Infrastructure: New York Roads In Decay
During the early 20th century, just as automobiles were becoming prominent, the eastern United States started building its modern transportation infrastructure. More than a century later, many of these bridges and roadways are decaying and dangerous.The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) regularly hands out infrastructure report cards grading each aspect of a transportation infrastructure, including bridges, roads, and transit. In 2015, New York scored a D+ for its bridges, a D- for their roads, and a C- for their transit.
Like many things I’ve written about New York State, it seems that downstate receives the most attention from Albany. This is somewhat understandable. Downstate contributes more to state coffers. However, that doesn’t mean politicians should ignore the rest of the state.
The Kościuszko Bridge has one side completed and should have the other side done by 2020. That will make the Brooklyn-Queens commuters happy. Those of us bouncing around on many upstate roads…not so much.
Construction of the New Tappan Zee Bridge is moving along. At least part of that connects to what could be considered Upstate.
How Bad Is It?
According to the ASCE’s 2015 infrastructure report card, one-third of New York’s main highways are in poor or fair condition, which means they need maintenance or upgrading. In rural areas where these roads are particularly bad, Fatalities are three times as likely as in the city. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/07/10/new-report-says-many-rural-roads-are-in-poor-condition/12416359/
The bridges in New York aren’t much better. Of New York’s 17,456 bridges, 2,012 (or 12 percent) of them are considered structurally deficient, with more than 20% of their total bridge deck area needing repairs as soon as possible.
And drivers in New York are paying the price. According to the ASCE, each New York City driver spends 53 hours sitting stagnant in traffic every year. And the poor road conditions and traffic cost drivers throughout the state a combined $6.3 billion, or $694 per New York City motorist.
What Causes Decaying Infrastructure?
The infrastructure of New York’s roads is in bad shape. But why? And is there any way it could have been avoided?
The main issue plaguing New York’s roads is age. There are many natural occurrences which, over time, can cause significant decay in roadways. For example, harsh weather such as wind and rain can slowly eat away at roads, reshaping them and compromising their structure. This is largely unavoidable and happens with time.
But there are other factors at play. With each passing decade, civil engineers discover new ways to design roads. They are more durable, better at draining water, more flexible and more weather resistant. Since some of these roads and bridges were built about a century ago, they didn’t utilize these newer designs, leaving them vulnerable.
Additionally, the United States population has increased by nearly 400% since 1900. There also weren’t nearly as many automobiles per person. Early civil engineers couldn’t have predicted that this many vehicles would use their roadways. This is another factor which contributes to road decay.
What’s the Solution?
Roadways are going to decay no matter what, the solution is a stronger focus on infrastructure in New York. The ASCE estimates that New York will have to spend about $40 billion on roads by 2030 to keep up with current road conditions.
This is especially important when you consider the likelihood of major storms hitting the New York area. In addition to harsh winter storms — such as Stella which hit New York in 2017 — New York is occasionally affected by intense hurricanes. This can quickly cause massive damage to infrastructure. However, with newer infrastructure designs and regular maintenance, damage from storms can be significantly reduced.
A Helping Hand
While everybody should have high-quality roadways, it’s especially important to improve infrastructure in areas where it’s particularly bad. As mentioned earlier, fatalities are three times more likely in smaller rural areas than in the cities. This is mainly due to the greater population and thus, greater influx of money in larger cities.
The only way to ensure the safety of New York drivers is to spend more money maintaining the state’s aging infrastructure. Spending $40 billion over the next 13 years may seem like a lot of money. However, it’s nothing compared to the cost of replacing large chunks of severely damaged roads throughout the state.