THE deadly collapse of the Interstate 35W bridge in Minneapolis offers a stunning illustration of the fragility of decades-old concrete and steel. Such infrastructure is everywhere; those who use it every day usually take it for granted. We had our own example in New York two weeks ago, with the steam-pipe explosion near Grand Central Terminal.
Investigations into these two incidents will yield different details about what went wrong. Did cold water shock hot metal? Did steel fatigue gradually during many years of use? When was the last inspection, and what did it find? But, ultimately, the issue is the same: Pipes and bridges, cables and roads, substations and subways require unglamorous maintenance year after year, just to provide the level of service they were meant to when installed.
Moreover, much of this infrastructure was built when populations were smaller, workday lengths were well defined and vehicles were lighter. A bridge built to handle rush hour traffic in 1967 may not be strong enough for load it must bear in 2007.
Roads and bridges can take only so much pounding each day. Laying track, painting bridges and reinforcing roadbeds dont provide ribbon-cutting photo opportunities, so elected officials can find it very hard to find the funds for these vital-but-unsexy tasks.
Tolls can fund maintenance - if the toll money is dedicated to the task. (New York decades ago set up independent authorities to manage bridges like the Triborough.) But this can mean perverse effects for un-tolled facilities, as engineer and transit expert Sam Schwartz has noted: “The [free] Queensboro Bridge, which should be used by 110,000 vehicles a day, is used by 150,000 vehicles a day, and those additional vehicles come from the Midtown Tunnel and from the Triborough Bridge, with no revenue stream to fix the Queensboro Bridge.
”Its been crumbling, and all our bridges have been crumbling, because there has been no revenue base. So its been bad for us to have those extra 40,000 vehicles pounding the bridge with no revenue stream to maintain the bridge.“
Mayor Bloomberg addresses these problems in his PlaNYC. That strategic plan for a ”sustainable“ city of 2030 includes specific priorities for upgrading the transport, energy and water networks that make the city work.
Indeed, the largest expenditure of revenues - more than $15 billion - from the mayors proposed congestion-pricing program would be to bring transportation infrastructure to a ”state of good repair.“ This includes roads and bridges maintained by the city Department of Transportation, as well as the subways stations and vital hidden systems - power, signals, ventilation, pumping, etc.
More and more, to achieve a state of good repair requires going beyond in-kind repairs and replacements - to reinforcing the bones and upgrading the brains.
Rebuilding a bridge deck today means accounting for modern traffic levels and the extra weight of trucks, vans and SUVs. Replacing an obsolete subway signaling system means upgrading from century-old technology to solid-state switches and communications-based train control. Such a ”CBTC“ is under way now on the ”L“ line.
Installing that new system has been difficult - with the delays and cost overruns that mark most new-technology projects - but when completed, it will allow trains to run more frequently on that now-crowded line. The No. 7 line will get the upgrade next.
Investments like these are necessary to enable the city to grow in a healthy and responsible - yes, ”sustainable“ - way.
And all of that is just concerned with keeping what already exists operational. As the city grows by a million residents between now and 2030, infrastructure networks will have to be expanded and whole new neighborhoods built - complete with roads, transit, sewage systems, water mains, electrical substations and the rest. And then all of that infrastructure will have to be maintained as well.
Year after year, uncelebrated, and at considerable expense, these projects must go on. But maintenance is far less costly in dollars and lives than losing a couple of blocks of Manhattan or a span across the Mississippi.
Original Source: http://www.nypost.com/p/news/opinion/opedcolumnists/ensuring_it_doesn_happen_here_cYGLYj6ijhCSjehmPP3RQJ