When you're one of the estimated 5.3 million people that ride the New York City area subway system every day, what do you do when its under water (literally) and out of service? If you have one, you jump in the car or on your scooter or motorcycle, right?
That's exactly what thousands did today, and it caused a huge problem as the unusually high number of vehicles jammed roadways, some of which were still closed and/or covered with some kind of debris. The result: a traffic jam to end all traffic jams.
In a press briefing this afternoon, Mayor Michael Bloomberg ordered that, effective tomorrow, only "high occupancy" vehicles will be allowed into Manhattan during the hours of 6 a.m. to Midnight. This order will last through Friday, at least as of now. A "high occupancy vehicle" is defined as one that contains 3 or more people.
This announcement will undoubtedly add frustration for those already unable to get to and from work and other necessary destinations. Bloomberg tried to make clear that this is a necessary evil until the crippled subway system can be put back into service. As he put it "the roadways were designed to handle only so much traffic..."
Exactly when the mass transit system will be completely up and running again remains to be seen. Officials seem to be trying to put a positive "spin" on the situation, which could be expected I suppose, but the ugly truth of the matter is that we're most likely a long way from seeing the subway system fully operational again.
Seven major subway tunnels under the East river remain flooded, most of them in Lower Manhattan (see New York Times map below):
City and contracted crews are trying their best to pump hundreds of thousands of gallons of water out of the system so that engineers and inspectors can get inside and inspect the extent of the damage.
The fear is that critical equipment was either heavily damaged or destroyed by corrosive salt water that flowed into the system on Monday evening. We won't know how long repairs will take until the water is pumped out and the inspections are complete.
To further complicate matters, some other elements are beyond the control of the city at this point, such as just when electrical power (which supplies energy to the subway system as well as its lights, signals, etc.) will be fully restored as well.
The city also points out that it's not like one segment of the subway can be reopened as soon as its fixed. It depends on how that segment interacts with other segments along the routes. This complication is kind of like one key airport being shut down during a snow storm. That affect "snowballs", resulting in delays and/or cancellations across the remainder of the system.
The economic impact on not only the city but the region and the entire country is huge. Every hour that companies are down because they have no staff or are under staffed potentially costs millions of dollars in productivity and sales. A study performed last year by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority concluded that a flood very similar to the one that occurred on Monday night would result in $10 billion in direct damages to the transportation system, and $40 billion in economic losses due to lost productivity and sales.
Clearly, there are two key elements to getting New York City back on its feet at this point: (1). getting the power back on and (2). getting the subways running again. You can bet that officials are working double and triple time to get this done as soon as possible. The stakes are simply too high not to.
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