NEW YORK, New York, May 16, 2017 (ENS) - New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority, North America's largest transportation network, is urgently preparing for the effects of climate change on its aging infrastructure, some of it built more than 110 years ago.
Today the city's reliance on its underground rapid transit system, the subway, is greater than ever, while NYC Transit buses account for 80 percent of the city's surface mass transportation, which covers low-lying coastal areas vulnerable to floods and storm surges.
The MTA's trains and buses serve some 15.3 million people in the 5,000-square-mile area fanning out from New York City through Long Island, southeastern New York State, and Connecticut.
Annual ridership is 2.42 billion, while the passenger count on an average weekday amounts to 7.76 million.
That's a lot of people who rely on MTA's 24 subway lines and 233 bus routes; and most of these transportation assets are at risk as the planet heats up.
These risks are detailed in the MTA's first annual Climate Adaptation Task Force Resiliency Report. Just released, it focuses on how MTA’s public transit system is preparing for sea level rise, storm surges and other climate-related dangers in this densely populated coastal region.
“For the MTA, climate change is not only an urgent reality, it is a reality to which all six MTA agencies are already devoting extensive financial, planning, and engineering resources. There is no responsible alternative. The science of climate change is well established,” states the report.
MTA workers are rebuilding electrical facilities at higher elevations to avoid future flood damage, installing permanent flood barriers, and replacing substations above 500-year flood elevations. Signal, power and communications equipment is being elevated above flood levels or hardened in place with flood-resistant materials and techniques.
The report projects that sea levels will rise between eight and 30 inches (.2 to .7 meters) in the New York City region by the 2050s, putting a vast amount of MTA’s assets - those at grade level or underground - at risk of flooding and damage.
This estimate is based on sources such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority and the New York City Panel on Climate Change.
The MTA Resiliency Report is the first annual update from the MTA’s Climate Adaptation Task Force. Formed after Superstorm Sandy in 2012, the Task Force meets regularly with MTA agency staff and experts from outside organizations.
The report offers a view of the MTA’s efforts to prepare for climate change and extreme weather emergencies it brings – efforts such as the fortification of tunnels with moving marine doors, the use of portable flood walls that can be moved to critical areas as needed, and the permanent elevation of flood-exposed signal, power and communications equipment.
Superstorm Sandy's storm surge hit New York City on October 29, 2012, flooding streets, tunnels and subway lines and cutting power in and around the city. Since most MTA rail services are electrically powered on fixed lines and run underground and under riverbeds, they are susceptible to power outages and tunnel flooding.
Harvard geologist Daniel Schrag has called Sandy's 13-foot (four meter) storm surge an example of what will, by mid-century, be the "new norm on the Eastern seaboard."
Sea level at New York and along the New Jersey coast has increased by nearly a foot over the last hundred years, which contributed to this storm surge.
Rising average temperatures and extreme temperature events will have "a significant impact on MTA infrastructure and operations," warns the report.
Average temperatures in the MTA travel region are projected to rise between 3.1°F to 6.6°F (1.7°C to 3.6°C) by the 2050s. Higher average temperatures and more frequent heat waves could disrupt MTA operations with heat-related blackouts or brownouts.
Higher temperatures can cause over-heated switch gears, plus expansion and buckling of steel rails. The increased stress on air conditioning systems in vehicles, stations, and operational facilities can result in service disruptions; air conditioning outages can trigger medical risks to passengers and workers.
The MTA is trying to forestall these risks to continue providing cleaner transportation choices for its passengers.
“Every day is Earth Day at the MTA,” said Ronnie Hakim, MTA interim executive director. “Mass transit is the original ridesharing. We remove some three million drivers from the roads each day and every person that rides a train or a bus is adding five times less greenhouse gas emissions to the environment than someone driving a car."
MTA customers help the environment when they take public transportation because taking mass transit means three million fewer drivers on the roads each day, he said.
Riding a bus or train emits five times less carbon emissions into the atmosphere than driving a car. Public transit reduces traffic congestion, vehicle operating costs and costs associated with traffic accidents.
"Simply riding mass transit is a major contribution to the environment," says Hakim, "and every MTA customer should be proud of their role in saving the planet and our future."
Read the Climate Adaptation Task Force Resiliency Report at: http://web.mta.info/sustainability/pdf/ResiliencyReport.pdf
PHOTO: New York City police and MTA workers help commuters get to work in the confusing aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, November 2012. (Photo courtesy MTA)