2018-07-25 / Front Page

Gov Cuomo Comes To La Guardia Community College, Talks Sandy Repairs

By Thomas Cogan

A few dozen persons gathered at La Guardia Community College on the morning of July 20 to hear Governor Andrew Cuomo talk about the repair and reconstruction of two tunnels flooded in 2012 by Hurricane Sandy.  Even assuming he would be late, they were quite patient when, for nearly an hour, there was no appearance.  Finally the arrival of subordinate political figures was a signal that he was near, especially when two of them, former Commissioner of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority Joseph Lhota and Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, arose to speak about and introduce him, in a manner meant to assure the standing ovation that occurred at just the moment the governor showed his face.

He got to the advertised topic immediately, running a short video graphically describing the catastrophe that happened the evening of October 29, 2012 when, among other events, the East River was churned up by high winds (90 miles per hour) and driven into Long Island City, where it flooded the Queens-Midtown Tunnel; and the North River and the Upper Bay flooded Manhattan and Brooklyn, inundating the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel. The Queens-Midtown had been opened in 1940 and the Brooklyn-Battery a decade later and neither had ever been flooded.

Cuomo was near the end of his second year as New York’s governor when Sandy struck.  Lhota and he told the same anecdote about the night of the storm, from different perspectives, about being on Manhattan’s  Morris Street Bridge, a pedestrian crossing over the point where the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel begins and ends.  Lhota said he went out of his apartment into the wind and rain and made his way to the footbridge.  He was astonished at the volume of water rushing into the tunnel openings and the thunderous roar it made.  In the dark he bumped into somebody and was immediately led to one side by a third person.  It was a security officer guarding the figure he had bumped into—Governor Cuomo.  While sharing amazement about the fury of the storm, both were struck by the fact that, only a week before, the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel had been renamed the Hugh L. Carey Tunnel, in honor of a former Brooklyn congressman and also a state governor, the immediate predecessor of Andrew’s father, Governor Mario Cuomo.

One of the governor’s first problems after Sandy moved on and gradually expired was to pump out those tunnels and make them ready for traffic again.  He told the La Guardia audience that the Army Corps of Engineers was consulted but said the corps had no experience doing it.  It was up to the Metropolitan Transit Authority engineers to purchase huge pumps and do the job themselves.  It took them about a week to complete it, and Cuomo called it “a phenomenal undertaking.”  He added that the public attitude might have been one of admiration but was primarily a concern for when it would be finished, because people had to get to work.

What followed was reconstruction of the two tunnels, even as they were being used.  The Carey Tunnel, the longest of the city’s four, took longer to redo than the Queens-Midtown but both were done in a little over three years.  Part of their reconstruction was installation of cashless toll systems.  At the same time,  bridges around town were also being equipped with cashless, which eliminated toll plazas. 

The governor found the technology awesome.  Cashless tolling cameras can do an extensive security check of each car coming through and report results to nearby police, he said, adding that “tolls are only a small part” of the technology.  Facial and ear recognition technology (the latter for those who might see a camera and turn away from it) will soon be common.  He said the security picture is amazing and is being developed competitively worldwide. 

That moved him to denounce America’s lassitude in developing many technical innovations, thus leaving us with outdated and generally inferior technology.  The state of our infrastructure is so dilapidated it is frightening, he said.  Nature’s force majeure caused the two tunnels to be brought up to date (and the old Morris Street Bridge to be replaced with a new one), but bridges, tunnels, highways, railroads and airports across the country are deteriorating.

 He made exception for the airports in Queens.  La Guardia Airport, far from being “third world” any longer is, because of the extensive rebuilding he celebrated at a press conference there last August, on the verge of being the most modern airport in America, with the redeveloped Kennedy Airport coming in second.  And at last, he said, there will soon be a train between Manhattan and La Guardia, Airport, though how soon is unknown just now.

He concluded by saying that the current generation inherited a great city from earlier generations and it is its duty to hand a continually great city to succeeding ones.



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