By Keith Laing
“As has been noted by others, federal aid has always been available to communities where natural disasters occurred,” APTA President Michael Melaniphy said. “The time to act is now. The public transit systems in the Northeast that were severely impacted by Hurricane Sandy need emergency federal funds to address the unprecedented destruction in their transit systems.”
Public transit systems in cities like Washington, D.C., Boston, Philadelphia and New York City shut down in advance of Hurricane Sandy, as did commuter railways and Amtrak on its popular northeast routes. New York City's expansive subway system and New Jersey's commuter rail system sustained heavy damage during the storm, shutting down rail lines for multiple days while other cities were able to reopen more quickly.
The Obama administration had originally requested $60 billion for Sandy relief, with approximately $12 billion going toward public transportation.
APTA called Wednesday for the House to approve an amendment from Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) that would increase the amount of relief funding for public transportation systems in the House version of the Sandy bill from $5.4 billion to $10.9 billion.
“It is vitally important that Congress vote for the Frelinghuysen amendment,” Melaniphy said. “The New York and New Jersey region is the top economic area in our country. The millions of people in this region who depend on public transportation deserve the same assistance that other areas of the country have received when natural disasters have occurred.”
The relief funding for Hurricane Sandy has exposed geographic divisions among the House Republican caucus. GOP House members from southern and western states opposed an initial round of Sandy relief funding in a vote recently, arguing that additional federal spending should be offset by spending cuts.
The rationale for opposition to Sandy relief came under fire quickly from members of their own party. Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) promised not to support Republican leadership in future votes, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie took House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to task in a widely watched news conference.
Melaniphy said Wednesday that it was important for the House to overcome any intra-party squabbles and past the Sandy recovery funding.
“The damage incurred by Hurricane Sandy was devastating," Melaniphy said. "The cost of bringing systems to their pre-storm condition cannot be achieved by the public transit agencies and local governments alone. Congress needs to make this legislation a top priority.”