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By Angela Cotey, Associate Editor
It has been nine months since Hurricane Sandy struck New York and New Jersey, and while transit service is nearly back to normal, it will take many more years and many billions of dollars for transit agencies to fully recover — and, perhaps more important, ensure they can withstand future storms. To help manage the task, MTA New York City Transit (NYCT) officials created the Sandy Recovery and Resiliency Division in March, once federal dollars were allocated to the agency for hurricane relief. The division is headed by John O'Grady, NYCT's program officer for infrastructure and facilities, but representatives from various other NYCT departments have been assigned to the division, too. The team includes program managers, design and construction managers, and support staff dedicated to the hurricane recovery effort. About 15 people were part of the division when it launched; now, that number has risen to about 100, says O'Grady. "That number will continue to grow, because the needs post-Sandy are very substantial," he says. In the months since the division was formed, NYCT has launched a "massive design program" for projects that would help protect vulnerable parts of the system from future storms, O'Grady says. The Coney Island, 207th Street and 148th Street yards all are low-lying properties that could be subject to flooding again if another Sandy-caliber storm hit. Under-river tunnels need to be protected, too; nine tunnels flooded during Sandy, and NYCT is analyzing flood-mitigation measures for them.The hurricane division also has identified seven downtown stations and 14 vent plants that are susceptible to flooding."They each have multiple entry points where water can flood — staircases, vent grates, elevator openings, emergency exits, equipment hatches, manholes that connect to the station," says O'Grady. "We're looking at every single entry point possible and developing a technique to harden those locations."Options include submarine and watertight doors, waterproof manhole covers, inflatable tubes that can be used to create a dam and horizontal staircase covers. "We will try multiple techniques at all locations, with the intention of using the best technique for each particular entry point," says O'Grady. "This is a massive transit system and every location has a different challenge. There's nothing cookie cutter about this."While the division's program managers seek ways to protect infrastructure and facilities from future storms, they'll also oversee efforts to restore areas of the system heavily damaged from Sandy, namely the under-river tunnels. "The Montague Tubes will be our first major under-river work," says O'Grady. "While we've done all our emergency restoration from Sandy, we have not done permanent restoration."O'Grady does not yet have a timeline for the work that needs to be completed, but says the agency will have to complete projects line by line to reduce service impacts, which will add a time element. In the meantime, the 2013 hurricane season has begun, and NYCT officials are crossing their fingers that Mother Nature doesn't deal the region another blow."This is territory I didn't think we'd ever have to go through," says O'Grady.