Photo by AP Wideworld
President Obama, with Gov. Christie, visits Asbury Park, N.J., seven months after Sandy blasted towns along the coast. Obama said, "The Jersey shore is back, and it is open for business," but it still faces "a long road ahead."

When President Obama paid a May 28 visit to the New Jersey shore, he met Gov. Chris Christie (R) and stopped at towns slammed by Superstorm Sandy seven months earlier. Obama noted the progress so far, declaring,"The Jersey shore is back, and it is open for business." He added, however, that the state still faces "a long road ahead."

Since Sandy blasted into the Eastern Seaboard on Oct. 29, the federal government has poured billions of dollars into the recovery effort. Early installments went for relief for residents, cleanup and critical repairs. As federal funds continue to roll out and augment insurance payments and other resources, infrastructure work will be a focus, including near-term and long-range projects to fortify the region's public works against future storms.

Most of the federal Sandy money comes from a $50.5-billion appropriations measure enacted on Jan. 29. About a month later, the recovery program took a hit when the mandatory budget sequester trimmed the $50.5 billion by 5%.

Agencies continue to push out the still substantial funds to Sandy-battered states. Robert A. Briant Jr., CEO of the Utility and Transportation Contractors Association in New Jersey, says the Sandy-related work, financed partly by federal funds, is providing a lift to construction companies in the hard-hit Garden State.

Briant notes that local firms played key roles in early post-storm repairs and sees a new reconstruction phase on the horizon. "The silver lining of the cloud is …probably, from July on, we're going to start to see that work really hitting the industry," he says. "I see a good next two years, and hopefully we [companies] can heal ourselves."

Mike Elmendorf, president and CEO of the Associated General Contractors of New York State, says early rebuilding, such as Long Island's Ocean Parkway, was "a real success story, both for the industry and for government, in terms of responding quickly, mobilizing." But, he adds, "What I hear from our members down in that neck of the woods is, basically, they're seeing more discussion about things than they're seeing actual work at this point."

Under deadline, the U.S. Dept. of Transportation has moved aggressively to get money in the hands of state and local agencies. So far, DOT's Federal Transit Administration has allocated about $5.7 billion of its post-sequester $10.4-billion Sandy appropriations. It released $3.7-billion on May 23, five days before Obama's New Jersey trip.

Top recipients are the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority, $3.8 billion; the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, $1.4 billion; and the New Jersey Transit Corp., $448 million.

The May 23 funds include $1.3 billion for storm protection, which, among other projects, may go to raising storm drains and installing powerful pumps and backup power sources. In a statement, FTA Administrator Peter Rogoff said, "We have learned from the back-to-back impacts of Hurricanes Irene and Sandy that it is vitally important to prepare for the future."

Briant says New Jersey agencies will use design-bid-build contracting for some projects, but he foresees a significant amount of design-build, particularly for transit work, to speed procurement.

On Feb. 15, before the sequester took hold, the Federal Highway Administration allocated to 36 states and three territories $1.1 billion of its $2 billion from the disaster-relief bill. Of the $1.1 billion, $419 million is for Sandy damages, including $250 million for New York and $128 million for New Jersey.

In early February, the Dept. of Housing and Urban Development provided $5.4 billion in Community Development Block Grants (CDBGs) to Sandy-affected states, including $1.8 billion to New Jersey and $1.7 billion to New York.