Federal Transit Administration (FTA) Emergency Relief Program: Sandy Disaster Aid Resilience Projects

In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) allocated $4.3 billion of its disaster recovery money specifically for projects in the Sandy-impacted areas that increase the resilience of public transportation systems and facilities to future disasters and the impacts of climate change. Funding for resilience projects was allocated in separate tiers. First, for “locally-prioritized projects,” which include resilience improvements made in conjunction with other recovery and rebuilding projects or lower cost stand-alone projects that could be implemented quickly. Second, for competitive resilience projects, which include capital projects intended to reduce the risk of damage to public transportation systems caused by natural disasters. To help ensure the cost effectiveness of recovery and resiliency efforts, FTA established evaluation criteria to use in selecting competitive resilience projects.

In December 2013, FTA announced approximately $3 billion to be awarded competitively for capital projects designed to increase the resilience of public transportation systems, particularly focusing on increasing resilience of existing assets before adding system redundancies. In November 2014, FTA allocated a total of nearly $3.6 billion in funding to 9 applicants for 40 resilience projects, which were selected from a total of 61 eligible project proposals received from 10 applicants. Approximately 90% of the funds will invest in projects primarily in New York and New Jersey, such as:

  • Creating NJ TransitGrid, a natural gas and solar power generation and distribution system to serve as a backup to allow transit systems to function in the event of a blackout (NJ TRANSIT);
  • Flood-proofing major above ground PATH system facilities and equipment to protect underground assets, and constructing an automated flood barrier at the PATH system maintenance facility (Port Authority of New York and New Jersey);
  • Adding flood protections for New York City Transit substations, street-level openings, and support facilities (New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority); and
  • Acquiring more resilient ferry vessels, upgrading ferry landings, and flood-proofing ferry terminals (NYC Department of Transportation).

The remaining funds were allocated for projects in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Nashua, NH, Pennsylvania, and Washington, DC, including:  

  • Replacing a critical bridge for rail services in the Northeast Corridor that is vulnerable to storm surges (Connecticut Department of Transportation);
  • Raising a retaining wall and installing watertight barriers to reduce flooding at MBTA’s Green Line Fenway Portal (Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority);
  • Installing an interface to allow central use of an existing backup mobile power source in the event of power outage caused by a disaster (City of Nashua);
  • Stabilizing slopes of commuter railroad embankments to reduce risk of failure after severe rainfall (Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority); and
  • Raising vent covers above subway systems and installing other drainage improvements throughout the system (Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority).

To be eligible for funding, these competitive resilience projects were evaluated according to criteria detailed in the December 2013 notice. They were required to be designed to withstand impacts at a minimum of 1 foot above the best available FEMA base flood elevations, or higher if required by state or local regulations. FTA also recommended using higher standards when warranted by local conditions and projections indicating higher risk. Project applications that met minimum eligibility requirements were evaluated according to several additional factors:

  • Hazard mitigation cost effectiveness: quantitative and qualitative analysis of the project’s cost effectiveness at reducing vulnerabilities of a particular asset and the public transportation system as a whole to future disasters, including comparison to the no-build baseline; 
  • Project implementation strategy: timeline for implementation of project milestones, including any critical dependencies such as permit approvals or match funding; 
  • Protection of most essential and vulnerable infrastructure: significance of the transportation asset(s) to be protected, its immediate vulnerabilities to future damages from severe storms, and how protecting the asset(s) will help maintain functionality of the system as a whole in the face of disasters; 
  • Local and regional planning collaboration and coordination: documentation of local and regional collaboration and coordination efforts (such as with Hurricane Sandy recovery plans, local governments, MPOs, other transportation operators, the public and representatives of vulnerable communities) and connectivity with other public transportation systems; 
  • Interdependency of the public transportation resilience project: any interdependencies of the project with other supporting infrastructure elements; 
  • Local financial commitment: viability of budget and financing proposal, including stability and sufficiency of capital and operating funds (applicants are required to provide a 25% matching cost share); 
  • Technical capacity: demonstrated ability to undertake the project, considering scope or scale; and 
  • Other factors such as geographic diversity of projects.

