Rebuild by Design: Hunts Point Lifelines - Transportation Elements

The Hunts Point Lifelines proposal envisions the construction of pier infrastructure and a levee in the Bronx neighborhood of New York to expand intermodal transportation options and to provide flood protection.  The project proposal was one of six winners of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Rebuild by Design Competition, a competition that was designed to inspire innovative climate-smart rebuilding projects in the disaster recovery effort after Hurricane Sandy. The proposal provides an example of how innovative infrastructure improvements can be designed to protect communities from the impacts of extreme weather events and climate change. The plan proposes to mix flood protection measures with transportation improvements to increase the economic and physical sustainability of the waterfront communities while also providing alternative modes of transportation. 

The purpose of the proposal is to envision how infrastructure improvements could be combined to protect a major food distribution center for the region, the Hunts Point Food Distribution Center, and the transportation routes for the 20,000 trucks that travel to and from the center weekly.  The center and the surrounding transportation corridors are a major food supply chain for 22 million people.  The proposal also examines ways to support improvements to marine transportation routes to provide alternative modes of transportation when weather conditions render roads impassable.  The proposal calls for a new Marine Transfer Station on the Peninsula, on the site of a former waste transfer station, to provide a hub for a marine highway system to support interstate commerce. The proposal also calls for a Maritime Emergency Supply Chain logistics base, at the same location, to coordinate intermodal transport, for example connecting commercial fish delivery to the fish markets, and ensure uninterrupted food distribution when roads cannot be used. Finally, the proposal calls for a new Metro-North commuter train station to increase public access to the food distribution center.

During Hurricane Sandy, a few local businesses in Hunts Point experienced damage from flooding. The majority of residents and businesses were relatively unscathed by the flooding and winds. As the area represents New York’s food supply center and a major economic hub, protection of the community, food center, and transportation routes from flooding is crucial to ensuring the physical and economic security of the area, and the food security of a large part of New York. If the projects called for in the proposal are implemented, the project would protect the food supply hub and allow the working water front to continue functioning during the next storm event due to the additional marine transportation routes and heightened emergency preparedness measures.

In the aftermath of the storm, HUD partnered with the Rockefeller Foundation to launch the Rebuild by Design competition funded by $930 million in Community Development Block Grant – Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) funds appropriated by Congress in the in the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013, a part of the $13 billion allocated to assist communities affected by Hurricane Sandy. Through the competition, HUD sought innovative proposals for rebuilding and increasing the resilience of Sandy-affected communities.  The University of Pennsylvania School of Design and OLIN worked with community residents, business owners, organizations, and government officials in the Hunt’s Point community to obtain feedback and expertise about the resiliency needs of the area and develop the project.

According to the proposed project plan, Hurricane Sandy exposed Hunts Point’s vulnerability to the flooding, power outages, and fuel shortages caused by severe storms.  To assess Hunts Point’s flood risk, the PennDesign/OLIN team used FEMA’s floodplain maps released in 2013 to assess flood risk from a 500-year storm, or a storm with a 0.2% likelihood of occurring in any given year.  The team projects that by 2050 there will be an increased frequency of major storm events and resulting storm surge, increasing the vulnerability of the food distribution center to flooding.  The team also mapped a series of rivers and waterways intersecting at the Hunts Point peninsula, aided by the local expertise of residents, businesses, engineers, agencies, and community groups.  These mapping efforts allowed PennDeisgn/OLIN to propose the most effective flood protection designs for the Rebuild by Design competition.

The proposal was chosen out of 148 applicants to compete as one of 10 finalists in the U.S. HUD year-long Rebuild by Design Competition.  Final teams were chosen for their innovative and implementable proposals for projects that would increase resiliency in areas affected by Hurricane Sandy.  As one of the 10 Design Teams, in August 2013 the project team began community research and outreach in Hunts Point to assess the needs of the community, and develop the most effective design to improve resiliency against flooding and storm surge. In December 2013, the team advanced to the Design phase, during which it crafted its concept plan based on research and meetings with local government officials, utilities, and community organizations. From November 2013 until April 2014, all teams in the competition met frequently with local community and government stakeholders, and engaged the public for feedback and expertise. Final proposals were presented to a Competition Jury and members of the public through receptions and online in April 2014, and U.S. HUD selected winning proposals in June. 

As one of 6 winning proposals, the Hunts Point Lifelines project will be funded with a $20 million Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) grant to New York City to support implementation of the project.  This award would not support full implementation of the Hunts Point Lifelines proposal; instead, HUD directed the city to use the funds for continued analysis, study, planning, and community engagement, and for a pilot project that would increase resilience independent of whether additional phases of the proposal are implemented. New York City is also supplementing this funding with another $25 million in CDBG-DR funds received separately. As of December 2015, the city is in the early stages of developing studies to identify technically, legally, and financially feasible project options for flood risk reduction and resilient energy, and also plans to use the funding also to support a pilot project for resilient energy.


This Adaptation Clearinghouse entry was prepared with support from the Federal Highway Administration. This entry was last updated on March 31, 2016.

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Publication Date: June 2014

Related Organizations:

  • New York City Economic Development Corporation
  • U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)
  • City of New York, New York


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Resource Types:

  • Case study
  • Plans (other)

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