MTA Considers Flood Gates, Giant Balloons to Protect from Next Superstorm

By Jill Colvin on November 27, 2012 12:52pm | Updated on November 27, 2012 1:10pm

MIDTOWN EAST — The MTA is considering a range of new ways to help shield its transit system from the next superstorm, including subway entrance flood gates and giant balloons that would block water from entering tunnels when inflated.

The city’s subway system sustained unprecedented damage during Hurricane Sandy as transit tunnels were inundated floor-to-ceiling with water, damaging vulnerable signal equipment and leaving lines down for weeks.

To help prevent that from happening again, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is investigating an array of potential ideas, including stair and vent closures, "bladders and/or floodgates," additional pump trains and new protections for signals, elevators and power supplies.

"We're going to have another one of these things," said New York City Transit President Thomas Prendergast after briefing the MTA's transit committee Monday on the Sandy fallout.

"What are the types of things that we can do, an expenditure of our own resources, dollars and staff, to harden the system?" he asked.

For starters, the MTA is considering adding three pump trains to its fleet by using easily-converted older equipment.

"If we could get two or three more trains that were pump trains... then by God we'd do that," he said.

The MTA is also considering the purchase of custom-built covers to improve the way it sandbags entrances and covers vent grading with plywood and sandbags.

"There are ways you can do that better with pre-built, custom-built enclosures," Prendergast said.

He also said the MTA would support the use of "balloon structures," which could be used to close off tunnels ahead of flooding. One such model is currently being tested at West Virginia University, and the MTA is interested in potentially partnering with the school.

"That's something we would look to support," he said.

Prendergast stressed that any major infrastructure investment will require the combined effort of local, state and federal authorities — much like the coalition created after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans.

"There's roles that other stakeholders have to play because the level of magnitude of expenditure is such that they have to do it," he said.

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