New York battles aging infrastructure
The July 18 explosion of an underground steam pipe in New York City and the flooding of the city’s subway system just weeks later, coupled with the collapse of the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis, has refocused attention on the condition of the nation’s aging infrastructure. Faced with managing some of the country’s oldest infrastructure, New York officials have outlined goals for infrastructure repair in PLANYC 2030, which also includes goals for sustainability through 2030. American City & County talked with Dan Doctoroff, deputy mayor for economic development and rebuilding, about maintaining the city’s water and transportation networks. Hear the entire interview with Dan Doctoroff, Listen to the podcast.
Q: The American Society of Civil Engineers rates the nation’s infrastructure as a D on its 2005 report card. How would you rate the current condition of your city’s infrastructure?
A: It is badly in need of significant investment. [During] the late ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s and into the ‘90s, it was underinvested in. All of our infrastructure is facing increasing strain from population growth. That was really, in many ways, one of the main drivers of PLANYC — the recognition that if we don’t begin to accelerate investment in bringing our infrastructure up to a state of good repair and expanding it, we would be facing major problems in the future.
Q: Considering the extreme cost and the disruption caused by complete rehabilitation of all systems, what are your priorities for rebuilding?
A: There [are] three pillars to our infrastructure plan. The first one is transportation. We proposed a $50 billion transportation infrastructure investment plan. Only about $20 billion of it, we think, [has] current sources of funding that we can identify. That left about a $30 billion gap, [a large part of which] is to bring the system up to [a] 21st century standard. The second area is energy. We’re going to need, over the course of the next 10 years, 2,000 to 3,000 megawatts of new capacity to retire some of the older plants that we have. The third area is the water system. We have two water tunnels that distribute water within the city, neither of which has been inspected in 70 years. The main aqueduct that brings water from upstate leaks about 20 million gallons a day. While it’s not in imminent danger of failure, the longer-term risk is not trivial. We’ve put forth a multi-faceted plan that includes spending $22 billion over the next 10 years on our water system to really address the issues that it faces.
Q: How are the infrastructure changes you envision for the city connected to economic development?
A: The key to the future of New York City is that it continue to grow [and] attract people from around the country and around the world, [who bring] energy and entrepreneurial spirit. We have to ensure that our infrastructure is an asset rather than a liability. We stepped back and looked at the future of the city, [how] we expect growth to occur, and we have planned very carefully for that growth.
Q: What character traits should local and state government leaders possess to face the difficult problems of infrastructure and economic development?
A: Infrastructure always costs money. [To] overcome that bias against these kinds of investments, courage is required. Financial sophistication is absolutely critical. In an era of constrained budgets, the people who are going to be the most successful in [making] the investments are people who can come up with new models for financing their projects.