Thank you, Mr. Chairman for inviting me to
testify on the safety of New York City's bridges.
I am Hope Cohen, Deputy Director of the Center
for Rethinking Development at the Manhattan
By this point in the hearing, we have heardrightlymany
reassurances from transportation officials that
our bridges are safe enough for use. "If/when
they get dangerous, we shut them down."
And, indeed, two weeks from now, the lower roadway
of the Manhattan Bridge will reopen fully to
traffic of all vehicle types. Under repair since
1982, various lanes at various times have been
closed when dangerous; just before Christmas
in 1987, Samuel Schwartz, then the First Deputy
Commissioner of Transportation, closed a lane
to all traffic and the entire lower roadway
to trucks and buses, when inspectors found 20
floor beams with cracks longer than 15 inches.
And now, $800 million later, the Manhattan Bridge
job is almost done. (By the way that number
does not include all the capital work to reconstruct
the subway line across the bridge. Many in this
room remember the years of disruption to transit
service because of the subway work required.)
So yes, bridges are closed before pieces of
them start falling into the city's rivers and
bays. It's great that DOT's engineers are able
to catch these problems in the nick of time.
But do we really want to be living this close
to the river's edge?
New York's bridges are operated and maintained
by three different entities:
1. Hudson River crossings by the Port Authority
of New York and New Jersey
2. seven scattered among the five boroughs
(along with two tunnels crossing the East
River) by MTA Bridges & Tunnels (successor
to the Triborough Bridge & Tunnel Authority)
3. all the rest, big and small, throughout
the city, by the city and state departments
The first two categories are tolled, regularly
and fully maintained, and in good condition.
It can be annoying to drivers that as soon as
they finish painting the Throgs Neck Bridge,
they start over again, but actually, that's
what bridges need when exposed to water and
wind and salt - and auto exhaust. The third
category, which includes the Manhattan Bridge,
along with many far less well known, is not
tolled. Having no dedicated revenue stream for
maintenance, they simply cannot be maintained
at the level that the Port Authority and Bridges
& Tunnels maintain their facilities.
Last December, we hosted a forum at the Center
for Rethinking Development on public acceptance
of congestion pricingyes, we were a bit
ahead of the curve on that. One of the panelists
was Sam Schwartzthe same Sam Schwartz
who shut down a dangerous Manhattan Bridge in
1987who is now a sought-after transportation
consultant as well as The Daily News'
"Gridlock Sam." He argued that congestion
pricing would benefit the city in multiple ways:
reducing traffic, redistributing traffic in
a more balanced manner, and yielding revenue
for transportation maintenance and improvement.
Some East River crossings are free and some
are tolled, with the following result, in Sam's
words: "The 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. It's been crumbling,
and all our bridges have been crumbling because
there has been no revenue base. So it's been
bad for us to have those extra 40,000 vehicles
pounding the bridge with no revenue stream to
maintain the bridge."
All of the city's bridges need regulareven
constantmaintenance, and the city needs
the funds to ensure that occurs. The funds are
not negligible by any means. But they're a lot
lessin both straightforward construction
dollars and in lost economic activitythan
taking roadways and subways out of service for
years at a time. Constant monitoring and early
intervention are essential. Responsible budgeting
and allocation is part of the answer. Perhaps
congestion pricing is part of the answer too.