Flash floods, other recent inclement weather highlight vulnerability of New York’s infrastructure

NEW YORK – Flash flood watch in effect through mid-morning Tuesday comes four days after flash floods inundated some Upper Manhattan and Bronx subway stations, and delayed traffic in the city and north of Jersey for hours.

Current flash flood monitoring also comes three days after Tropical Storm Elsa was added to the precipitation totals. The combination of conditions and their effects highlights how bad weather affects infrastructure.

Last Thursday night’s downpour of rain dropped about a month in an hour. The storm sewers surrounding the stations, including the 157th Street location, just couldn’t keep up with the volume, in large part because those sewers were clogged with trash people had thrown away.

However, that doesn’t explain why the station’s stairwell landings, which are lower than the platform, were flooded, leaving some passengers in chest-high water.

The MTA operates the metro stations and is responsible for maintaining the stairwells.
Its acting senior vice president for subways, Demetrius Crichlow, said the transport company was prepared for hazardous weather events, as well as regular operations.

“We pump about 14 million gallons of water every day” from tube stations, Crichlow said in an interview.

He said the flooding at the metro station last Thursday could not be avoided.

“I think the challenge with a flash flood,” said Crichlow, is “it can happen anywhere, anytime”.

He added that the MTA has well-developed plans in place, along with other measures to come, to protect the metro, commuter trains and buses in the event of catastrophic weather conditions.

“For a hurricane,” he said, “we would prepare to shut down” the whole system.

However, Klaus Jacob, a geophysicist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Laboratories who specializes in how climate change affects infrastructure, said infrastructure issues need to be viewed from a very long-term perspective.

The reason for the long-term view, he said, is climate change.

“Dressing corrections, [like] raising the entrances on the subways, and so on, “Jacob said,” just won’t do it. ”

He said he foresees that our region and our country will have to make massive investments in the decades to come.

“We will really see an exponential increase in the cost of climate change,” said Jacob. “We will really have to start seriously withdrawing from the low-lying areas. “

He said he predicted that hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers would have to move away from an increasingly submarine coastline, and that millions of people across the country would have to move away from coastal waters in the during the decades of this century.

In the meantime, New York is in the process of implementing congestion pricing to pay for certain transportation improvements. However, at 157th Street station, which has seen some of the worst flooding in recent times, some passengers, like Carolyn Shalah, who was on the platform waiting for a downtown No.1 train, are skeptical.

“I am convinced that we have the capacity to solve this problem,” she said. “I am not convinced the city will use the budget to do this. ”

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