To complete the analysis of cost effectiveness, FTA required that project applicants provide information about:

  • the transportation asset(s) to be protected (if not system-wide);
  • the lifetime of the project and the current existing asset(s);
  • the likely hazards and impacts to the asset(s) during its lifetime;
  • the estimated cost to repair after a disaster; anticipated societal impacts due to loss of the asset(s);
  • the expected reduction in losses after a disaster if the project is implemented; and the total cost of the project over its lifetime.  

FTA recommended using its Hazard Mitigation Cost Effectiveness tool (an Excel-based tool for estimating the recurrence interval of certain flood elevations, including adjustments for sea-level rise) or a similar cost-benefit analysis process to explain choices made that satisfy certain evaluation criteria, such as “Protection of Most Vulnerable and Essential Infrastructure.”

Prior to the notice announcing funding for competitive resilience projects, FTA also allocated funding in May 2013 for “locally prioritized” resilience projects, smaller projects that could be quickly implemented or undertaken in coordination with other restoration and recovery efforts. In this allocation, FTA granted $1.3 billion to four major agencies in the Sandy-affected regions of New York and New Jersey: the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), the New York City Department of Transportation (NYCDOT), the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ), and New Jersey Transit (NJ Transit). FTA did not establish formal evaluation criteria, as these funds were non-competitive, but instead included recommendations to help inform priorities and strategies for these locally prioritized resilience projects. Grantees were encouraged to consult damage assessments from past disasters, hazard vulnerability assessments (such as FEMA Advisory Base Flood Elevation maps), and other agency resources, and to consider at a minimum:

  • The identification of and assessment of the reasonable likelihood of a potential hazard or disaster,
  • The vulnerability of a particular system or asset to a particular hazard or disaster, and the criticality of that asset to the overall performance of the transit system,
  • The potential extent of damage to the asset or system from the identified hazard(s),
  • The total cost of implementing the proposed hazard mitigation or resiliency improvement, and
  • The anticipated reduction in damage or other negative impacts that will result from the proposed project.

FTA is supporting these resilience projects to help manage and prevent the social and economic consequences of future disasters. Resilience projects are defined generally as those that are “designed and built to address future vulnerabilities to a public transportation facility or system due to future recurrence of emergencies or major disasters... or projected changes in development patterns, demographics, extreme weather or other climate patterns.” In its notices of funding availability, FTA provides examples of projects that could receive funding, such as: elevating or relocating critical infrastructure above projected flood levels; protecting sensitive equipment and facilities from high winds or water intrusion; or strengthening pump systems to remove water from public transit systems.  

FTA’s Emergency Relief Program, which was authorized by the federal Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act, granted FTA primary responsibility for “reimbursing emergency response and recovery costs after an emergency or major disaster that affects public transportation systems.” A total of $10.4 billion was allocated in multiple tiers for (1) response, recovery, and rebuilding; (2) locally-prioritized resilience projects; and (3) competitive resilience projects.

Projects receiving funding in the first tier for recovery and rebuilding could incorporate aspects that would reduce future vulnerability to disasters, such as rebuilding to current design standards that increase resilience, but could not be undertaken solely for the purpose of increasing resilience unless funded by the resiliency project funds in the second and third tiers. States, Indian tribes, and local government authorities or agencies providing public transportation services or facilities in counties that received presidential major disaster declarations after Hurricane Sandy were eligible to apply for funding for the resilience projects. 


This Adaptation Clearinghouse entry was prepared with support from the Federal Highway Administration. This entry was last updated on February 6, 2015.


If you have any trouble accessing the website link above, please find here an archived page. You may find this has limited use. https://web.archive.org/web/20161219194426/https://www.transit.dot.gov/funding/grant-programs/emergency-relief-program/hurricane-sandy-disaster-relief.


Publication Date: 2013

Related Organizations:


Resource Category:

Resource Types:

  • Funding program

States Affected:


Go To Resource