One of the reasons New York became the most important city in America is its amazing infrastructure. The city’s bridges, roads, airports, tunnels, and highways - the systems that are very costly to build but that are crucial to its economic development - can all be found here.
For decades, these structures were the envy of many cities in the US and abroad. They made it possible to go from one end of New York to the other relatively easily, quickly, and inexpensively. Maybe in the back of our collective minds we thought we could sit back and enjoy these benefits forever without maintaining and modernizing our infrastructure. We were wrong - and now we will have to pay an amazingly high price for that mistake.
The High Toll Of Time
According to a report by New York’s State Senate, “Numerous studies over the past decade have highlighted the decline of the transportation infrastructure and its impact on economic development, local property taxes, and motorist safety.” And this is just one of the concerns about our infrastructure.
A recent report by the American Society of Engineers may not surprise New Yorkers, but it will disturb them. If found that:
*27% of the city’s roads are in poor condition;
*nearly 10% of its bridges are rated structurally-deficient; and
*424 dams are considered to have high hazard potential.
The Society’s report further estimated that $22.8 billion was necessary to address drinking water needs in the state, and estimated an additional $31.4 billion was needed to address waste water concerns.
TRIP, a national transportation advocacy group, said that the deteriorating condition of New York’s roads and bridges are problematic in related ways, too: They cost motorists $7.7 billion a year - $632 per driver – by having to make otherwise unnecessary repairs, and for accelerated vehicle depreciation, increased fuel consumption, and tire wear.
Another group, The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), grades America’s infrastructure, and they released their 2021 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure on Wednesday, March 3. The nation as a whole was graded ‘C-’, up from a ‘D+’ the year before.
The Society also graded New York City’s infrastructure. Some residents will be surprised -- not because it did so well but that the grade wasn’t lower. The city received a “C-” -- not something to write home about but still an improvement over the “Ds” the city had been scoring.
According to The New York Times, “Roadways and bridges are still in use decades after the end of their projected life spans. Sewer and water systems are aged and decaying.” This is probably one of the few reports in The Times these days that most people will not consider controversial.
Aging Gracefully -- Not
Unlike fine wine, infrastructure doesn’t improve with time -- and a tremendous percentage of our infrastructure was built a long time ago. The subway system, for example, was completed 118 years ago, and the elevated portion much longer than that.
The Manhattan Bridge opened in 1909, the Williamsburg Bridge in 1903, and the Brooklyn Bridge in 1883. The Lincoln Tunnel is 88 years old. The Holland Tunnel is 95, and so is the George Washington Bridge. Other essential parts of the city’s transportation system also are aging. The FDR Drive opened back in 1945 and the Whitestone Bridge dates back to 1937. On the other hand, the Throgs Neck Bridge is a “mere” 65 years old.
It should be noted that infrastructure woes are by no means limited to New York; it is a national problem, and hard as it may be to believe, is even worse in some other cities and states. As a whole, our airports are out of date, seaports in danger of becoming obsolete, and the electric grid unreliable. Can anyone be faulted for believing that the country is falling apart?
Giving Credit Where It’s Due
The Biden Administration has gotten its full share of criticism, but in at least one area it has delivered: New York State stands to benefit greatly from the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), the largest federal investment in infrastructure in more than a decade; it was passed last November. The IIJA includes funding for roads, bridges, rails, ports and airports, the grid, water systems, and more. It provides $1.2 trillion in spending.
Among specific areas, the IIJA will provide funding to:
*maintain and restore 789 bridges in the city as well as the BQE;
*make improvements to Queens Boulevard, Delancey St. in Manhattan, and parts of Brooklyn;
*build charging stations for EVs; and
*make investments for ports, rail, and freight;
While the bill provides urgently needed funding, by no means will it keep all of America’s infrastructure in good working order. Nor will it cover the costs of expansion and modernization that will be needed in the coming years, and that will certainly amount to many billions more. Meanwhile, while these upgrades are being made, other areas of our infrastructure will continue to age -- and very possibly fall further into disrepair.
New Yorkers (and everyone else) will have to put up not just with inconvenience but also wasted time, unreliable services, and serious questions about safety. For example, of the approximately 17,500 bridges in the state, 1,672 or 9.5% have been classified as “structurally deficient”; around the country, nearly 70,000 are in this category. All of those will need to be repaired or replaced.
At least 23 major bridges in the United States have collapsed since 2000, causing numerous deaths, severe injuries, and huge financial losses. In January, the Pittsburgh Bridge collapsed -- just hours before President Biden was scheduled to visit the site.
And it’s not just bridges that need immediate attention. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, 32% of the major roads in America are now in poor condition and in need of major repair; the problems include crumbling concrete and corroded steel. Flooding in subways sometimes forces straphangers to wade through streams of water to escape and seek safety.
Infrastructure problems are somewhat like a ticking time bomb that doesn’t get the attention it deserves -- until it explodes. Nevertheless, they are serious problems that won’t improve on their own. Expect this issue to remain in the news for a very long time.
Sources: artbabridgereport.org; blackenterprise.com; curbed.com; gleassociates.com; iheart.com; nycfuture.org; nyt.com; nysenate.gov