NY ignores infrastructure at its peril

DEP workers responded and shut the water off after a water main break in Greenwich Village on Aug. 19, 2015.
DEP workers responded and shut the water off after a water main break in Greenwich Village on Aug. 19, 2015. Photo Credit: Moleskine

Earlier this week, New Jersey officials and the nation’s transportation chief met in Newark to discuss constructing a new train tunnel under the Hudson River — a few years after Gov. Chris Christie shelved a similar project.

Let’s hope they’re serious about their commitment. The tube project would make commuters’ lives easier, reduce traffic in Manhattan and create jobs.

The issue may not necessarily trend on Twitter or make for cute photo-ops, but New York City needs much more of this sort of government cooperation to help finance much-needed infrastructure projects.

The Center for an Urban Future in downtown Manhattan reported last year that our city’s major infrastructure, much of which is more than a century old, badly needs attention. For instance:

Our water mains broke 401 times in 2013, and 24% of all water in the system is lost to leaks.

City roads need resurfacing or repair, which is why, if you commute by car or bus, you’re tempted to pop a Dramamine with your morning coffee.

Eleven percent of our bridges are “structurally deficient,” a terrifying phrase.

The impact and potential danger of weak infrastructure are not in the distant future. Infrastructure neglect has already proved deadly in NYC. In June, the National Transportation Safety Board pointed the finger at city and state agencies, as well as Con Edison, for not repairing a sewer main broken since 2006. The NTSB concluded the broken main contributed to a 2014 gas explosion in East Harlem that killed eight people, injured 50 others and leveled two buildings. (The city denied culpability but said it is investing $300 million to upgrade sewer lines.)

The situation isn’t as bad as in the 1980s, when a pervasive neglect of public property followed the 1970s fiscal crisis. The Williamsburg Bridge was closed for two weeks in 1988 after cracks were found on one of its beams, and subway track fires were frequent. But today’s problems also are life-threatening and must be addressed.

For Mayor Bill de Blasio, this is an opportunity to invest in public works that affect our everyday lives — and to improve his sagging poll numbers among New Yorkers.

Liza Featherstone lives and writes in Clinton Hill.