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Transit Advocates to Seek Supplemental Appropriation for Storm Repair

Public transit advocates say they will press Congress to pass a supplemental appropriations bill that includes emergency funding for the Federal Transit Administration, with the aim of pushing out funds to rebuild transit systems damaged by Hurricane Sandy.

The surface transportation authorization (PL 112-141) enacted in July established a new emergency relief authority for the Transportation Department’s Federal Transit Administration to help public transit agencies recover more quickly from disasters, such as the storm that affected some 60 million people this week. The New York City region was particularly hard-hit, with its public transit systems paralyzed by the storm.

While the highway law authorized funding for the emergency relief fund, the six-month appropriations resolution (PL 112-175) did not provide the money. That’s because the continuing resolution extends appropriations for fiscal 2012, before the new relief fund was created.

“There was language provided in [the authorization law],” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told reporters on Wednesday, referring to the new highway law. “But there was no money.”

Brian Tynan, director of government relations for the American Public Transportation Association, said that because the new highway law allows the program to be funded with “sums that may be necessary,” Congress should have flexibility to move emergency funding for public transit agencies.

“The fact that we have a program now where we didn’t have one before is a very significant accomplishment,” Tynan said. “We intend to work with the administration and Congress to get the funds that we need.”

Funds available through the Federal Emergency Management Agency can be used to help transit systems restore service, but the new Federal Transit Administration relief authority was created to help expedite that process. For now, LaHood said the Federal Transit Administration is focused on helping connect public transit systems with help through FEMA, which has been the case in the past.

“We’re encouraging folks to work with FEMA and through FEMA,” LaHood said. He said the transit administration will work to bring replacement rail cars, buses and other equipment to help restore services in the nation’s most transit-dependent metropolitan area.

Much of the New York subway system has been crippled by the storm, as has NJ Transit, which operates the nation’s most extensive commuter rail system, along with bus, subway and light rail lines, and the Long Island Railroad. Intercity rail service also has been affected, with Amtrak Northeast Corridor service shut down between Newark, N.J., and Boston.

It will take days to restore service and possibly weeks to reopen some of the most damaged and flooded lines.

Early overall independent estimates of storm damage are in the $20 billion range, although specific estimates for rebuilding transit networks have not yet been compiled.

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