DALLAS - Transit systems in states ravaged by Hurricane Sandy in 2012 can compete for $3 billion of federal infrastructure grants made available last week by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The grants will be awarded by the Federal Transit Administration for projects that protect critical transit infrastructure from being damaged or destroyed by future natural disasters.

Transit systems in the region declared a major disaster area by President Barack Obama are eligible to compete for the infrastructure resiliency grants.

The goal of the disaster recovery effort is to build robust transit systems that will not have to be rebuilt for a second or third time, after future storms, said FTA Administrator Peter Rogoff.

"The $3 billion in resiliency funds will go first and foremost to reinforce the critical infrastructure necessary to support public transportation systems damaged by Hurricane Sandy," Rogoff said.

The designated area includes all or portions of Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia.

Proposals must be submitted by March 28.

Rep. Albio Sires, D-New Jersey, urged Rogoff to get the $3 billion of grants into the hands of local transit officials as soon as possible.

Hurricane Sandy was the worst transit disaster in American history, Sires said.

"American tax payers should not be asked to simply rebuild our critical infrastructure to the level it was before the storm," Sires said. "We must rebuild smarter and stronger to ensure that we don't find ourselves in the same position the next time a major storm hits."

The new round of competitive system resiliency grants is in addition to $5.7 billion already allocated by FTA for local transit recovery projects aimed at restoring the systems disrupted by the hurricane that hit the East Coast in October 2012, Rogoff said.

The $5.7 billion was distributed to the hardest-hit transit agencies within 16 weeks of the signing of the disaster declaration in late January 2013, he said. The initial funding included $1.4 billion for infrastructure resiliency projects.

Most of the funding in the first round of transit grants went to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, New Jersey Transit, and the New York City Department of Transportation, Rogoff said.

Assistance was also provided to the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, Rhode Island Public Transit Authority, and Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.

"We are proud of the tremendous progress made over the last year," Rogoff said.

The work currently under way in the New York area funded by the initial grants includes reconstruction of the Montague and Greenpoint subway tunnels and repairs to Hoboken Terminal.

The Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2012 provided $10.9 billion for FTA's emergency relief program for transit recovery, relief, and resiliency projects.

The total disaster relief available from the act was reduced by almost $545 million by the budget sequestration process.

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