Analyzing New York’s Aging Infrastructure

Encore: May 01, 2014

A report released in March by New York-based think tank Center for an Urban Future reveals serious investment is both needed and overdue to repair the city’s aging infrastructure.  Aptly titled “Caution Ahead,” the report argues that many of the city’s roads, bridges, subways and public buildings are past their useful life and, if left untended, could be dangerous.  Repairing critical vulnerabilities would require an investment of approximately $47.3 billion, according to the report’s findings.

“It’s an astounding number, and certainly not going to happen all at once. We need to prioritize immediately and devote a lot of our money towards rehabilitation,” the report’s author, Adam Forman, told MetroFocus host Rafael Pi Roman. Forman is a research and communications associate at the Center for an Urban Future and spent more than nine months researching and writing “Caution Ahead.”

While Hurricane Sandy brought the public’s attention to coastal weaknesses, the report points out that the city faces numerous infrastructure deficiencies that have little to do with storm preparedness or resiliency. Over 1,000 miles of New York City water mains are more than 100 years old, for example. And though annual MTA subway ridership is at a 65-year high, the report cites that “[o]f the system’s 728 miles of mainline signals, 269 have exceeded their 50-year useful life and 26 percent are more than 70 years old.”

“Subway stations are really crowded; they’re dilapidated. We need investment not just in perhaps making them look shinier and newer, but also more stairways, more elevators so people have easier access to the subways,” said Forman.

“Caution Ahead” highlights numerous planning and cost recommendations, from creating a more effective capital planning process to taking a census of the city’s underground utilities.

“I think doing a survey of our infrastructure so we know the exact location of some of our oldest infrastructure is really critical to speed up repair and replacement,” Forman told Pi Roman.

Last month’s East Harlem gas explosion highlighted the risks of neglecting such repairs. But are New Yorkers prepared to do and pay whatever is necessary to maintain the safety and functionality of the city’s infrastructure?

“In some cases I think they have no choice,” said Forman. “I mean certainly after the gas explosion, that rose awareness of the need to invest in our infrastructure. Luckily that was an isolated incident but delays and inconveniences happen every single day and it compromises our economic vitality in terms of recruiting new businesses and new talent to our city.” Forman also said that more importantly, public works investments are a great source of middle-income jobs.

Forman hopes that the report will serve as a wake-up call. “Sometimes you need to identify the problem before things get done. So we’re hoping this brought it on people’s radars and now we’ll see some definitive action.”

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