Planes Trains & Automobiles
Governor Cuomo came to the mouth of the Hugh Carey Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel less than an hour ago with U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and MTA chief Joe Lhota to announce that one tube of the formerly flooded tunnel would be opening to traffic at 4 o’clock today. Within minutes of his entourage departing, the cars did indeed begin flowing in. Town cars, Range Rovers, some foreign and domestic sedans, at least two Cadillacs and, of course, numerous cabs.
It was a regular stream of New York City wheels. And as so often happens when such vehicles tend to cluster, there was a back-up. Yes, traffic. Perhaps life is getting back to normal.
“In many ways, for me, this site a metaphor for the entire storm,” Governor Cuomo said, from the awesome power of Mother Nature that first hit the city during Hurricane Sandy to the awesome rebuilding effort the MTA and others undertook.
When Hurricane Sandy came ashore, it fell to the city’s leaders and the thousands of workers at their command to secure our coasts, to rescue those trapped by water and without power, to help the city rebuild. The Observer spent Monday and Tuesday talking with New York’s top public officials about Hurricane Sandy. These are their experiences in their own words.
Joe Lhota, chairman and CEO, Metropolitan Transportation Authority: I have an app on my iPad that monitors hurricanes on the East Coast. I have always lived on the water. I always watch the app. So when I first got involved in this—it was long before it even hit Jamaica—I knew when it started as a tropical storm, and a hurricane, and a tropical storm, and then a hurricane again.
Joe Bruno, commissioner, NYC Office of Emergency Management: We follow the weather very closely this time of year as it comes off the tip of Africa, or wherever it develops. This particular storm came out of the southwest of the Caribbean. At 11 a.m. on October 22, we saw a tropical depression. At that point it’s just a depression, and you don’t know much about it. By 6 p.m., it was upgraded already to a tropical storm called Sandy. It continued to strengthen during the next day, and we kept track of it as it moved across Jamaica.
The great thing about living in New York used to be that you didn’t have to give a damn about the natural world.
Sadly, those days seem to be gone. Even in my neighborhood, which was lucky enough to be high and relatively dry, things began to resemble a zombie movie by last Wednesday. With nowhere to go and nothing to do, hordes of Upper West Siders staggered about the sidewalks, searching for brunch instead of brains: “Rrrrrr … smoked fish … rrr … hollandaise!”
Now, it seems, we’re all ready to give ourselves a big pat on the back for how we weathered the storm.
The Neverending Story
After the Hudson flooded into the World Trade Center during Hurricane Sandy, it was remarkable that the site had been pumped out and work had resumed within days rather than weeks. Now, construction has recommenced in earnest, as some 750 construction workers returned to the site to finish the work of building 1 World Trade Center, the Vehicle Screening Center, the PATH station and other pieces of the 16-acre site.
Governor Cuomo announced the return of workers earlier today, as well as the fact that 95 percent of the World Trade Center site was now dry. Damage to the site, and the storms impact to the construction time table, is still being assessed. The resumption of work means cranes are in operation yet again on the site.
Make No Small Plans
New York has a history of governors who were master builders, Rockefeller, Smith, Carey, Pataki and both Roosevelts among them. Add Andrew Cuomo to that list. While Mayor Bloomberg has so far refused to consider building new infrastructure to help protect New York City from future natural disasters, Gov. Cuomo strongly declared last night that it is his intention to do so.
“I think we have to look at the bigger things,” he said at a press briefing yesterday evening. The Observer had asked if he was leaning toward small fixes, like new MTA vents to keep out rainwater, or more grandiose plans, like building locks and storm gates in the harbor (a practice that is popular in Europe). The governor clearly fell into the latter camp, and much of the reason seems to be because he fears this is only the beginning of problems from these natural disasters. After all, he has spent his first two years in office cleaning up after two hurricanes.
“I do not believe these extreme weather patterns are going to end; I do not believe, anymore, that this is once in a lifetime, once in a hundred years, once in a generation or just a fluke,” the governor said. “It’s happening more and more, with more and more frequency. This is just statistics and probability. You look at the number of devastating floods, the number of devastating fires, the number of extreme weather patterns is going up. That is a fact. That is a fact.”
The Great Flood
Standing at the mouth of the Hugh L. Carey/Brooklyn Batter Tunnel in Lower Manhattan earlier this afternoon, following a tour of the flooding within, Governor Andrew Cuomo gave yet another one of his rousing speeches on the trials of New York under pressures, particularly how it is that the physical infrastructure that makes this city tick can also bring it to its knees if a disaster occurs.
But before we get to that, what exactly is the status of the tunnel, one of the city’s busiest, with a daily traffic of some 50,000 vehicles? MTA Chairman and CEO Joe Lhota began by relating of the story he told earlier this week, of meeting the governor at the mouth of the tunnel by happenstance on Monday night, where they took in the hellish scene.
Governor Cuomo just announced that the Holland Tunnel and the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel will be closed at 2 p.m. today because they would be the most prone to flooding. There was no mention of the Lincoln Tunnel, which presumably will remain open and could be the one life-line for Manhattan as the bridges will also close should wind speeds surpass 60 miles per hour. Earlier today, a wind speed of 51 miles per hour.
on the waterfront
It was not all somber speeches at the ribbon cutting for Four Freedoms Park yesterday.
Naturally, this was an event honoring one the nation’s greatest presidents, so there was bound to be some politics in the mix, not just quaint platitudes about FDR and recastings of the Four Freedoms speech as each speaker tried to rhetorically show up the others. What The Observer was not counting on was what sounded like a full-on stump speech for President Obama at the end of Bill Clinton’s remarks from the dais in the park at the tip of Roosevelt Island. He did everything but call out the president by name:
on the waterfront
It took 40 years, some 14,600 days, between the creation of Roosevelt Island to the ribbon cutting today for Four Freedoms Park, a memorial to the 32nd president at the island’s southern tip. Today was the greatest of all those days, not simply because Louis Kahn’s dramatic, elemental vision for the park had finally been realized, but also it was a beautiful day, one full of promise, just like the memorial itself.
The bright blue sky, the beaming sun, the crisp fall air, the weather truly was suited to this place. Mayor Bloomberg joked with Governor Cuomo before the ceremony began that he had sent all the rainy weather that had been expected upstate, to which the governor responded that was fine, he would just bottle the water and sell it back to us.
But beyond the levity of friends, families and dignitaries, beyond the excitement of one of New York’s longest-suffering projects being realized, there was an twinge of trauma. The weight of history hung heavily on this place. Seasoned politicos and power brokers jammed the folding seats arrayed on Kahn’s sloping emerald lawn. They were all too well aware of the challenges facing the nation, in many ways as great as when Franklin Roosevelt invoked his Four Freedoms almost seven decades ago.
The Neverending Story
It is one of those September 11 bright clear mornings today. Perhaps the sun is shining a little bit brighter because after nearly a year of delays, construction is set to resume at the 9/11 Museum at ground zero.
The museum was supposed to have opened today, a year after the memorial plaza on which it sits finally opened to the public, but a dispute over who owed whom millions of dollars in unpaid construction costs halted construction last fall, and the site has sat dormant ever since. For a time it looked like nothing would happen as pressure mounted going into the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, but an agreement was reached this weekend between Governor Andrew Cuomo, who shares control of the Port Authority, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who oversees the 9/11 Memorial Foundation.