Rockefeller Reviews Transportation Systems in West Virginia and Northeast in Wake of Sandy

December 6, 2012

Prepared Opening Statement – Senator John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV, Chairman

JDR Head ShotWASHINGTON, D.C.--For a few harrowing days in October, Hurricane Sandy inflicted devastation on the Eastern United States. As we all watched, and some of us experienced, Sandy wreaked havoc on a massive swath of our country – focusing its anger on the Northeast. 

While the Northeast bore the brunt of the storm, the rest of the country was not spared.  Tragically, more than 120 people died as a result of the storm, including 6 in my home state of West Virginia. In West Virginia, the storm packed a two-fisted punch of heavy snow and high winds, knocking out power for 200,000 customers and coating roads with ice. Some regions got more than a foot of snow and some narrow roads are still hard to cross. My office was in touch with emergency responders during the storm, and I commend their efforts to keep the people of West Virginia safe in such difficult conditions.

Far from the glare of the national spotlight, the storm caused serious damage throughout West Virginia, particularly when coupled with the many other natural disasters this year.  I’m fighting to make sure West Virginia is not overlooked in a disaster relief package so that we can continue to help the families, communities, and businesses still trying to recover. 

Recovering from such a devastating storm won’t be easy – or cheap.  Sandy caused about tens of billions of dollars of destruction, and many of our nation’s most vital transportation systems were affected by the storm.  That’s what we’re here to discuss today.  The storm halted Amtrak’s long-distance service through West Virginia, and the agency’s busy Northeast Corridor was shut down for days.

Amtrak and other transportation agencies had to deal with damage from downed trees, heavy flooding, and the loss of power to their systems. I applaud not only their quick response to the storm, but also the vast amount of preparation that took place as Sandy approached.  However, there is a long way to go before we restore the transportation network to its pre-Sandy condition. 

Before Hurricane Sandy, our nation’s transportation system was already starved for investment. After the storm, the needs are greater and the amount of money to spare is limited. I encourage Congress to quickly pass comprehensive and robust federal assistance for damages relating to Sandy. Whether the funding is included in the 2013 budget or is brought as a supplemental relief package for Hurricane Sandy, it needs to reach affected communities as soon as possible.

I also commend the National Weather Service for providing accurate and advance notice of Hurricane Sandy’s path, allowing communities and families the time to prepare. Every minute of advance warning we had saved lives.  However, we must ensure that the agency has the computing capacity and tools to predict the severity of future storms. Just this year, we’ve seen funds cut for a vital hurricane research program and weather forecast modeling. Two of the agency’s three planes used to track hurricanes need repair.  As the nation heals from this storm, we need to continue investing in repairs and improvements to prepare for the next.

Today’s hearing has a distinguished panel of witnesses that is well-equipped to describe the effect of Hurricane Sandy on their agencies and to transportation in the Northeast. Most importantly, I hope our witnesses can describe how to rebuild our nation’s infrastructure in a more resilient way.  Thank you Chairman Lautenberg for holding this hearing and thank you to our witnesses for being here today.