HOBOKEN, N.J. – Once a gleaming symbol of early 20th-century ambition and prosperity, Hoboken’s grand rail terminal now sits as a somber reminder of the daunting challenges facing mass transit in the New York region.
Eight years ago Thursday, Superstorm Sandy pushed the Hudson River over its banks, sending 8 feet of water onto underground tracks and leaving the main waiting room unusable for months.
Today, seating in the ornate, Greek Revival-inspired room is again prohibited, this time by concerns over the new coronavirus.
The storm is a dimming memory for many, pushed aside now by more pressing concerns brought on by the pandemic. Yet some repairs still aren’t completed. Billions of dollars in projects to protect transit infrastructure from future flooding are unfinished, as transit agencies face the parallel challenge of continuing to operate amid gaping budget holes caused by the pandemic.
It’s a heavy burden for a region where millions of people rely on public transit systems that have been buffeted by multiple major crises: the Sept. 11 terror attacks, Sandy and now COVID-19.
“It seems like at least once a decade, you’re going to get something that has a major impact on the transportation network,” said New Jersey Transit President and CEO Kevin Corbett, who previously headed the development corporation that oversaw the rebuilding of lower Manhattan after Sept. 11.
The recovery from Sandy has been lengthy for a number of reasons. Some projects lack needed federal funds, while others had money available but were delayed by internal conflicts and inefficiency. The sheer scope of Sandy’s damage and the havoc it visited on aging tunnels and other infrastructure also created delays.
“Just getting through the permitting processes, the bureaucracy, the change of administration; all these things add up. And infrastructure is just complicated to build," said Rob Freudenberg, vice president of energy and environment at the Regional Plan Association, an urban planning think tank. "So even something as urgent as getting our infrastructure back up or better prepared for a catastrophic storm like Sandy, has taken this long.”