After Sandy, Just Rebuilding Won't Be Enough

The devastation, disruption and loss of life caused by Superstorm Sandy underscored how vulnerable the region's coastline is to increasingly frequent hurricanes and coastal storms. Our aging infrastructure, already long in need of expansion and modernization, in many places was overwhelmed by the storm's ferocious impact.

As the region has worked to recover, it has become clear that rebuilding things exactly as they were before Sandy makes little sense. That's why the MTA said it might not restore the South Ferry subway station, which was rebuilt in 2009 only to be submerged by the storm, exactly the way it was before. It's also why policy makers are seeking changes to zoning regulations to elevate homes and businesses above flood danger levels and are looking anew at opportunities to acquire and conserve frequently flooded properties. And it has prompted Amtrak to call for improvements to its busy rail system in the Northeast, including the construction of two new tunnels between New Jersey and New York that would be more storm-resilient from the get-go.

How political leaders marshal support for investment will be crucial to getting infrastructure built and repaired. Earlier this month, Mayor Michael Bloomberg unveiled his vision for New York City's future in the wake of the storm, at an event hosted by Regional Plan Association and New York League of Conservation Voters. The mayor, introduced by a surprise guest, former Vice President Al Gore, called for the city's transportation, power and telecommunications networks all need to be hardened against future storms. RPA has been working on many fronts to shape the region's response to Sandy.

RPA President Bob Yaro has been appointed to Governor Andrew Cuomo's 2100 Commission, which is developing recommendations on New York State's infrastructure resiliency needs. We are advocating for federal resources aimed at storm recovery and mitigation. And we are studying the short- and long-term costs and benefits of different resiliency strategies. We anticipate directly bringing this information to communities and state and federal policy makers through a variety of partnerships and forums, including at the RPA Assembly, our annual conference on April 19.

Finally, we will be working directly with communities affected by Sandy. Our work on Jamaica Bay is more vital than ever; the RPA-led Jamaica Bay Greenway Coalition, working with New York City and the National Park Service, is looking at how the shoreline can be improved for habitat, coastal protection and recreational access.

Our goal is not only to create a region that can endure severe weather, but also to improve our infrastructure in ways that foster economic growth and reduce our carbon emissions for future generations.