-benefit analysis perspective. As an alternative to telling communities that they need to move, one approach could be to tell them that they do not qualify for disaster response because of their vulnerable location.

Questions for Consideration

  • Should adaptation decision-making be left to individual agencies, to communities, or someone else?
  • At what level should planning occur? And how can we plan ahead as opposed to in an ad hoc manner?
  • Is there another umbrella organization, non-federal, that could be responsible for this?
  • Are there other models, like the Netherlands, that we can look towards?

Click here for a full summary of the discussion