Hurricane Sandy’s massively damaged the infrastructure in NY, NJ, NC, CT and RI. Rapid repair of roads, bridges, water and sewer systems will reduce net costs.
The images from Hurricane Sandy’s wrath in northeastern U.S. states include many of streets inundated with water as well as beachfront highways completely destroyed by storm surges. The loss of life, with nearly 100 storm-related deaths reported and the full tally not yet known (as of 11/2/12), as well as human suffering amongst family and communities where entire neighborhoods were destroyed, is of course of utmost concern. But in the clean up, we can expect to see many streets, roads and highways that are rendered unpassable and consequently will need to be rebuilt.
Within the days following the hurricane, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced it is releasing $29 million in emergency funds to repair roads. This money is divided according to assessed need per state: New York and New Jersey receive the largest amounts, $10 million each, while $4 million goes to North Carolina, $3 million to Rhode Island, and $2 million to Connecticut.
“These emergency relief funds represent only the start of our commitment to the region’s recovery,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “We need to do all we can to help communities get their transportation systems up and running.”
Reports from the local media in affected areas provides a closer look at where some of these dollars will be needed most:
Long Beach Island, New Jersey – The Star-Ledger’s nj.com surveyed destruction in this vacation destination, noting “some roads in waist-high sand after the storm surge completely pushed over the barrier island to the bay side. Hundreds of beach houses there are designed to allow the first floor to break away in such a surge, which left the top half of those houses still standing on stilts. Bulldozers have been recruited to clear the sand from those highways and streets.
Rodanthe, North Carolina – The Charlotte News-Observer ran dramatic photos of North Carolina Highway 12 (NC-12), a state highway and popular tourist route that traverses the shoreline of the northeastern part of the state, which show the asphalt road practically slipping into the sea. Large, long cracks suggest the sandy foundation of the road was undermined by strong storm surges.
New York State – EmpireStateNews.net reports that state comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli is projecting a net cost of $18 billion to rebuilding New York State infrastructure, including highways, power, water and sewer systems. DiNapoli bases these numbers on previous natural disasters and cautions this may be an underestimation. The news website adds, “Rapid remediation would reduce damage from the corrosive effects of water, pollutants and other factors,” to which DiNapoli responds, “The sooner we get contractors on the ground to assist residents and business owners, the faster New York will be back on its feet.”
The presence of so much moisture just before winter weather sets in suggests additional problems for pavement quality. Water, asphalt cracks and freeze-thaw cycles generally result in potholes and other forms of road deterioration. This might be exaggerated where the subsoil has shifted due to extreme flooding. Coastal areas, for obvious reasons, are likely to be the most affected.
The $29 million in federal funds are not likely to be the total. The New York Times reports that the federal government ultimately paid out $120 billion in the aftermath of hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005 for all emergency and long-term losses and infrastructure repairs.